I purchased the book “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness after meeting the author at BEA and receiving a signed copy of the next book in the All Souls Trilogy.
Normally I’m wary about vampire books, but I decided to take a chance on this series because I’ve heard so many good things about it. It helps that the vampires are nerdy scholars with a penchant for old documents, so it makes their faults more forgivable.
Diana Bishop is a witch who’s doing research at Oxford’s Bodelian Library. Her family is very powerful, but she doesn’t like to use magic because she feels like it nullifies her own professional accomplishments. One day Diana comes across an enchanted alchemical manuscript that’s been missing for a very long time. Her discovery draws the attention of a bunch of vampires, demons, and other witches, all of whom have a vested interest in the contents of the book. One such individual is Matthew Clairmont, a vampire scientist who is fond of fine wine. Even though relationships between vampires and witches are strictly forbidden, she finds herself falling in love with him.
The relationship dynamic between Diana and Matthew didn’t appeal to me right away. Matthew is a bit controlling, but not in a good way. It’s more of an Edward Cullen I-watch-you-in-your-sleep type deal, which is not sexy but definitely prosecutable as breaking and entering, especially when the individuals involved aren’t dating yet.
It gets better (and less creepy) as the book progresses and the two become an established couple. The two of them weren’t completely hopeless, and there were aspects of their relationship that I did enjoy, such as the fact that Diana and Matthew are intellectually matched and can have intelligent conversations with each other. My favorite part of the book was Diana’s reaction to being shown Matthew’s collection of books that he had accumulated over the centuries:
“Imagine what you’d have if you’d been buying books for centuries,” Matthew said with a shrug that reminded me of Ysabeau. “Things pile up. We’ve gotten rid of a lot over the years. We had to. Otherwise this room would be the size of the Bibliotheque Nationale.”
The scene reminded me of the part in “Beauty and the Beast” where the Beast shows Belle his library, and that gesture IS sexy (unlike, as I’ve noted, breaking into a girl’s apartment and watching her sleep).
It’s obvious that Matthew is a stereotypical hot vampire character who is supposed to represent the ideal male. He doesn’t have any depth of personality, but rather seems to be more of a sexual/romantic fantasy insert. I’m not terribly distraught about that because it is summer and I enjoy the occasional romance if both characters are endowed with functional brains.
The biggest problem that I had with this book is that it needed a better editor, particularly one who could help to chop it down to about half of its length. The author has a tendency to ramble and to include every little detail of Diana’s daily routine. I don’t need to know every time Diana changes clothes, especially considering the fact that all of her clothing is pretty much the same. I don’t need to know when she eats, drinks, sleeps, does yoga, goes rowing, etc. There is so much excessive detail about Diana’s life that I half expected to have to read about her changing her tampons and/or pooping. It’s too much, and it doesn’t further the plot in any meaningful way.
I like the idea of a book that revolves around an old manuscript. It makes my inner librarian happy. When I started reading I was expecting something more like Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian.” This wasn’t quite like that, but the setting appealed to me nonetheless, and the book did contain a lot of literary and historical references.
I have mixed feelings on this book. There were a lot of things that didn’t work for me, but at the same time it was still entertaining enough to finish. It took about 350 pages for the plot to pick up, but once it did I had a hard time putting the book down. Despite its faults, it’s a decent summer read, and I’ve already started reading the sequel. I’ve got high hopes for “Shadow of Night” because many of the problems that I had with “A Discovery of Witches” were confined to the first half of the book, and I’m expecting that the second book will jump right into the story. I’m also looking forward to seeing Harkness’ level of detail in the second book because it’s set in Elizabethan England, which is one of my favorite time periods to read about.