A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is about a professor and researcher of alchemical history, Diana Bishop, who also happens to be a witch. Ever since the murder of her parents when she was a child, Diana does not use her magic; instead, she focuses on living her life as a human, but she never quite blends in. While studying some manuscripts in the university library one day, she accidentally unlocks a magical binding on an old alchemical manuscript which describes the secret to the philosopher's stone as well as some very powerful, as-yet-unknown information about "creatures." Harkness separates the individuals living on Earth into two categories: humans and creatures. Creatures consist of vampires, witches, and daemons, each category typically staying away from those in the other two categories. After Diana unlocks this manuscript, however, creatures from all over the world are drawn to her for one purpose or another. And when Matthew Clairmont, a vampire, starts following her around and asking her questions about the manuscript and herself, she begins to discover that there is much more to learn about the world of creatures and her place in that world.
First Impression: Harkness's novel is both surprising and familiar. She takes old ideas and gives them a new spin. Witches, vampires, and daemons, for example, are not really as they would be in a different book. Harkness makes them more similar to humans than one might expect, and she addresses the scientific side of why these creatures are the way they are, which I find incredibly interesting and unique. The author stays true to the third-person limited point-of-view, and I don't always know what is going on, but I like the underlying feel of mystery. Also, every once in a while there is a chapter told from Matthew's or someone else's point-of-view, which clears up enough of the mystery so that it does not become frustrating. I like being personally involved with at least two characters--it gives a sense of balance that I don't always find in a first-person narrative. There are a few things niggling at the back of my mind right now, but I am going to wait until I'm further along to comment on them in case they are not consistent.
Conclusion: The bookmark I was using while reading this book says, "'Fall into a good book!' --Penworthy Bear." This is going to sound cheesy, but I definitely felt as though I "fell into" this book. Harkness's novel was 579 pages but it felt like 50. I became so absorbed in what was going on that pages went by when I wasn't noticing--I had no idea how much I had read at the end of each day, only how much had occurred in the storyline and character development. Kudos to Deborah Harkness! I cannot wait to read more of this series!
I will allow myself a little rant here, because there's a common problem I've noticed in a lot of dark fantasy books, TV shows, etc that I've seen recently: vampires treating humans like possessions. This isn't always the case, but it permeates a lot of stories, and it's always a male vampire w/ a female human or witch or whatever. You have these strong female characters who claim they are independent and don't need a relationship, but then they come to a point where they have to make a choice: to be bossed around (and not just in a bossy, we can argue about this and come to a compromise way, but being told what to do and threatened otherwise) or to part ways with the man they care about. And they always choose to be bossed around! In my opinion, it doesn't matter if that guy saved her life, she needs to think for herself. Really, it's the final, "No matter what you say, my word will win out," that bugs me. There should be room for compromise. Secondly, why does everyone suddenly acquiesce to all of the killing? Sure, if someone is literally choking you to death, I can see defending yourself or letting your boyfriend at them. But they threaten you from afar and your boyfriend kills them, and suddenly it's no big deal because at least he's doing it out of love for you? No. Okay, I'm finished with my feminist rant. I will say that when Matthew and Diana drifted into this state of mind, it didn't last for very long, so I was able to continue enjoying the book.
Overall, I definitely enjoyed A Discovery of Witches and will read it again at some point. If you like fantasy (even you typically only read mass-market-sized books from a long series), you will like this.