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Book Review: A Discovery of Witches

I confess to approaching this book with a whole range of doubts, admittedly, many of them stirred by the blurb on the back of the book which lets the reader know that this story is, basically, about a clever witch (she has the PhD to prove it), a vampire (pass

the garlic, puhleez), a lost magical manuscript, and a host of supernatural protagonists all who coexist with us, clearly, stupid Muggles, I mean, humans, who (as usual) are unaware of their existence. I thought, ‘here we go: Twilight meets Harry Potter at university where the heroes aren’t the students, but the teachers.’
But, I am pleased to say, while the book did fall into cliche and stereotypes at times, it was a very good read and Deborah Harkness has done very well. I was pleasantly surprised and very entertained, even while the little devil of literary and commercial doubt kept whispering in my ear.

You will see why as I give a brief synopsis. The novel is about a powerful witch named Diana Bishop who, despite coming from a long line of magic, denies her powers and tries to ‘pass’ as human. Only, like the good Samantha from Bewitched, sometimes it’s simply too convenient to use her powers, or they dribble out when she least expects them. So, when Diana draws on her abilities one night at the Bodelian library at Oxford uni in the UK (where she’s a visiting scholar – she’s an expert on alchemical symbolism and the relationship between science and magic) to get a manuscript off a shelf, she sets in train a series of events that, it seems, have been waiting centuries to occur.

Apart from the fact that the tall, pale, clever and powerful vampire, Matthew de Claremont comes into her life, drawing her further into his clutches and establishing a relationship that is forbidden by old covenants between witches, vampires and daemons, Diana also becomes a most desirable commodity – not only for herself, but for the manuscript, Ashmole 162 or some number I can’t recall (which is astonishing as it’s mentioned a great deal), which only she can access.

The story takes the reader from the UK to France to North America – all popular supernatural hangouts, it seems, as well as moving into the past. The population of strange and wonderful and dangerous characters grows as does historical references to famous people – Matthew, like the worst of name-droppers knew EVERYONE worth knowing. This, of course, allows wonderful opportunities for literary quotes and anecdotes about historical figures – but does risk becoming tiresome.

It’s a nicely written book and, apart from a chapter where vampires, witches, and daemons do yoga (I almost gave the book away at that point), is tightly paced and keeps you engaged.

I did like the romance between Matthew and Diana, but I found the declarations of Diana’s strength and bravery to ring quite false against many of her actions. This was frustrating. In many ways, she devolved from a grown up Hermoine Granger to another Bella Swan, swooning over her undead paramour and obeying his commands – except when they were sensible and then she would land in so much trouble she needed rescuing! But hey, this is a witch- vampire romance and, in that regard, the relationship is par for the genre course – the characters are, fortunately more than par as was the overall story. I found this tale to be a cut above the rest of the glut on the market – complex but highly entertaining and, in the end, satisfying… Mainly because it’s not the end.

While Matthew, the vampire, can smell honey and hope, I can smell a sequel.

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