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Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Series: All Souls Trilogy #1
Published by Viking
Published on: February 8 2011
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 581
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
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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.

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This book.

Have you ever liked something almost against your will? Something that encompasses roughly half of the things you hate in reference to said thing? Something that makes you scratch your head in wonder, b/c you can’t figure out why on earth you aren’t terribly bothered by those detested things in this situation?

Welcome to my life.

This book has:

1. What can be construed as insta-love. Matthew and Diana are drawn to each other from the moment they meet, BUT it’s so subtle that you aren’t sure that’s what is happening. And that’s probably why it gets a pass.

I never really thought about it (before this book forced me too), but it’s the things that insta-love seems to be comprised of, rather than the insta-love itself, that I take issue with—fluttery eyelashes, wild proclamations of ardent, enduring (but wholly untried) love, and the accompanying false sense of urgency. P-U-K-E. Get a room, already. And preferably AFTER the inevitable danger has passed.

But none of those things are an issue here. By the time it becomes obvious that, yes, these two feel more for each other than trepidation and annoyance, enough time has elapsed to almost warrant the depth of emotion, and the rest can be chalked up to fate, animal instinct, mating imperative, etc.

2. A super, special snowflake who denies her super, special snowflakeness. Not only is Diana the last in a powerful line of matriarchal witches, her father was a powerful warlock in his own right. So powerful that a union between her mother and father was strongly discouraged by the powers that be. Mom and Dad said, “Screw you, hippies!” and Diana was the result. But when her parents were killed when Diana was seven, she assumed their deaths were the result of their abilities and refuses to have anything to do with magic.

B/c that always works out so well. *sighs*

But again, it gets a pass. Diana is being just as ridiculous as every MC who tries to ignore their gifts, but this time you can’t help but be sympathetic. She’s not being obstinate simply to be a pain in the arse. She understandably believes that nothing good can come from using magic, so she’s not going to do it. And that’s not the only reason it gets a pass, but I can’t tell you the other one. Suffice it to say, there’s a darn good reason Diana isn’t using magic, and that reason is not even remotely her fault.

3. Super, secret information withholding. And this is perhaps the one I have the hardest time with. I cannot stand it when someone in a position of authority, older, more experienced, etc. unilaterally decides who gets to know what. HATE it.<——I’m audibly grinding my teeth right now.

But Matthew . . . it’s kind of the same thing that happens when I read historical romance. Am I overly fond of a woman’s only option being to marry and marry well, have children, keep house? NO. I’m NOT. But that’s the way things were, and getting mad about it isn’t going to change anything, and besides, Dukes are HAWT.

So is Matthew. AND he’s a 1500 year old vampire, so he kind falls under that same umbrella, and really, he means well. I got frustrated with him a few times, but it was obvious that he was trying, and I imagine it’d be pretty darn hard to attempt major behavior modifications to habits 1500 years in the making. So yeah. Yet another pass.

The good news is that having talked it out, I’m no longer banging my head against a wall. I now know why I like this book despite the major book peeves lurking around every corner. And besides those peeves getting passes, A Discovery of Witches is just entertaining. It might have taken me awhile to like Diana, but I instantly respected her, and I was as gone for Matthew as she was the moment he showed up. In the LIBRARY. At OXFORD.

Lots of bookish fun in this book.

Also—while I have no complaints about the pacing in the front 75% of the book, the last 25% is just riveting. The second that Matthew and Diana show up at her childhood home, I could not put the book down. The house is sentient and highly opinionated. It’s also full of the ghosts of Bishops past, also opinionated. A couple of new secondaries show up, one of which is absolutely darling. GAH. This book is awesome, just read it. Highly recommended.

All Souls Trilogy:

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My name is Jessica and I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I’m trying my hand at writing, but mostly I read. My favorite genres are Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, and the YA versions of those genres, but if there is a book of a different color getting lots of buzz, I’ll read it too, just to be informed. If I’m not reading or writing, I’m probably on Goodreads or Pinterest or baking blueberry pies because I love them.

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90 Comments

  1. I love this series. I can’t wait for book three to come out. It was a book that I was hesitant to read, but a friend from work pushed me into it and I was really glad about it. Can’t wait to see your thoughts on book two.
    Melanie Simmons recently posted…My Favorite Audiobook Series Giveaway #audiobookmonth #JIAM2014

    • I can’t wait for my thoughts on book 2 either–I’m reading this as part of a group reread with some Goodreads peeps, and the moderator is a vicious taskmistress who won’t let me start it until tomorrow, LOL. And I wasn’t particularly eager or hesitant the first time I picked this book up. I was more curious, and that worked out well, I think 😉

  2. OOh nice review! I am just about to start this one myself! Hoping that I will enjoy it too! It’s so daunting with its length!
    Jessica recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday

    • Length-wise this one is daunting, but I think it’s worth it 😉 Thanks, Jessica!

  3. I never finished this book, got bored. I seem to remember it was a whole lot of talk about food and tea.
    Nathan ( recently posted…Fantasy Review: ‘Half a King’ by Joe Abercrombie

  4. Nice review Jessica, I stil have to read this book myself. Someday …
    aurian recently posted…Jayne Castle – The Desperate Game

  5. I loved this one! I didn’t really realize what was going on with Diana and Matthew at first either, but I like them together. I have a copy of the second book, guess I need to get reading it now that there is already a third book. 😉 Great review!
    Jenea recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #93 Lumière (The Illumination Paradox #1) by Jacqueline Garlick

    • Yeah, it definitely sneaked up on me too, but I liked them together, so I was okay with it. And yes–if I recall correctly, I liked the second book even more than this one. Thanks, Jenea!

  6. I haven’t read this one, but I did read book two for a review and wasn’t happy with it. Very ‘historical’ as in too much history being thrown at me than character story. But, I wasn’t as invested in the couple as someone who read book one.

    Deborah is doing a book signing relatively close to me. I am hoping to catch it 🙂
    Sharon Stogner recently posted…Arts and Crafts with Authors: How to Make a Cat Bed with Tara Fox Hall + giveaway

    • Book 1 and book 2 are vastly different. So much so that when I first read book 2, I had to deliberate about whether or not it was even the same genre. BUT a common thread between the two is Harkness’s tendency to intellectualize, so I’m not sure you’d like this one much better . . .

  7. The beginning of your review makes me want to pet you in sympathy. *pets* But I do love a book that can take your normal peeves and make you like it despite them. Always the sign of a good story, I say. 🙂
    Amanda recently posted…(Mis)fortune by Melissa Haag {Kelly’s Review}

    • I don’t know that I love a book that turns my peeves on their heads—I don’t like being conflicted—but it does say a LOT for this one that I managed to like it despite so many.

  8. lol…I was nodding my head and giggling the whole time I was reading your review. You are 100% on target with all your pet peeves and why they don’t work for this book. I had the same struggle and I agree…Mathew is HAWT. I fell in insta-love with him too. 🙂 I am reading book 3 now and it’s off to a dramatic start. Gosh…now I want to go read. So happy you loved this one.
    Ginny recently posted…Book Review and Giveaway: Mind Games by Christine Amsden

    • LUCKY! I can’t complain too much though b/c I’m rereading books 1 & 2 with a bunch of Goodreads peeps, and that’s pretty fun. Can’t wait to see how it all ends though 😉

  9. Oh, I absolutely love this series and I totally agree with your review, and yet — LOVE!!! 😀

    • I KNOW! So strange! I’m confused and bewildered, but regardless–LOVED it.

  10. My friend just read this series too and loved it and I have it on my kindle. I’m not sure why I haven’t been compelled to read it and I’m not sure if it’s the cover or the font of the title. OHMIGOD…I can’t believe I said that! *hides* Weirdo should be my middle name. I only skimmed your review since I have read it yet but I will read once I’m done (and you know I will come back on here and totally read it and then stalk you). ♥
    Cristina recently posted…Meet the Reviewers

    • Pfft. You already know that I didn’t read Kate for YEARS b/c stupid covers. Sometimes you just need some extra motivation to push you past the lame cover hurdle 😉

  11. “A super, special snowflake who denies her super, special snowflakeness” *snort* Too many characters think they’re super awesome…and they’re just not. *sigh* But Diana sounds like she eventually gets on board. I’ve heard great things about this series — and need to read it!!
    Mary recently posted…Pre-Squee: I WANT IT THAT WAY by Ann Aguirre

    • Yeah, I hate when that happens too, but in this situation it was more of a “The One” super, special snowflakeness. You know . . . the prophesied one, the hybrid that will end the strife between the supernatural races . . . that kind of thing 😉

  12. “Super, secret information withholding. And this is perhaps the one I have the hardest time with. I cannot stand it when someone in a position of authority, older, more experienced, etc. unilaterally decides who gets to know what. HATE it.<——I’m audibly grinding my teeth right now."

    THIS IS ME EXACTLY JESSICA!!!! I hate when characters keep secrets that inevitably cause huge issues down the line. I'm so glad that despite your above issues, this story is written well-enough and executed well-enough that even things that should bother you really didn't. I can't wait to meet Matthew, even if he's going to make me want to give him a little shake a time or two:)

    • You’ll want to shake him, and you’ll want to hold him VERY close while you do it, Jenny 😉 And I REALLY do hate that whole deal. Like hate, loathe, despise, and abominate it, so if I could deal with it, chances are you can too. *crosses fingers*

  13. Ok, so now you’ve made it Jessica! You should have hated the book but loved it and I shouldn’t want to read it with all those tropes that get on my nerves but your review makes me want to read it STAT! *shakes fist*
    Pili recently posted…Waiting On Wednesday #48!!

  14. I know! Despite using all those tropes, there is just something magical about this book! I really liked it, and liked it more the more I thought about it. It felt so unique and interesting and I liked his Mom and I liked the mysterious nature of everything and the writing is just so beautiful and omg the next one has time travel. I still haven’t read the next one, though I did buy it.
    Julie S. recently posted…The Fault In Our Stars Movie Review

    • We are not alone, Julie. Since this review posted, I’ve had a bunch of people say exactly the same thing, so that’s a relief (I don’t want to be leading people astray, LOL), and honestly, I think I liked book 2 even more than this one.

  15. I love this series and I just finished The Book of Life (well a couple of days ago) and I still have no words. It was soo good!
    kindlemom1 recently posted…Cover Reveal: Dire Wolves by Alyssa Ivy Rose

  16. I’m glad you liked this one, Jessica! I read this one a few years ago and it was before I had my blog…and unfortunately I think it was one of the first “bad” reviews I’ve ever written. 😛 I loved the character at first, but HATED Matthew and the way he made her a shivering pile of jello the moment he makes his first appearance. Yes, he was VERY frustrating – but I never got over it the way you did!
    Mogsy recently posted…Book Review: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey

    • Sorry you didn’t like it, but yeah, I didn’t think Diana turned to jello at all. In fact, I thought she dug her heels in, despite her attraction to Matthew. Diana is one of the most stubborn characters I’ve ever read. So many different perspectives 😉

  17. LOL Jessica. Yes have had one not too long ago that I so didn’t want to like but did and couldn’t believe. I’ve not tried these yet but have them on my list for some day 🙂
    anna recently posted…Fair Play (It Happened at the Fair #2) by Deeanne Gist

    • Here’s to “some day”! Glad I’m not the only one this happens to 😉

  18. I’m planning to read this series this summer. I love books with witches and I’ve only heard good things about this series. Can’t wait to read it!
    Candace recently posted…Adult Audiobook Review: Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep

    • Yay! I can’t wait to hear what you think about it, Candace. And if you aren’t crazy about this one, kind in mind that book 2 is COMPLETELY different. But hopefully that won’t be an issue 😉

  19. I really really enjoy this book, and you just reminded me that I need to listen to book 2!! I can’t believe I forgot all about this series…LOL You made me laugh, and I can totally see that those things bothered you 😉
    Thank you Jessica.
    Lupdilup recently posted…Better When He’s Bad Audiobook by Jay Crownover (review)

    • Thank YOU! And yeah, go listen to book 2, LOL. Book 3 is coming out in like two and a half weeks!

  20. Loved this book but found it hard to get into the second one.
    Emma Meade recently posted…So many books to read, so little time

    • Oh, I’m sorry it didn’t work for you. I’m fixing to buddy reread it, so we’ll see . . . but I’m pretty sure I liked it.

  21. I totally agree with you about insta-love. I’ve been thinking about writing a post about this, in fact. What makes it work sometimes and not others? It CAN be done well (but usually isn’t). Interesting thoughts here – and I definitely agree.
    Nicole recently posted…Review – Your Perfect Life by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

    • I think it depends on the amount of cheese, and whether or not a reasonable explanation is given for the insta-love. ALSO–the couple has to get to know each other throughout the rest of the story. If they just blindly swoon and we aren’t given tangible evidence that yes, they are perfect for each other, then it just doesn’t work for me.

  22. Oh, nothing boils my blood more than an information withholding male character who’s only doing it to “protect” his fragile lover. HELL NO. That said, I *do* have weakness for supernatural heroines who spend time at the library…
    Danya recently posted…Review: World After by Susan Ee

    • Then you’ll more than likely be caught like I was 😉 And I think the info withholding is easier to deal with in reference to Matthew b/c a lot of it is fear that Diana won’t be able to accept him as he is. Not always, but a lot of the time, and that’s infinitely more forgivable for me.

  23. ANother book I should try one day. I should see if the library has it
    blodeuedd recently posted…The Awakened Mage – Karen Miller

  24. I love the Bishop House!!! Matthew and Diana both irked me at times (Matthew for holding back info and Diana for her stubbornness) but that can be said for so many main characters. Overall, it’s a fantastic series and I can’t wait for book 3!
    Traci recently posted…Author Interview ~ Molly Harper ~ Better Homes and Hauntings

    • Bishop house was the BEST, wasn’t it? And SOPHIE. I really loved Sophie. I can’t wait for The Book of Life—two and half more weeks!

  25. I read this pre-blog, I liked it but didn’t love it as much as you did. I think the reason was I was into the Eric’s and Bill’s and UF vamps and Matthew is this chill dude that didn’t appeal to me much. Anyway, looking forward to Book of Life and the movie!
    Braine Talk Supe recently posted…Year 3.4: TRUST: Pandora’s Box by Cristiane Serruya + Desser Recipe & Giveaway

    • Yeah, Matthew is definitely chill compared to Bill and Eric, and if I had been in the middle of a high-action UF run when I started reading this, I might have been bored. But I wasn’t. And MOVIE??!! *heads to IMDB*

  26. Oh I’m anxious about the insta-love now… You know I still haven’t read this one? I have book 1 in French in my TBR pile but it’s HUGE, so well it lays there lol waiting for me to pick it. One day I’ll, mainly because everyone loved it! I think I may have book 2 too, I don’t remember… When books are huge I tend to put them in the back lol. THanks for the review Jessica!

    • Yeah, when the TBR pile is crazy, big, honkin’ books tend to shoved back for me too. I really didn’t have time to read this right now, either, but I didn’t care. I did it anyway. I hope you can fit it in sometime too 😉

  27. I absolutely positively adore this series! From the historical aspects, the aunt’s house, the paranormal woo-woo and the romance. I cannot get enough. LOL
    kimbacaffeinate recently posted…Five Ways to Fall by K.A. Tucker

    • I love it too, and I can’t wait to great my hands on The Book of Life. Two and a half weeks!

  28. Dude I’m only 32 and my habits are locked in stone – I can’t even imagine if I was 1500 + years old. No frigging way. haha liked against your better judgement aye?
    Tabitha (Not Yet Read) recently posted…Fan Art Up! (11) – A Barricade in Hell & Tough Traveling – Minions!

  29. Gaf! I have had this in my ereader for what seems like forever. I have to read it! So many books.
    Stephanie recently posted…Review: Keep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline

    • *commiserates* But, SO many books is SO much better than not nearly enough books 😉

  30. This book really looks fantatic! Is the world-building great too, Jessica? The characters seem enjoyable but I have to know for the world. 😛 Love your review and, yes, I have as answer to your question. Throne of Glass. I expected it to not have magic when duh, it had. I wanted the MC to end up with the guard when duh she kept running to the prince. I usually hate secrets/mischievous plans (b/c they frustrate me) when there obviously was one to bring the MC down. Blaah, enjoyed the book anyways. 😀 Great review, Jessica! *Don’t take it personal since I know you adore this series ;)*
    Lola recently posted…BOOK TOUR: review & giveaway of Carnelian by B. Kristin McMichael

  31. I once started reading this one and couldn’t get into it! I thought it was slow. Knowing that it gets better actually makes me want to read it again. I did like the concept, but at the time the pacing wasn’t for me. Great review! I love books that challenge your beliefs (i.e. Instalove) XD
    Marianne recently posted…Review: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Kate Rorick & Bernie Su

    • I think the problem with this one is not only is it slow, but it’s UF which typically the OPPOSITE of slow. I just kind of rolled with it. I hope you do give it another chance sometime. Maybe now that you know it’s less action-packed than traditional UF, it would go better for you.

  32. I agree with all your, ummmm, “issues” 🙂 Although I’m probably more lenient on the whole insta-love thing. But I absolutely LOVED your explanation of each one and it’s relation to the story!!! Awesome review, girlie!

    I’ve always been on the fence about this book because of it’s length, even with Kim’s glowing recommendation. But now I’m kind of giddy to read it!

    Thanks for putting my TBR on life support… tee, hee!

  33. I love how you’ve talked out your peeve’s to come to the conclusion that it was an entertaining read and you enjoyed it! I think I’d like this one myself! Fab review Jessica!

    Naomi @ Nomi’s Paranormal Palace
    Naomi recently posted…EARLY REVIEW ~ London Falling by Chanel Cleeton

    • Thanks, Naomi! And yeah, sometimes books are just so good and/or handle peeves well enough that you like them despite yourself 😉

  34. You know, sometimes insta-love just works. I have loved a book against my will and I love then that happens. I am so not interested in this series but you are making me second guess myself.
    Jennifer Bielman recently posted…Kindle & Nook Freebies #86

    • LOL. Well, if you decide to give this a chance, make sure you don’t go into it expecting the standard, action-packed UF. This one is slower and more cerebral, but man, I really liked it.

  35. Ah yes, those books you love despite the things that usually make you growl at.
    brandileigh2003 recently posted…Review: The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor

  36. Ha! Suzy the Special Snowflake is super-special-didn’t you know!? But, seriously, this sounds amazing and for you to have enjoyed so many of your pet peeves goes to say something about the amazing writing in this.
    Great review, and thanks for the laugh, Jessica 🙂
    kim { Book Swoon } recently posted…Blog Tour: Queen of Wands by Katee Robert + Review and Giveaway

  37. You know… this is one of those books I have been wanting to read BUT honestly it’s the cover that puts me off. I know I know I am such a cover junkie.. but its the truth. I was so happy to read your review about this book though. I will just close my eyes and add this one on my ereader!

    Chanzie @ Mean Who You Are.
    Chene Sterckx recently posted…Audio Book Review: The Drive-By Wife by Mike Wells

    • LOL, you’re the second person to say that. I’m a cover junkie too, but I like this one. *shrugs awkwardly* And yes! One more thing to love about ereaders. Slap a pretty skin on it, and you’re always happy 😉

  38. Well, judging by the sound of it, I’m feeling strong desires to try it out 😀 I feel a witches mood coming on anyway, so it would totally fit my craving. Plus, gazillion years old vampires are the kind of characters I just can’t resist 😀
    Livia recently posted…Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

    • This is a pretty great series, Livia, and BONUS—last book in the trilogy comes out in two weeks, so no multiple year-long waits between books 😉

  39. I liked this book and the intricate details, but found it really slow. I preferred the second book, and am looking forward to reading the third one.
    Sarah recently posted…Week in review Jun 29

    • Yeah, this book is definitely on the slow side compared to most UF, and I’m pretty sure I liked the second book better too. It’s been awhile, but I’m supposed to a group reread of it soon, so I guess we’ll see.

  40. I was in two minds about this book when it was released despite being a big fan of witches, it seems to have so many tropes that would grate on my nerves but you have motivated me to give it a go.

    A wonderful review Jessica.
    Sharon – Obsession with Books recently posted…Blue Sky Days by Marie Landry Relaunch Blitz

  41. I’m so excited for book three to come out! Not that much longer now
    LilyElement recently posted…WoW [111] – Taking It All

  42. I remember this book being compared to Twilight, and I was “Hello? Twilight? No way!” I loved all about it, and actually Matthew acted in accordance with his age and experience. You were right to pick up on this, Jessica 🙂 I’m re-reading it right now before starting the newest one.
    kara-karina recently posted…The Postman Knock #86

    • THANK YOU! The Twilight thing made ZERO sense to me, and yeah, I thought Matthew was actually pretty forward thinking given his age and situation. And rereads are awesome. I’m hoping to start book 2 by the weekend at the latest.

  43. I LIKE this cover, and yes, yes… I have been there more than once. Especially with the insta-love — sometimes it just works, though; and it definitely sounds like it does here. “Super special snowflakeness” *GIGGLE SNORT* Normally, 500+ pages would scare me off, but a riveting ending and a seemingly swoony 1500-year-old vampire send this one to the TBR list as well. Honestly, Jessica. But seriously, another great review!
    Michele recently posted…Review: Until We Fly (Beautifully Broken #4) by Courtney Cole

    • Thanks, LOL. Sometimes it does just work, and this is one of those times. And yeah, the fact that this book picks up so much near the end really keeps it from feeling as long as it is. AND Matthew 😉