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02 June 2012

A Discovery of Witches - Review

Publication date: 28 February 2011 by Viking Adult
ISBN 10/13: 0670022411 | 9780670022410
Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Category: Adult Fiction
Keywords: Magical realism, witches, vampires, alchemy, magic, historical, romance
Format: Hardcover, paperback, eBook
Source: Purchased

From Goodreads:

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.


If you haven't heard of A Discovery of Witches, you've probably been living under a rock (a very nice rock I am sure). With its striking cover and the sheer size of the hardcover, it's really quite hard to miss. It's also gotten great reviews and a sequel is already set to be released this July. This is one of those books that I picked up a long time ago with every intention of reading, but never got around to. When my friends picked it for our book club selection for April, I was excited because it would really force me to sit down and start it.

Diana Bishop is a witch, descended from a long line of witches. But she's turned her back on her heritage and has instead dedicated her life to academic study. An American doing research in Oxford, Diana recalls an ancient manuscript from the depths of the Oxford library. She senses its magic but ignores it, getting the information she needs from it and sending it back. But this is a special manuscript, one that hasn't been seen in over a hundred years and Diana is the only one known to have been able to break its spell. Suddenly all manner of magical creatures start to appear in the library. Demons, witches and vampires all start to appear in alarming numbers. Diana also finds herself under the watchful eye of Matthew, an ancient vampire to whom Diana is inexplicably drawn.

This book surprised me - in a really good way. It's nothing like what I expected, though right now, I can't remember what I thought it was going to be about. Yes, there are witches. But there are also vampires and demons wrapped up in a story full of history, science, mystery, romance and magic. Yes, that's a lot of words but A Discovery of Witches has all of that and much more. I thought that this 600 page book would be a daunting read but I flew through it. I became wrapped up in the world and its characters and I didn't want to let go when the book ended. A Discovery of Witches takes you into a unique and magical world that you will want more of. Harkness's writing is excellent, full of intricate details and history that is still easy to digest. I do admit that some of the science and DNA stuff was over my head. But overall, I was able to grasp all of the scientific and historical information. The pacing was good, each section of the book flowing easily into the next. There is a large part of the book where the mystery of the manuscript takes a bit of a backseat. These sections of the book are about getting to know Diana and Matthew. Their romance is a large part of the book and I didn't mind getting swept up in their romance though some people maybe feel that this part is a bit slow.

This book also has a great cast of characters. I liked that Diana was a scholar and that she's very smart an independent. She also has a love of stretchy black pants and strong tea that I can relate to. She did frustrate me a little at times though when she refused to acknowledge her witch heritage. She's so intent on not using magic that she ignores what her instincts tell her. This willful ignorance almost gets her killed more than once. Though Diana's character started off strong, I think it did get a little weaker as the story progressed. Her transformation from studious academic to smitten girlfriend is pretty fast. I would have liked to have seen a little more of what her thought process was going through during the romance. I can't say I really blame her falling in love quickly though when it's Matthew we're talking about. Matthew, like any good vampire, is intense, predatory and infinitely charming. He's also a scientist and a scholar with a love of fine wine and yoga. I liked that he still appreciates life and the finer things in it even after having lived for so long.

There's a great cast of secondary characters as well. I loved kind Marthe, a fan of trashy mysteries. I also liked Matthew's mother Isabeau, who was intimidating at first but grows on you. I also felt like the settings and locations in the books were so rich and important to the story that they were almost characters as well. The first part of the book is set in Oxford and I really felt like I learned the campus and the libraries and even the neighborhoods around it. Matthew's castle in France is rich in history. I felt like I was walking through the castle with Diana and could feel the stone walls. And let's not forget the haunted farmhouse that Diana's aunts inhabit. That house really is a character, letting Diana and the other inhabitants know when it's upset or happy. It also lets them know when guests will be arriving and keeps items safe until the they are needed.

Overall I had a really great time reading this book. A great story with a great romance - what more could you ask for? Thank goodness July is almost here!

Visit the author online at deborahharkness.com and follow her on Twitter @debharkness


  1. Agreed. This was one of my favorite books last year. I can't wait for the new one out next month!

    Lee @shewolfreads

  2. Great review! I read Discovery of Witches recently and thought it was soooo slow... Overall it's Fantastic, but sloooow, and I did really love it. I can not wait to read the sequel soon.


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