Saturday, 29 October 2011

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah E. Harkness

Rating: 2 out of 5 chocolates

"An epic, richly inventive, historically sweeping, magical romance. When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it's an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she's kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana's discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels..." from

I have always had a love-hate relationship with hefty books. I’m immediately drawn to them because the thickness of it promises me a long, hopefully enjoyable experience with the characters and the various settings. But then I hesitate, because if I’m unlucky, it could be an equally long, unpleasant experience. Unfortunately for me, A Discovery of Witches proved to be part of the ‘hate’ relationship with said voluminous books.

The book is 688 pages long. The book only really comes alive from page 400-something. Throughout the book, prepare to read a lot about different wines, food, rowing, running, sleeping, doing research in the library, and sitting around drinking tea while having repeated conversations at different homes, oh, and yes, ‘bundling’.

It’s great to see that Harkness put in a lot of research into the book, however there was no need to bog readers down with unnecessary details. Although some of it was essential to the book’s plot, there was still far too much alchemical and scientific references thrown in that were completely unnecessary, beefing up the book for no reason.

Harkness wanted to portray her female protagonist, Diana Bishop, as this head-strong, independent young woman who has turned her back on her witch ancestry, and worked hard to become an expert in her field of history. She rows, runs, and does yoga. She displays some bravado in several scenes. But Harkness contradicts herself by making Diana prone to swooning, excessive fatigue and stupidity (what kind of grown up academic goes outside when expressly told not to?). It sometimes felt like you’re reading about two completely different characters.

Does it say a lot that my favourite characters from this book are Tabitha the cat and the witches' house? The Bishop house is alive - moving furniture around, creating new rooms to herald the coming of guests, and showing its displeasure by slamming doors shut. I just had to add that in, otherwise I won’t have a lot of positive things to say about this book.

I can see why it’s compared to Twilight a lot – being that Matthew keeps protecting Diana at any cost and gets his whole family involved, as with Edward and Bella. The similarities with their ‘forbidden’ love are similar too (I wonder if that’s the reason why Harkness chose not to have werewolves in her story?). Oh, and yes, Matthew also does the creepy Edward thing of sneaking through the window and watching Diana sleep.  Those are the only three things that make them similar. But I’ll give Harkness this, A Discovery of Witches is in a better, more mature caliber than Twilight.

I must point out though, Harkness actually has a very good idea in her hands plot-wise, so I’ll give her another shot once the next book in the trilogy comes out next year.


  1. I'm so sad that you didn't love this as much as I did:( You have a lot of points though about the similarities with Twilight (of which I am not a fan). Guess the difference is that I enjoy getting a lot of those technical details as lond as it doesn't supercede the story--which for me it didn't!

    ♥ Melissa @ Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf

  2. I must admit I'm not much for vampires and witches, but when I read the synopsis and your review of this book, I thought this was different because there is good quality research involved--something that perhaps readers like me who have not read many stories on vampires and witches would be able to appreciate. Another great honest review, Toni! Keep them coming! :-)

    Nancy @ Simple Clockwork

  3. Great review. I've been curious about this book. I'm with you on the love/hate of thick books! It could turn out to be a fabulous long-term relationship, or a tiresome slog. I tend not to stick out a story any longer than, say 50-100 pages, though.

  4. . . . a story I'm not enjoying, that is.

  5. Ooh, the similarities with Twilight have put me off reading this! Great reveiw though. I'm following your blog.


  6. I loved this book. The length of the book was not an issue. Maybe the difference is I have never read the Twilight series. I am anxiously awaiting her next book in the series.