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A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Book Name: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Publisher(s): Viking Adult
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook
Genre(s): Paranormal Romance / Urban Fantasy
Release Date: February 8, 2011

As the title suggests, this novel is about a young woman (dob. 1976, my age, so yes still young) who was born a witch. One day whilst researching in the library at Oxford, she unwittingly uses magic and brings forth an old book, which was thought lost. But not knowing what it was, she sends it back to the shelves. And then the fun begins.

In the story are four races of species: humans, witches, vampires, and daemons. Witches are made, not born. For those of you aware of your witching history, you will notice Bishop can be traced back to the Salem witches and this is referred to extensively in the book. Diana Bishop’s parents were both witches – her mother a Bishop and her father a Proctor.

The common element for all vampires is that they are finer looking and stronger than humans and tend to be ‘tall, dark and handsome’. The love interest in this book is a vampire. He is usually quiet, mysterious, a deep thinker, strongly protective, territorial and a leader. His name is Matthew Clermont. And yes, he speaks French (I think all vampires except Edward speak French?). They can walk around in daylight without fear of bursting into flames, they are able to eat food albeit cold and preferably uncooked (think a Macrobiotic diet), and they do yoga and meditate. Oh and drink wine. Why? Because of their incredible sense of smell, they are able to smell the grape, the vintage, the region etc., Basically, if you love wine, this book will make you crave it. Well, it did for me. Vampires make other vampires by draining them of blood and giving them some of their own. When turned, they are irrational and manic with thirst, but for most, they are then able to curb their blood lust and think rationally.

Daemons are not the evil spawn sent directly from Hell. They are highly intelligent and almost eccentric. It does not appear that a parent daemon will necessarily give birth to a baby daemon.

Humans – well a human is a human is a human.

The author links ‘others’ to DNA, there is talk of chromosomes, Darwinism, Origin of the Species, historical research, alchemy, and famous historical figures. Diana, our main character, is a historian and an American. At first, I turned between the back cover and the page I was on trying to figure out why I thought this was an American novel. Was there an Oxford in America? But she drinks tea? Then I realised, Diana is from Connecticut, USA and has travelled over to the UK and is conducting research at Oxford. And she just happens to like tea.

Diana has chosen not to use her witch born powers as this is what Humans fear, and humans killed her parents when she was 7 years of old. She was then raised by her aunt Sarah and Sarah’s partner, Emily – also both witches.

When Diana is researching and unwittingly uses her powers to speed up the delivery of books she has ordered from the library shelves (those of you who have read Patrick Rothfuss will have thoughts of Kvothe in the Archives), a strange book appears. At first, she cannot open it. So, trusting her instincts, she puts her hand on the book and ta-da! It opens. She realises that this book, Ashmole 742 contains magic hiding the words. She sends it back, not trusting the feeling it raises within her. Not long after this, she notices increasing amounts of vampires, witches and daemons in and around her person. One of these vampires is Professor Matthew Clermont.

The vampires, daemons, and in particular, the witches, are keen to get their hands on this magical manuscript (Ashmole 742), which has been missing for 150 years. Surely, Diana must have used magic to ‘call’ ‘it. Except she didn’t. The book found her and with the help of Matthew – who is leading research in DNA and the origin of the species (vampires, witches and daemons of course). Matthew thinks vampires are dying out and this manuscript might help find out why.

Diana is now seen as a traitor amongst her kind. Why on Earth would a witch befriend a vampire, let alone develop a special relationship with one? The book continues between the UK and America, the past and the future, and Diana and Matthew find adversaries in other witches, vampires and daemons. There is a sense of Hogwarts for me in this novel – if you read this, I would be interested to see if you picked up the same vibe.

This book is at times easy to read, due to the high amount of dialogue between Diana Bishop (the Witch), and others, namely her love interest Matthew Clermont. However, at other times, the author slows down the pace by dragging out some conversations. In the beginning, I found her writing ‘choppy’ and uninteresting, but around chapter 5, I began to get caught up with the ride and started to find it relatively enjoyable.

It is an enjoyable read and unique in its portrayal of witches in an otherwise human and modern world, with a unique play on DNA and Darwinism used to paint a picture of origin, which Harkness does somewhat effortlessly. I did not study science in my last 2 years of high school but that did not matter here – she explains it with enough interest and pace to see its role in the book, without making it a boring novel about DNA and science. It is clear Harkness has researched this extensively, although in my opinion, I don’t think she was able to translate this successfully into the novel, so that the flow was not interrupted by references to historical figures and dates – I felt she put in a lot of references to indicate knowledge, however was not able to link her ‘research to practice.’

In any case, the development of the romance is well paced and there is no 3rd person to confuse feelings of love. Harkness obviously knows about foreplay and is not keen to repeat mistakes made by Hamilton.

In summary, this a book about a witch with extreme (but yet unknown) powers, independent (but not sassy), pretty (but not beautiful), orphan, who falls in love with a vampire (which is forbidden) and is being threatened by foes, which include a number of witches, vampires, and daemons in a present day setting. Add a few somewhat intelligent discussions and a romance and you have yourself a novel. There is no meaningful depth to this story although it is possible to engage in discussion with others around the Origin of the Species.

Pros: A fresh look at witches in the present day, new twist on the origin of vampires, witches and daemons and interplay of known history, biblical references to myth, not told from a first person point of view narrative, well paced and intelligent weaving of historical research, science & DNA.

Cons: The typical vampire qualities (strong, dark haired, protective, French speaking and utterly gorgeous), seemingly boring fashion sense of Diana (sapphire blue turtle neck sweater with bell sleeves and black loose trousers – who under 60 would wear this?) – Although she is a researching historian (maybe they have no fashion sense?).


One Comment

  1. Looks like an interesting story. I will check it out.

    Jo, funny thing, I didn’t connect your name, but as I read the review, some of your opinions reminded me of a previous review/discussion about the Anita Blake series. Too funny to find that was your review when I looked back for it just now. Love to read your reviews!



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