Book Review: ‘A Discovery of Witches’ by Deborah Harkness

Book Title: A Discovery of Witches

Author: Deborah Harkness

Genre: Fantasy

Summary: The first book in the All Souls trilogy, scholar and witch-in-denial Diana Bishop makes a strange discovery in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, a discovery that stirs up the fantastical world of witches, daemons and vampires. She has discovered a coveted treasure that has been lost for centuries – a book with secrets that put her life at risk. With the support of vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, the pair must protect themselves from the controversy that comes with the relationship between a witch and a vampire, and from the dangers that come with Diana’s discovery of the book and determination to deny her heritage as a witch.

Favourite Scene: I loved the descriptions of Oxford – I was there briefly (a matter of hours) in 2009 and I yearn to go back and explore the town and university again.

Favourite Character: Matthew’s mother, Ysabeau de Clairmont. OK, I’m grasping at straws … none of the characters really “spoke” to me.

Review: I didn’t love this book but I also didn’t hate it, so that’s a good start. What I really appreciated was the details about Oxford and academic life; Diana’s perspective was clearly influenced by an academic perspective of the world. Being a scholar herself, Harkness evokes the academic world accurately and with a sense of reverence for the pursuit of knowledge and credible sources. The unique fantastical element made for a unique story – I found myself envying the ease with which witches can acquire knowledge and the longevity in a vampire’s life and therefore ongoing contributions to research.

What frustrated me, however, were the lengthy descriptions and “in between scenes”, moments that could have been effortlessly culled from the hefty weight of the volume. Things were a little “too easy” for Matthew and Diana, and her submissiveness to him (despite the guise of being a strong, willful female) made me roll my eyes. The plot is relatively linear though there are hints at subplots and secrets, some of which are revealed and some which promise to be unveiled as the trilogy continues. I didn’t feel especially riveted to the novel or to the trilogy. I bought the second book, Shadow of Night, out of interest and I’m not worried about snatching up the third book, still unnamed and without a release date. I’ve seen the novel listed as being Twilight for grown ups and while I think A Discovery of Witches is much better written than Twilight (so are many internet memes), the obsessive relationship and submissive female was certainly similar. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who didn’t already have a “guilty pleasure” place for vampire novels; if you’re looking for an interesting and light-entertainment read to stake a few hours, this would hit the mark.

5 comments on “Book Review: ‘A Discovery of Witches’ by Deborah Harkness

  1. Pingback: Book Review: ‘Shadow of Night’ by Deborah Harkness « dodging commas

  2. I’ve had this one on my shelf for a few months but your review confirms my suspicion: that I will like it…I just won’t love it. I read the first chapter when I bought it and while I haven’t had time to pick it up again since, I haven’t been all that fussed either. Now that uni holidays have begun, though, I have no excuse not to go back and finish it! Thanks, as always, for the great review! 🙂

    • Pleasure! Would love to hear your thoughts on it, too. I’ll review the second book next week and when the third one comes out I’ll read it for the sake of having a conclusion, methinks.

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