A Discovery Of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1) – Deborah Harkness

Published April 9, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

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.

What did I think?:

A Discovery Of Witches has been on my biblio-radar for a few years now so when I discovered that Book Bridgr and the publishers at Headline were giving away copies of the trilogy in exchange for an honest review to celebrate the third book in the series being released I was quick to hit that “request” button. I’ve got to admit that I was quite surprised by this novel as for some reason I thought it was marketed at a younger audience so I was impressed by the maturity both of the plot and of the writing. Our main character is a young woman called Diana Bishop who has excelled in her academic life by becoming a professor of the history of science and keeps herself physically fit by rowing and running on a daily basis. The most intriguing thing about our character however is that she is the daughter of two very powerful witches who were both murdered when she was seven years old. Oh yes, in the world that Deborah Harkness paints, there are four living species – witches, vampires, daemons and humans that, so far, seem to have co-existed relatively peacefully. Due to her parents violent end and because she feels no good can ever come of magic, Diana has suppressed her own “witchy” powers by refusing to acknowledge they even exist.

This is all set to change rather dramatically when Diana comes across an ancient manuscript that appears to be locked at the Bodleian library in Oxford. Entitled Ashmole 782, Diana is surprised to find that she is able to access the spells within and is briefly mesmerised by its contents before she swiftly closes the book and returns it to the stacks, feeling she is opening a huge can of worms. And she is. For now every single supernatural entity in Oxford now appears to be extremely interested in Diana and she begins to feel quite afraid, wondering just what it is that she has unwittingly begun. One of the interested parties is a Matthew Clairmont who is a biochemist, geneticist, wine-drinking, yoga-loving centuries-old vampire. After tiring of his courting technique (which involves following her and watching her sleep) Diana agrees to team up with Matthew to try and solve the mystery of the ancient book and just why it has the other supernaturals all hot and bothered. As Diana and Matthew become closer and fall in love, they realise that their mission is fraught with dangers that they had never anticipated and may even be their un-doing. Apart from vampire/witch relationships being slightly frowned upon in the magical circles they must encounter another enemy that could threaten everything they have. Is there anyone they can trust? Also, how will Diana cope when she begins to encounter powers within herself that she never realised she had?

Confession time. I definitely pre-judged this book. Hey, Twilight had just come out and the world was going a bit vampire crazy so I made an assumption that turned out to be very wrong. If you’re a fan of Twilight or a big YA lover this book is probably not going to be right for you. The pace at the beginning of the novel is very slow as the author sets the scene and explores her characters and to be honest, not much of note really takes place. As the action heats up (around the middle of the book) the plot becomes a bit more intriguing and we learn a lot more about the magical creatures that inhabit this strange little world. It took me a while to warm to Diana as a character, although I loved that the author made her intelligent and independent from the start, perfectly happy in her own skin and her own company (big hurrah!). What did annoy me was that as soon as she fell in love with Matthew she seemed to pander slightly to his control freakish nature allowing herself to become the damsel in distress rather than the super-heroine I was hoping for. There are quite a lot of negative reviews of this novel on GoodReads and I can see the point of some of the criticisms i.e. the length of the novel and the large portions where not much seemed to happen. Personally speaking, I thought it was well written, loved the scientific and historical notes and enjoyed a strong (for the most part) female lead and a riveting ending. It did seem that it got a lot more thrilling in the last third of the book which is why I am fairly eager to read the second novel in the trilogy – Shadow Of Night, just to see where on earth the author is going to take the story next!

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):


One comment on “A Discovery Of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1) – Deborah Harkness

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