A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness

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Author’s website
Publication date – February 8 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) 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.

Thoughts: While reading through A Discovery of Witches, I confess, I couldn’t help but compare it to Twilight. That being said, most of those comparisons consisted of, “This is what Twilight should have been.” They share some of the same elements, chiefly a romance involving a powerful male vampire, but where Twilight stays firmly entrenched in the land of teenyboppers, this romance is of a more mature variety. If mature intelligent adults want to fantasize about a vampire romance that’s not caught up in being dark, edgy, or ‘big-city’ modern, this is the way to go about it!

Unlike the bulk of urban fantasy, the characters here are not hip, on the edge of fashion, incredibly popular, or filled with woes about their latest crush or how their job isn’t fun. They’re professionals, mostly researchers, and they come across as people who have made peace with themselves. Even the main character, Diana, who in many ways has not actually made peace with herself and her magical heritage, still understands who she is, is comfortable with herself as a person, and is refreshingly more focused on research papers than parties, scholarship more than socializing. She’s the kind of character I look at and say to myself, “I want to be just like her,” and I can relate to her because she isn’t what so many urban fantasy heroines are. She isn’t young, pretty, and modern. She’s dedicated, fairly quiet, and interested in academia.

The research that the author put into this novel shows. Harkness has definitely done her homework when it comes to alchemy, genetics, location, culture, history, and, unsurprisingly, wine. While occasionally imparting all this information borders on breaking the “show, don’t tell” rule of writing, honestly, I can’t imagine another way that it could have all been presented in a way that makes sense both to the reader and in the way that the characters are explaining. Harkness evidently spent a good amount of time asking all the right questions (for example, if vampires have extra chromosomes, just how do they get them when they came from human stock?) and finding good answers to them that make sense. I learned a good deal while reading this, and moreover, I also experienced that mental shift that comes with asking your own questions and trying to figure out the answers about things you may never have considered before.

Harkness weaves a wonderful mystery, dropping hints in all the right places and tying things together very smoothly. She can make things sexy without being graphic, and make academia sound far more exciting than it probably has any rights to be. (At least for those who aren’t total bibliophiles, that is!) Her style is wonderful, flowing nicely along and carrying the reader across time and pages to a place where they won’t want to leave. This is one author well worth keeping an eye on, and I’m very excited for the next book of the series. This comes highly recommended; do not miss your chance to read this one!

(Received from Penguin books in exchange for a review.)

5 comments on “A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness

  1. Great review! This is already on my TBR pile (waiting for it from the library as we speak) but your review made me even MORE eager to read it. I'm glad it made you think of Twilight in that this is what it could have been. So excited! Thanks!

  2. Pingback: In My Mailbox « Bibliotropic

  3. Pingback: Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness « Bibliotropic

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