Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

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.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.
With its touted comparison to Anne Rice's earlier novels, I was intrigued by the idea of A Discovery of Witches. Add to this the author's biography proclaiming Deborah Harkness, herself, is a scholar, I was hopeful that the historical references in the story would teach me a few new things. But when I received the book, I looked at its near 600 pages with dubiousness.

Indeed this book is a marathon. Although its first page seemed almost ordinary, you read the second and are thrown right into the thick of things, as the main character proclaims, simply, that she is a witch; as if this is normal. From this early revelation, to the occurences that immediately follow, we get to see how Ms. Harkness envisioned a world that appears to lie just below human recognition. The author gives a compelling arguement about why humans refuse the existence of witches, daemons, and vampires, or how they invent and rationalize the well known mythologies surrounding these creatures.

The novel took unexpected turns, which kept me captivated, despite my initial hesitation at the sheer size of the read. From mitochondrial DNA to alchemy, it was a look into the science of the preternatural beings, as much as it was about the love story between Diana and Matthew. The alchemy aspect further interested, with my own suspicion of where it will ultimately lead.

Approaching the conclusion, I actually began to feel the loss of these characters. So, wasn't I pleasantly surprised to find out that this is only book one of a trilogy?! I think, personally, I would compare this story to the work of Diana Gabaldon; a great amount of history with a romantic feel. A Discovery of Witches ended in a very interesting place and I look forward to seeing where the rest of this story goes. It was completely well worth the time spent reading.

You can find A Discovery of Witches at Amazon, Book Depository, Book Depository UK, and


Mel (He Followed Me Home) said...

ok, that's it, I better hunker down and read this one this summer. Now I'm curious about how she explains the creatures!

Jackie said...

@Mel - I really hope you like it. I know you'll like then end *she says ominously* ;-)

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Oh, this is a great review and interesting sounding book. :) Thank you!

Jackie said...

@Melissa - Thanks! It was definitely different in its approach, for the most part, which made it that much more interesting.

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