Review: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches: A Novel

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

Rating: B-

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.

About izzybella

Just trying to figure it all out.
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8 Responses to Review: A Discovery of Witches

  1. I’ve been ambivalent about this book, and after reading your review think I’m going to pass on it. Not a fan of the Twilight-style romance.

  2. jehara says:

    I’ve been hearing a lot about this book lately. I’m curious. While I’m not crazy about the twilight style romance, I am digging the other aspects of the book that you mention. I may try this one out. Eventually. 🙂

    • izzybella says:

      It is a really intriguing premise and parts of it are quite well executed. It’s only that star-crossed lovers way where I just wanna face-punch both of the main characters. There are lots of great moments and some flat out NEAT ones. It’s just a very un-even novel. Honestly, j, I think you would like it. I can see that it really isn’t cg’s cuppa, but there are lots of aspects I think, based on knowing you as a person, that you would really dig. 🙂

  3. Heather says:

    Once you compared it to Twilight that did it for me…not picking up this one! Thanks for the review!

    • izzybella says:

      Haha!! You’re welcome. 🙂

      Though confession-time: I did not dislike Twilight the first time I read it. In fact I rather enjoyed it and have read the entire series. It’s just that I completely can see the (many) faults inherent in the story, including the stalkerific nature of Edward and needy cluelessness of Bella. Whether you like or not, it really can’t be denied that SM created a story that captured the imagination of A LOT of people. I enjoyed it for what it was-namely fluff. It just doesn’t inspire in me the rampant fandom of say, Harry Potter, about which I am devoted and unapologetic. 🙂

  4. Bumbles says:

    Izzy – awesome review! I found the book to be interesting but respect your cautionary plot aspects – which are helpful to others making a decision. It sounds to me like there are plenty of other good things going on to make up for the things you disliked and I know where you are coming from in your opinion. I think the concept she created here sounds pretty cool.

    • izzybella says:

      Thanks. And you’re right. I really tremendously enjoyed parts of it and I freakin’ loved the genome aspects of it and marriage of magic and science, basically the alchemy Diana studies. Like I said-a lot of it was fun, but it would have been better without the heavy emphasis on romance and destiny, blahdy, blah, blah.

  5. jennygirl says:

    I appreciate your honesty. I haven’t read any reviews but have heard people discussing the book, and the reaction has been mixed. A solid B book is good for me. I’ll give it try. Thanks for the review.

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