Books: A Discovery of Witches

31 Jan

A Discovery of Witches Cover
We here at FatGuysOn like to think of ourselves as manly men.  This despite the fact that one of us is overly attached to When Harry Met Sally and the other identifies a little too closely with a joke from the Broadway musical Avenue Q in which a closeted gay character refers to his favorite book as “Broadway Musicals of the 1940s”.  Or, we suppose, that one of us can quote jokes from a Broadway musical in the first place.

That being said, one of the things that we have in common is a fondness for what most folks would classify as supernatural chick lit.  We’re both up-to-date on both of Laurell K. Hamilton’s series (Anita Blake and Merry Gentry), as well as Kim Harrison’s Hollows (Rachel Morgan) series.  So it’s with this predisposition that I approached the first book of the “All Souls Trilogy”, Deborah Harkness’ best-selling A Discovery of Witches.

In the world which Harkness creates, human beings live alongside witches, daemons, and vampires. The humans are not aware of the others’ existence, but the supernatural races live in an uneasy balance.  Diana Bishop is a witch, and not just any witch; her mother was a direct descendant of one of the original Salem witches, and her father descended from another powerful witching lineage. But Diana has forsaken her heritage, using magic only a handful of times a year, and only reluctantly.

A history professor, Diana is researching in Oxford’s Bodleian Library when she inadvertently summons Ashmole 782, an ancient magical volume which carries a powerful enchantment. She returns the book to the library stacks, but not before supernatural creatures far and wide feel its pull. Beset by witches and daemons, Diana finds herself in the care of an unexpected protector: the centuries-old vampire Matthew Clairmont. As the pair circle each other, they’re conflicted by their growing feelings toward each other, even as those around them attempt to prevent their union and claim Ashmole 782 for themselves. As the tension builds, Diana finds herself manifesting more and greater magical abilities, and is forced to embrace that which she has spent years attempting to deny.

A Discovery of Witches is well-written in terms of character and relationship, but its pacing needs work. Diana and Matthew are well drawn, as are the supporting members of their families. And the Bishop ancestral home, a character in itself, is wonderfully inventive. But the will-they-or-won’t they and “I love you but can’t be with you” aspects of the Diana/Matthew relationship are overly drawn out and repetitive. Harkness restates the same themes four or five times, when once was enough.

As the first book in a trilogy, the novel sets up its world and its conflicts well, and I’m certainly looking forward to the next volume, but in no way does the first book stand up on its own. Very little is resolved by the last page, and the novel ends on a massive cliffhanger. Readers going in with the expectation of a standalone novel will be greatly disappointed. Those aware of what they’re getting into and willing to wait will be rewarded, at least to an extent.

My score:

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2 Responses to “Books: A Discovery of Witches”

  1. La Deetda Reads January 31, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Hi CPav, I read this book and was seriously disappointed. There is so much “good’ out there in the paranormal romance genre that this one just doesn’t stack up. Just my not so humble opinion.

    • CPav January 31, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

      Thanks for reading, LaDeeta. I certainly see that point of view. I’m gonna wait and see how the next book plays out.

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