A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Deep in the heart of Oxford's Bodleian Library, Diana Bishop - a young scholar and the descendant of witches - unearths an enchanted alchemical manuscript. Wanting nothing to do with sorcery, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery has set a fantastical underworld stirring, and soon a horde of daemons, witches, and other creatures descends upon the library. Among them is the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire with a keen interest in the book. Equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense, A Discovery of Witches is a mesmerizing and addictive tale of passion and obsession that reveals the closely guarded secrets of an enchanted world.
Review by Brittany:
As usual, I'm a little late coming to this trilogy. I wasn't sure about picking up yet another supernatural novel about witches and vampires out of fear that it would feel the same as every other one I've read before. But this one didn't.
First, the saturation of the novel with history (which may not be accurate but feels like it) adds a certain maturity to the book. These aren't lovesick teenagers; instead, the author has written about educated adults who are old enough to make their own choices and understand the consequences. I thought it was interesting that the entire draw of the lost manuscript is that each set of creatures simply wants to understand their existence. Not so different from humans. This is also why Matthew has studied many different areas of science, including genetics and evolution. The basis of this novel seemed to be about understanding existence and purpose, which I can get behind.
As for characters, I thought Harkness did a great job introducing and developing them. Diana is determined to stay away from her magic and has done so her entire life as best she can, but now she's beginning to lose control of the power that's in her. Her desire to earn her keep in life battles with her natural instinct to use magic. Matthew, a vampire, is constantly having to overcome his natural instinct to be distrustful of witches and to possibly attack them in order to keep Diana safe. Over the course of the novel, this develops into a romance that is forbidden by the Congregation - the governmental body that serves to uphold a treaty between vampires, witches, and daemons.
Minor characters were fantastic, too. Ysabeau, Matthew's mother, is an intense character who ended up playing a large maternal role for Diana, despite the initial feelings Ysabeau has toward her. Em and Sarah, Diana's aunts, are clearly strong witches with big hearts whose concern for Diana adds a needed familial pull to the novel. Miriam and Marcus, vampires who work with Matthew, add a bit of antagonism to the tale, adding to the conflict. Satu, Peter Knox, and Gerbert are all "enemies" of Diana and Matthew, and I'm curious to read more about their stories as the trilogy progresses.
One of my favorite parts of this novel was Sarah and Em's house. It becomes a character of its own because it's haunted. Ghosts hang around all the time, and the house reshapes itself in order to invite new guests. The house also slams doors and cabinets, sighs, and reveals secrets in due time. I loved the house playing the role of a character all its own and though that added a nice touch to the story.
The book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, leaving me ready to read more. This first book did get complex at times as there's so much history and so many pieces to the large puzzle, but I'm looking forward to reading the next one. Diana's story is one that I'm definitely interested in continuing.