Sunday, May 19, 2013

Name Challenge: A Discovery of Witches

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.


  1. Are you a Buffy fan, at all? Because bits of your "feminist rant" there made me think of how it pretty much did not relate to Buffy's character at all (at least, not until season 6, when she was going through some serious issues and let Spike um... boss her around). So I was just curious.

    I've heard a lot of good about this book, but haven't decided if I want to read it or not. Maybe I should just pick it up at the library and read a few pages, see what I think.

    1. I am a Buffy fan, Hamlette! I see what you mean about Buffy herself taking charge and whatnot, but if you think about it, she always falls for guys who want to take care of her (whether she lets them or not). Also, if you've ever watched Angel, during the episode where he temporarily becomes human, he decides that it cannot be because he will not be able to protect her and prevent her death during the apocalypse. That's not exactly the same as what I was ranting against (thank you, Joss Whedon), but I was kind of generalizing the paranormal genre. I've realized since this post that it's probably 50/50.

      You should definitely give it a try. I think you'll like it, but if not, you'll know within the first 50 pages at least. Probably less.

    2. "I Will Remember You" is one of my favorite Angel eps! (I actually like that show better than Buffy.) But it's been a while since I saw it. However, I think Angel's thing was more that he felt he was endangering Buffy, that she was having to try to save him and not pay enough attention to her own dangers, and that was why he had the Oracles turn time back. Not because he couldn't protect her, but because she was endangering herself trying to make up for his lack of superhuman strength and speed. So, yes, he gave up the chance at a human life together with her so that she wouldn't get hurt helping him, which is protecty, but it's not possessive -- he's giving her up, after all.

      With Riley, I think she had kind of the closest thing to a partnership she ever had.

      But Spike... Spike did want to control her, for a while at least. Not at the beginning of season 6, but as soon as she returned his... interest... he got really controlly, or tried to.

      Annnnnnnnyway, I'll find this at the library one of these days and read the first chapter or two, see if it grabs me.

    3. Yes, you're right. It's not really possessiveness, although Angel did get a little touchy w/ Xander sometimes. Thanks for your input! (I can never decide which of the two shows is my favorite, because they're so different. Angel is more like a grown-up version of the same genre, you know? But I like them both; that's good enough for me.)

    4. I like Angel best because Angel is my favorite character, so a show that revolves around him? Gonna love that!

      The Angel vs. Xander moments are some of my faves from Buffy. Angel is never funnier than when he's being petty, and he's never pettier than when he's worrying about Xander beating his time. Love it.

  2. This book told hold of me too. I read it twice in quick succession. I've read it a few more times since then. I'm not sure if you've also read "Shadow of Night" yet, but I definitely recommend it. There is a 3rd book planned and I'm eagerly waiting for it!

    For undecided readers, I would say that this is not the usual 'vampire' book. Deborah Harkness is a professor of history and her expertise comes through in every page. There are countless details left for the readers to explore - mythology, history, and geography to name a few. Virtually every name and place in the book means something and it has been a joy to discover that alone.

    I'm looking forward to the book being made into a movie - it has been optioned by Warner Brothers. I picture Richard Armitage as Matthew Clairmont. There is a crusade afoot to have him cast on or

    1. Thanks for your contribution! I would definitely agree with everything you said about the book. I haven't read the second book yet (trying to keep myself on task with my challenges and book club books), but it's definitely on my TBR list! This isn't really a series where you can just read the first book, you know?

      Side note, I did not know they're making a movie, but now I'm really pumped! And yesyesyes, Richard Armitage would be PERFECT! He did such a great job in North and South!