A Discovery of Witches

Witches, Vampires, and Daemons, oh my!

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is not your typical boy meets girl story, that’s for sure. But I can tell you this: If you liked Twilight you will like this, and if you didn’t like Twilight then you’ll probably like this. For one thing there are no sparkly vampires. Score! In fact, the vampire in this story, Matthew Clairmont, makes Edward Cullen look like the whiny little bitch he is. Oops, excuse my French, please!

A Discovery of Witches is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. Harkness is an historian of magic and science and this is her first work of fiction. She uses her knowledge of magic and science to create an impeccable blend of the two and to create a cast of characters who are also knowledgeable on the topics. The main character is an historian of alchemy, so we can see where the inspiration came from.

Speaking of the main character, Diana Bishop is a very dynamic character. She is, as mention earlier, an historian of early science, specifically Alchemy. She is also from a very prominent witching family. Her distant ancestor was Bridget Bishop, the first woman to be executed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. Despite being from a long line of powerful witches, Diana refuses to let magic into her life. She lives on the cusp of the magical and the mundane, always teetering between one and the other, never finding a true balance.

I find myself able to relate to Diana very well and I felt a connection to her character, even though the only thing we really have in common are our love of tea. Harkness does a wonderful job of writing the character so that the reader is empathetic towards her and is able to feel a connection with not just Diana, but all the characters. When Diana cries, loves and fears so does the reader with amazing emotional clarity. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever loved a fictional character as much as I love Matthew and it’s all because of Diana’s love for him.

The relationship between Diana and Matthew develops slowly, realistically, I should say. At first they are simply interested in each other on a platonic level but gradually they begin to realize that they are in love with each other. One of the devices Harkness uses to show their relationship develops is the way Matthew’s gaze feels on Diana. Witches are able to feel the looks of other creatures (vampires, daemons, and witches) and vampires usually have a gaze that feels like ice cubes. Matthew’s gaze goes from ice cubes to snowflakes. This is a sign that they are becoming more comfortable with each other and that Matthew’s feelings for Diana are softening into love.

One of the things I like about this book is the concept of the secret world of witches, vampires and daemons. I think that’s it very well thought out because of the way the three groups interact with each other. There is a deep felt prejudice that all the races feel for each other and one of the controversial issues that Matthew is trying to figure out is whether witches, vampires and daemons have commons ancestry instead of evolving from three separate sources of genetic material. (Matthew is a professor and geneticist at Oxford, btw J)

Another one of the things I really like about A Discovery of Witches is the analogy between vampires and wolves. There are no werewolves (yet) but the constant comparison between wolves and vamps is a decent substitute. There are too many instances of this analogy to give you an example but the book is littered with them.

The last thing about this book that I want to write about is the plot and the conflict. Now, I am quite intuitive when it comes to story plots and conflicts. Usually I can figure out the who, what, where, when and why, but in the case of A Discovery of Witches I found myself never really knowing where the book was going. In a way it was frustrating to have to wait until the end for the reveal, but it was also refreshing because I, for once, didn’t know what was going to happen before it happened. The conflict in the book is also deceptive. At first you think it’s a conflict between Diana and Matthew, and then you realize it’s a conflict between Diana, Matthew, and some wizard named Peter Knox… or is it? I don’t think we’ll find out the real conflict until the second book is released in July 2012.

I am very excited about the release of Shadow of Night this summer and if you want to know more about Deborah Harkness and her books please visit her website. Also, if you want some information about Bridget Bishop (yes, she really WAS the first woman executed for witchcraft at Salem) you can read all about her here.