Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Posted June 25, 2014 by Jessica in Jessica, Reviews, Urban Fantasy / 90 Comments

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

    • 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 😉

    • 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!

  1. 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 . . .

    • 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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

    • 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 😉

  4. “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*

  5. 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!!

  6. 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.

  7. 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 😉

    • 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 😉

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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*

  8. 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 😉

  9. 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

    • 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.

  10. 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!

    • 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.

    • 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 😉

  11. 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

    • 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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 😉