Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: 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.
This one has been on my radar for a while, and I think I built it up a lot in my mind and set my expectations really high. Because of that, this one fell a little flat for me.
The premise started out really great. Diana was strong-willed and likable, independent, and badass in her own way. And her early interactions with Matthew really felt like this book would be a better, more adult version of Twilight. But then as soon as she comes to realize her feelings for Matthew, all of that goes out the window. Her independence is gone, and the book becomes so hyper-focused on their relationship that it drags on forever, and I got pretty bored pretty quickly. Not to mention that Matthew is a more controlling, aggressive version of the ‘possessive boyfriend’ trope Twilight gets criticized for. And that the writer excuses this behavior with ‘that’s just how vampire mating works’ makes it that much worse, because it suggests Matthew won’t grow out of it/adjust his behavior – which was what I hoped would happen. And Diana just accepts it and every other thing Matthew does (including murder and his willingness to murder members of his family for her) without much conflict.
Honestly, I could have maybe gotten past all of that and given future books a chance (I did read all of Twilight, after all), if the writing itself hadn’t thrown me. Too many times we’re forced to sit through descriptions of things I honestly don’t care about, like Diana’s wardrobe. I can forgive one description of what she’s wearing for the sake of having the reader picture her in the beginning, but to constantly read a catalog of every piece of clothing she’s wearing get very old, very quickly. At one point I found myself barely skimming those paragraphs.
The final nail in the coffin was the exposition. So much of the world-building we get was info dumping in the middle of conversations between characters. That made the book feel like it was dragging on forever, and nothing really happened. There was also just *so much* information in the book, that it was a little overwhelming and too long for the story it was actually telling. We don’t need to know everything about everyone right away, and the book could have benefited from thinning out a lot of its bulk. There’s a great book in here somewhere, there’s just too much digging to get to it.
Unfortunately, I won’t be picking up the sequels, since I have a feeling the rest of them will be just as busy and bogged down by too much exposition and Diana and Matthew’s frankly not great relationship. It gets three stars because I finished it, and I did find the overall mythos to be pretty interesting.