Magic and History Come to Life | Review: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1) by Deborah Harkness

6:30 AM

Now is the time to be proud of me! Not only did I finish reading A Discovery of Witches in such a short amount of time, I binge watched the entire first season of its television adaptation!


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 by Deborah Harkness 
Rating: ★★★☆☆

"Magic is desire made real."

Admittedly, I had a few issues with A Discovery of Witches. At the beginning, I was wholly engaged and completely enamored with the way that Deborah Harkness writes. I saw the start of this trilogy as I'd hoped it'd be: intelligent, atmospheric, a little mysterious and a little romantic. You have this great mix of tropes and archetypes in A Discovery of Witches, and engrossing prose, that leaves a promise against your finger tips.

This introduction to the All Souls Trilogy screams read me during the autumn at us and so I happily obliged. And, yes, in its pages you can find the purest form of intrigue. Harkness is quick to settle into her prose, thrusting us into a world that is only slightly different from our own. Like all series, A Discovery of Witches begins with a book and the aftermath of having found something that others have been seeking for a long time.

Instantly I felt as though A Discovery of Witches could be a combination of Twilight, Outlander and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel, and in so many ways it is reminiscent of all three. Although, much like others, I found the novel to be highly indulgent and parallel to the Twilight series above all else.

Not only does the main relationship that A Discovery of Witches is centered around give off distinct Twilight vibes, there were many plotlines and traits and even lines that felt not unlike an echo of the series. For a while, I couldn't really shake the similarities between the two and had moments where it really took me out of the story. Yet, each time I grew frustrated with the story, Harkness was able to draw me back in with her gorgeous writing.

In the course of the novel, we are introduced to many "creatures" (daemons, vampires and witches) and the tensions they stir up when it comes to co-existing, including our main characters: Diana Bishop, a witch who is disconnected entirely from her powers and fully engrossed in her career as a historian, and Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist who happens to be a vampire (!) with a possessive streak and a habit of breaking into his love interest's home to watch her sleep. (Edward Cullen is waiting on the other line.)

A Discovery of Witches is only at its best when Harkness utilizes her prose to get the story moving along. When it's romantic, it's romantic. When it's magical, it's everything. When we dive into the mythology, so much shifts into focus and the possibilities seem endless. When the action kicks into gear, the story becomes thrilling. When the vampire asks you to go to yoga, you get on your gym clothes and get to business.

While there were many moments that I felt thoroughly engaged and was unable to look away, there is also a lot about the novel that I couldn't get into. With so much unnecessary descriptions and plots, A Discovery of Witches has a habit of tripping all over itself. To name a few: the instant love between Diana and Matthew, the slow way that the story unfolds and feels like very little has happened even in the midst of action, the sexism that is sprinkled into the romance and Matthew's characteristics in general, the lack of worldbuilding, etc.

Still, I have to note that the groundwork for a stunning series is still there. And clearly I enjoyed it enough to continue on with the series! Deborah Harkness is truly a gifted writer and the plotlines, and set-up, for All Souls screams of potential. I love the mythology, the fact that Diana Bishop is not the standard archetype for books of a similar style and the way A Discovery of Witches feels like a crisp autumns day.
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