Name of Book: A Discovery of Witches
By: Deborah Harkness
Publisher: Viking (Penguin Group)
Copyright Date: 2011
Number of Pages: 587 (Nook Addition)
Format: Adult Fiction/Paranormal
Reason for Reading: My love for paranormal fiction + positive advance reviews
I’m going to be perfectly honest. This is a second review draft-the first one was much more positive. The thing is, while I enjoyed this book, some of the faults I originally overlooked kept haunting me. Overall, it’s an engaging read, but it didn’t quite live up to it’s early reputation. I’ll be more specific in a moment.
First, some blurbage from the cover flap:
Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
I’m going to hit my low spots first-in the South we were taught that it’s always best to end on a postive note. There is a certain Twilight cheesiness to the main romance here, though a grown-up Twilight cheesiness, to be sure. It feels cheap to fall back on the Twilight comparison once again, but there really isn’t a better one. Diana and Matthew Clairmont, the “Bella” and “Edward” of our story, are star-crossed lovers, fated to be together even though it defies logic and breaks every rule of the supernatural communities they inhabit. Harkness positively dwells on the broodiness and mopey-ness of forbidden love. I expect that in YA fiction, where every bump in the road is a four-hanky tragedy, but it’s a bit off-putting here. She easily and brilliantly establishes the respective strengths of Diana and Matthew, and the respect both command from their peers, only to lose the thread of it every time the story descends into mawkish romantic melodrama. The pacing of the first half of the book was sloooooowwww and the build-up of the main relationship was exasperating for me.
The rest of it, however, and pardon the pun, is indeed pretty magical. I truly enjoyed the concept of these mythological creatures utilizing science (quite advanced science-many of Diana’s and Matthew’s discussions flew straight over my head) to explain their magical natures. It’s a unique twist on the trope and made for an entertaining story. Most especially, Harkness has created wonderful secondary characters. Keep an eye out for Matthew’s “mother” and Diana’s aunts Sarah and Em, as well as the Bishop homestead, another character in and of itself. Harkness clearly has a love for history that echoes in her characters, from Diana’s passion for alchemy to Matthew’s back-story, and she makes the history and science accessible even for the most non-scientific readers.
Finally, it would have been easy for Diana’s exceptional natural gifts to be somewhat tiresome. After all, she’s better than everyone else-she’s not just a witch, but an uber-talented witch who would just as soon prefer to be a normal human being. She is gifted, in spite of herself, chosen as it were, but she has enough natural flaws to remain mostly sympathetic. Similarly, Harkness shows a willingness to make Matthew pretty darn unlikable at times. It brings a much welcome human aspect to the supernatural characters inhabiting the pages.
A Discovery of Witches is the first in a planned trilogy. This first offering ends at an excellent stopping point-good as an ending, but suspenseful enough to sell me on reading Book Two.