A Discovery of Witches is the kind of book that sweeps you away and keeps you under its spell for long hours at a time. I didn’t know what I was going to make of this book. At nearly 600 pages, it’s a whopper, and with there being a central romance between a witch and a vampire, I wasn’t sure what I would make of it. I’m not exactly the biggest fan of the Twilight books, but I love stories about witches. I’ve been looking at it on my shelf for the last five months, intrigued to read a chapter or two and see if I like it.
A couple days before leaving for a vacation, my sister-in-law asked if I had a copy of this book. I told her yes, and she asked if she could borrow it to read on the plane. I said she could, and as soon as I got home, I took the book off my shelf and set it on my nightstand, so I wouldn’t forget. Before I went to sleep that night I turned to the first page, just to see what all the fuss was about. Then I turned to page 2, then page 3. I read the first 50 pages that night, and read another 100 the following day. I was hooked. I didn’t want to give up my copy! So I did something I’ve never done before: give someone my own purchased copy of a book, then go to the library and borrow the same book, so that I can read it. Yes we both made A Discovery of Witches a vacation book, and we’re both happy we did.
What I loved most about A Discovery of Witches was the deft manner author Deborah Harkness draws you into the world. Some have said the book opens on a dull note, with so much fuss over a manuscript, but these early scenes fascinate with their magical tone and historical implications. The protagonist Diana Bishop is not a teen girl with nothing to do all day but pine over a boy at school — she is a supremely intelligent young woman who is trying to suppress her sordid history as a witch, and move on from the mysterious deaths of her parents by making a life for herself as an acclaimed Oxford scholar.
Of course the manuscript she peruses at the campus library turns out to be the Macguffin of the plot, when it’s discovered supernatural creatures all over the world have been looking far and wide for it for centuries. Yes, Diana meets, befriends, and ultimately falls in love with a vampire Matthew Clairmont, the central element of the story that isn’t exactly fresh material by any means, but it’s a relationship based more on the meeting of the minds, than pure animal lust or giddy passion. The small details slowly revealed about his centuries-long backstory offer tremendous pleasure, and when, in concern for her safety, he whisks her away to his family home, the novel really starts to get interesting.
I loved the tone and feel of this book, as much I enjoyed the story. This is one of those books you read when you can tell the author has done her homework. A professor of history, she fills the pages with historical details that enrich the central love story, and the impending doom of all the well-defined characters. Is it a perfect novel? It’s got some lulls in its 594 pages, especially, oddly enough, toward the end, when the tension should be ratcheting up, not dwindling. But overall I really enjoyed A Discovery of Witches and am glad I checked it out. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it, and I look forward to reading the follow-ups, as well as the new TV series.