A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
10 February, 2011
I seem to be on a vampire binge at the moment and hey, I’m not complaining. But I was really looking forward to this one because not only did it have vampire, witches and daemons, it also had lashings of history of science! Deborah Harkness is a historian of science and it shows by the wealth of historical and scientific detail in this novel, but in no way did I feel overwhelmed by the facts and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
A Discovery of Witches is about Diana Bishop who, together with her maternal Aunt Sarah, is the last living descendant of the Bishop witches made famous in the Salem trials. But she is not only that, her father was a Proctor, and so she draws the bloodline of two very powerful witch families. However, after the brutal murder of her parents, she has forsaken her magical side and is now pursuing a successful career as a historian of alchemy and is currently on a research sabbatical in Oxford. It is in the Bodleian Library that she comes across a strange book that is bound by a spell which unlocks at her touch and she soon finds herself attracting the attentions of the supernatural creatures in Oxford. When she meets Matthew Clairemont, she is drawn to the old and beautiful vampire but is also wary of his intentions. As Diana finds herself increasingly in danger, she turns to Matthew and this brings them both into trouble with the ancient laws that govern the supernatural world and to shield them from discovery by the humans.
I really enjoyed this book and am only annoyed that it’s the first in a trilogy. Gah, I have to wait so long for the next one! Harkness wears her scholarship lightly and it was a pleasure to encounter a myriad of stories and theories from Giordano Bruno, Einstein, Shakespeare as well as all the history of science canon that you learn as a student. It reminded me how much I enjoyed my degree:) And I loved all the snippets of information about the crusades and the Templers, alchemy, genetics, wine and everything else that Harkness is interested in. And most of all, because Diana is a historian, there is a lot about ancient books and libraries.
Although I really enjoyed the esoteric and supernatural elements to the story (especially how Harkness brought in the Salem witch trials and the genealogy of witches), the only thing that didn’t sit too well with me was the love story between Diana and Matthew. It was a little too soppy for me and although they are both adults with previous relationships behind them, I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t consummate their relationship (maybe we’ll find out in the later books but it’s frustrating, dang it!). And the supernatural yoga scenes just made me giggle. But then these are very small niggles in what I thought was an interesting and pretty well thought-out plot.
And I cannot wait to read the sequel since I am assuming that we will get to meet Kit Marlowe!
I would like to thank the lovely people at Headline Books who kindly sent me a copy of A Discovery of Witches to review.