Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Posted March 15, 2011 by Carmel in / 17 Comments


Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Publisher: Viking Adult
Published: February 2011
Pages: 592
My Copy: Won from Parajunkee’s View

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.

A Discovery of Witches is an interesting mix of paranormal, romance, mystery, history and science. Not very many books can pull off incorporating so many diverse elements in one package but in this instance it works. This novel is well-rounded and a great read, no matter what your preferred genre is. It does get a little heavy at times though so it’s best to take your time and to stretch it out over several days. I’m grateful for the experience and in no way regret reading this book but after finishing it I’m more than happy to follow it up with something that’s a little more light and trivial.

This book reminded me a bit of some of Dan Brown’s books, without the vampires and witches of course. It covers alchemy, Darwin’s theory of evolution, quotes from well-known philosophers and more but with a supernatural twist. These elements brought me back to my studying days. Which was a good thing because I enjoyed the ties to the real world but also a bad thing because at times my brain felt overloaded. I read to escape the real world and this book just made me think way too much sometimes. I had to put it down and walk away because I felt a headache brewing. I enjoyed the history aspect of it more so than the scientific one. I’ve always liked historical novels and this book explores the past through Matthew’s personal experiences. He’s a 1,500 plus year old vamp who met many of the world’s greatest minds in person. Hearing about his versions of Darwin and Newton really brought these figures to life. Granted, it’s all fiction but it definitely makes history fun!

Another aspect of this book that I really enjoyed was the inclusion of books. Whenever I encounter a main character in a story who shares my love of reading I immediately feel a connection to them. In this instance it’s approached differently but still holds its appeal. Diana is a scholar and as a result she studies a wide range of books. Many of them old, or first editions, or famous. In one chapter she’s exploring Matthew’s ancient library searching for a Bible to use as a reference book only to stumble upon an original Gutenberg. I’m not a collector but even I can appreciate the significance of this and I wouldn’t say no to an opportunity to see one.

Diana and Matthew are great characters and I enjoyed learning more about what makes them tick. Many of the secondary characters in this novel also found a place in my heart. I can honestly say that I liked everyone in this book, even the bad guys. They all had a role to play in the story and if any of them wouldn’t have been included I think the plot would have suffered as a result. This novel has so many moving parts that it can get overwhelming at times so don’t expect to finish it in one sitting.

This book was outside of my usual reading habits and a welcome change. The vast scope of what it covers is mind boggling. I really enjoyed the way that the paranormal and scientific elements ran side-by-side and at times became intertwined. I’ve never encountered such a “smart” supernatural book. However, it is very long and can be frustrating at times so you might want to read it alongside a lighter read to break things up. I really enjoyed A Discovery of Witches but I’m looking forward to reading some chick lit next before my brain overheats.

My Rating:


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I review Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance books with a focus all things werewolf. Based out of Ottawa, Canada

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17 responses to “Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

  1. Sounds pretty interesting. I’ve heard of this but could never figure out what it was about. Maybe I’ll wait for the PB.

  2. DJL

    It still sounds like an amazing book, and I’m hoping to put it on reserve in the next couple of months. So much to read already, I need to make time for it. 🙂 Thank you for the great review, Carmel!

    DJL
    djlibrarian3@gmail.com

  3. Thanks for this review, I have seen mixed reviews on this book. Definitely sounds like my type of read.

    vampiremistress2010(at)gmail(dot)com

  4. I have this novel waiting next in line. Well, I just moved it next in line after that review. I wasn’t sure about it, but your review makes it sound promising 🙂

    Vivien
    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  5. Interesting review. I’ve never considered reading this because the cover turned me off but I will consider reading it now!
    lilazncutie1215[at]yahoo[dot]com

  6. @aobibliophile Nice! Good luck. It’s a long one!

    @Jessica I would be waiting for the PB as well if I hadn’t won it. Hardcovers are too pricey. 🙁

    @DJL You’ll definitely need to clear your schedule if you decide to read this one!

    @BLHmistress I can understand the mixed reviews. It’s not a book for everyone.

    @Vivien Cool, I hope you enjoy it.

    @Tore No problem!

    @jeanette8042 Really? I rather like the cover… Oh well!

    @Books Glorious Books Exactly! It’s good to squeeze in a book that’s outside of your typical reading preferences every once in a while.

    @Lexie It is and it isn’t. It’s hard to explain.

    @Larissa It does seem to be everywhere doesn’t it?

    @Avery The cover is striking!

    @LRAtRandom Cool. 🙂

  7. Although books like this one tend to be crammed with a lot of facts and can be quite heavy to read, I never regret reading them all the way through simply because I get to laern so much in the process. Thiis sounds like something I’d like to read.

    I’ve tweeted at:http://twitter.com/#!/SweetNSensible

    Thanks:)

    sarahDOTsetarATgmailDOTcom