Monday, August 8, 2011

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness — 592 pgs

A Discovery of Witches: A NovelWhen Diana Bishop, a scholar working on alchemical research in England for an upcoming conference, requests a manuscript from the Bodelian library, she unwittingly sets off a chain of events that will change her life forever. You see, Diana is a reluctant witch who comes from a long line of very powerful spell casters, and though she has forcefully denied her power and magic after the horrific deaths of her parents many years ago, her magic is about to come crashing down all around her. The manuscript in question is called Ashamole 782, and when Diana recalls it from the library, she inadvertently casts a spell that opens the enchanted book, which has been lost for thousands of years. Soon the library is filled with curious and malevolent witches, daemons and vampires, all hungry for the secrets that Ashamole 782 is hiding. Into this mix of curious creatures comes Matthew Clairmont, a very powerful and exceptionally handsome vampire, who seems to take an unusual interest in Diana. But this is a problem because vampires and witches can never mix, according to old customs and laws. However, Matthew is not to be deterred, and before Diana knows it, she’s in over her head not only with unexpected feelings for Matthew, but with protecting Ashamole 782 from greedy and vicious creatures who wish to plunder it for their own ends. So begins an epic tale of forbidden love between two very powerful creatures who are on the run to protect not only themselves and their unspeakable relationship, but the magical book that may contain the secret history and future of the daemons, witches and vampires who long to possess it. Thrilling, provocative, and enthralling, A Discovery of Witches takes its readers on a fantastical and magical journey of epic proportions and leaves them spellbound and hungry for more.

I’d heard a lot about this book before picking it up and had remembered that Steph had reviewed it for BookPage earlier this year and had fallen in love with it. I normally pay attention when Steph falls in love with a book because I think she has great taste, so when I was looking for something to get engrossed in over the long weekend, I decided to pick this one up and give it a shot. It was sort of a dicey proposition because before reading the book I wasn’t sure how I felt about books that carried heavy paranormal elements, and aside from the Harry Potter books, this was a relatively new genre for me. Despite my reservations, when I really got into this book, I was totally hooked, and found that the book mixed the elements of The Outlander series with the magic and wizardry of the Harry Potter saga. There was even a little bit of Twilight in here (to my dismay) but this book was much more entrancing that Twilight could ever hope to be.

There was a lot going on in this book. From interspecies love affairs, to secret manuscripts and societies, to time travel and magic, to academia and intrigue, this book had it all. It was the kind of story you can’t help but get invested in quickly because it was so vivid and perfectly imagined. The characters (which were a well developed and varied lot) were not stereotypical and this was a great feature because often it’s too easy to fall into stereotypes within the framework of a paranormal tale. I also liked the myths and backstories that Harkness created behind the various creatures. They each had their own defining features and special talents, and I was surprised that she varied a bit from the usual vampire lore to create a subtly different species than what I had come to expect. The book was long by anyone’s standards, but it never felt arduous or overwritten, and the story was consistently morphing between its different elements, making it all seem fresh and exciting. A lot of space was given over to the practice of magic, which is another thing I enjoyed. It was all so refreshing and clever, and the worldbuilding was also done exceptionally well. Each of these components felt very organic and was written with aplomb and energy that gave the story a life and mythology of its own.

The Matthew and Diana contingent was one that was easy to enjoy because of the obvious sparks between them and the fact that their love was forbidden. There was a whiff of the exotic when it came to the very touching and sensual interactions between them. I may have swooned a little bit when reading about Matthew’s romantic overtures. Though they tried mightily to stay away from each other, it was obvious that they would find a way to be together despite the danger their relationship created, even if it started a war between the supernatural creatures. Which it did. Like the vampires that we have come to know, Matthew could be possessive and overbearing, but in a flash of brilliance, Harkness created her Matthew as a genetic scientist who was obsessed with finding out the secrets behind the singularities of the different species of creatures. He was a very intense character, full of passion and drive, and he had a very strict set of ethics that were difficult to sway. Diana, on the other hand, was somewhat reserved on the outside but very conflicted on the inside. Often plagued by anxiety, she relished physical endeavors and was stubbornly resolute about refusing to embrace her inner witch. These two players were very different, resulting in a lot of friction that generated some very bright sparks. It was lovely to watch them slowly melting towards each other, despite their instincts telling them that it was not safe to do so.

Between the mysteries of the enchanted manuscript, the malevolent witches and vampires out to destroy Diana, and the secret world of magic that lay just beyond human eyes, A Discovery of Witches was filled with action and adventure. Subtle quirks in the storyline were also really appreciated, like the house that had ideas and behaviors of its own and the delicious history of Matthew’s vampire family living in France. It was the type of book that you pick up for only a moment, and before you know it, hours have passed. Danger, love, creatures, fabulist science, and old grudges mixed themselves into a delicious hodgepodge of a book that I couldn’t tear myself away from. The only quibble I had with it was discovering very close to the end that the book ended on a cliffhanger that will be resolved in future books. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have the next installment in my hot little hands right now! The book was intense and mystifying, and it continually surprised me with its inventive plot and the strength of the amorous relationship between two very different creatures.

This was a tremendously entertaining book, and it came at just the right time for me, as I had been gorging on much more depressing reads for many weeks now. Unexpectedly, this book took on a life of its own as I read, and read, and read. I exclaimed to anyone that would listen that I found a new favorite, and that’s saying a lot for me. If you’re even mildly curious about this book, I would strongly urge you to pick it up and give it a try. It will surprise you for sure, and keep you guessing all the way to the final page. A wonderful and mystical page turner of the highest order. Heartily recommended!


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

31 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

If both you and Steph love this, it's got to be good!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I've got this book, not sure why I haven't picked it up yet! I could go with a good witchy-esque type of book right now - it would certainly be a nice change of pace! I wasn't a big a fan of Outlander (read book 1 only), but of course, any Harry Potter similarities with magic will hook me in!

TheBookGirl said...

This review was very timely for me, as we just got a copy of this in in our used bookshop last Thursday. I thumbed through it, and hesitated about picking it up -- I'm not big on the paranormal stuff -- but your review has really piqued my interest.

The witch-academia connection makes me think of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, which I seem to remember you read last year -- would you say it's similar to that or not at all? It would appear that there is alot more going on in this one, although I guess that's only right since it is a longer book.

Trisha said...

I picked this one up after Nicole from Linus's Blanket gave it a glowing review, but I still haven't read it due to my sudden reading and blogging hiatus.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

I keep starting this but getting distracted by other, shinier things. I’m glad you liked this. I’ll have to make a point of sitting down for a chunk of time without my typical attention deficit issues, and getting it nailed.

Steph said...

Yay yay yay! I'm so glad you loved this one as much as I did! It is such a huge, hulking volume that I'd hate to think of someone picking it up on my say so and then not loving it! But it really is so fun, and even though I just read it a few months ago, I kind of want to read it all over again right now! I seriously cannot wait for the second installment to come out!

Mary said...

This has been on my radar for several weeks. I think I might like it but wondering if I would enjoy the audiobook. Either way, I'm sure I"ll read it at some point! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Zibilee said...

BookGirl,

This book is a very different book than The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. It's much more mystical and involving, and even though I did really enjoy Deliverance Dane a lot, this book far surpasses it in every way. This is probably going to be one of my top picks for the year.

nomadreader said...

I've been a little on the fence about this one, but you make it sound so good! It also sounds like the perfect antidote to read once I finish the often serious Booker longlist. Thanks!

Aarti said...

I admit that I am really, really hesitant to read about a forbidden interspecies love affair because I just don't think that it would be something I enjoyed (or could take seriously). But considering how many people love this book- you included!- I wonder if the writing is able to elevate the storyline.

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I haven't heard too much about this one, but it does sound like one I would really enjoy. I will add it to the endless wishlist.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Argh! Now I really want to rip out my hair over the fact that the audio was MP3 and I couldn't figure out how to get it on my iPod! I'm just not sure if I would ever find the time to sit and read a 600 page book. But I really really want to read it. I have to figure this out...

Marg said...

I loved this book so much and was totally hooked! Can't wait for the sequel and now there is talk of a movie to look forward to.

Wall-to-wall books said...

Ahhh I read this when it first came out. I loved it!!! I can't wait for the next one comes out (hopefully she is working on it right now!).

bermudaonion said...

My sister loved this book, but I don't think it's for me.

Jenny said...

I would normally not be interested in this either because of the paranormal elements, but I've read good things about it and your review is fantastic! The Harry Potter and Outlander comparison definitely gives me a feel for what I would like about it. (I never did finish Outlander but I do get what people love about it)

softdrink said...

"leaves them spellbound and hungry for more"

Yup. That's me. Anxiously awaiting the next book.

Audra said...

Another great review -- the Twilight-ish-ness of the story turned me off, but you and a coworker have both raved about it enough to give it a try. I'm glad it was so good you're excited for the next one -- that's very promising!

Jenners said...

OK … I must read this!!! It sounds like a more grown-up version of the HP and Twilight books. And if you fell hard for Matthew, then I'm sure I'll swoon as I (embarrassingly) fell for Edward in Twlight. Shame!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

See, I didn't think I'd care for this one and now you encouraged me to add it back on my list. I feel your passion about this one.

Aths said...

I wasn't too sure about this one but you have me curious now. I've been trying so hard not to add this to my TBR, lol! I think I should now give it a shot!

Geosi said...

You whet my appetite here. Beautiful review as always.

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

I love the premise for this. I like the way the witches and the vampires are educated folks with normal life like us. The 'banned' relationship reminds me of one of the Underground movies: is it the rise of the Lycans? where a relationship between the Werewolves and Vampires was banned. thanks for this

Jenny said...

I don't want to complain even more about how Stephenie Meyer has basically ruined supernatural romance for me forever -- or at least, she has ruined it for me for now and I can't get past it -- but I am cross that I threw this book across the room about twenty pages in. And it is Stephenie Meyer's fault. If it weren't for her I'd have totally snuggled up with A Discovery of Witches and read it long into the night.

Bailey (The Window Seat Reader) said...

I've been drawn to this book for some reason ever since I started seeing bloggy reviews of it! Paranormal twists are usually my thing, but I'm thinking this one is worth it. Thanks for the enthusiastic review!

Marie said...

I'm glad you liked this so much! I've heard wonderful things :-)

Amy said...

I've heard way too much about this book leading me to avoid it because of the hype! I'm so glad to see you enjoyed it so much.

Darlene said...

I've got this one sitting on my reader and you've just made me more anxious than ever ti read it!

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

I definitely have this one sitting on my shelf. I need to get to it soon, you say? Ok I will try. :) Thanks Heather! And great review.

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

I remember that Steph's review is what tipped the balance for me, too : after reading it I just had to read it! So it's still waiting on my shelf, but now reading yours it sounds like a delicious novel I should get too sooner rather than later.

Alison's Book Marks said...

This book has been sitting on my shelf for ages...after your review, I have a strong feeling it's going to move its way to the nightstand very soon! GREAT review!!

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