Series: All Souls Trilogy #1
Published by Headline Book Publishing on 2011
Genres: Fantasy, Love & Romance, Paranormal
A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.
Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.
Diana Bishop is a historian and an academic. She also happens to be a witch, though she tries to ignore that part of her as much as possible. When the mysterious Matthew Clairmont, fellow academic, geneticist and vampire shows up at Oxford, things in Diana’s life take a turn for the complicated.
When she calls up an old alchemical manuscript from the stacks in the library, Diana sets in motion events far beyond her control. The manuscript, Ashmole 782, is clearly magical. It makes her skin prickle, and Diana can tell there’s text beneath text, meanings out of reach. With her reluctance to claim her inheritance, Diana sends the manuscript back, only to find out that no one else has ever been able to find it – and now witches, daemons and vampires alike are desperate to get it back. Some believe the manuscript contains spells, some believe it contains the true origin of witches, daemons, vampires or all of them. The one thing that is certain – everyone wants it, no matter what the cost, and Diana seems the only way to get to it.
I really liked Diana, the feisty, independent academic who has been determined to earn her way to the top without using her advantages. She’s dedicated to her research. She tries to keep her magic at bay by exercising out her extra adrenaline.
My only complaint is that I occasionally found Diana a little too perfect, and a little too knowledgeable. For example, Diana reels off famous artists, obscure poets, historical artifacts and so on quite comfortably, which I found a little annoying, and it can occasionally feel like one of those chick lit novels that spends the whole time name-dropping brands. I understand that Diana is a historian, but the whole point of a PhD is to specialise so Diana’s very broad historical knowledge could have been cut down quite considerably without seeming strange.
Matthew is, in some ways, a cliche vampire love interest. He’s moody, dark and brooding. He struggles to control his urges, and he’s full of secrets. He also practices yoga, studies genetics, has a fine appreciation of wine and was friends with notable historical characters. His quirks mean that although he shares elements with many other popular vampires, Matthew is likable and mysterious where many others are frustrating and martyr like. It took me a while to make my mind up about Matthew (and indeed, I don’t think I truly decided how I felt until Shadow of Night), but I was certainly intrigued by him, and dying to see where things would go.
It’s worth mentioning that I also absolutely loved the secondary characters, who always felt like complete characters, and made the story feel much more three-dimensional.
A Discovery of Witches took a little while to hook me, but the characters, the romance and the mystery drew me in. For me, the romance was a little heavier than I would have liked. I absolutely love the idea of the origins of the supernatural creatures, and the biggest draws for me were that and the mystery of the manuscript. I found the prose too descriptive, but once the story picked up I didn’t notice too much, and the story had me too engrossed to stop in any case!
Buy it? This is one worth buying for me.
In a nutshell: An intriguing story, a novel concept, and a promising start to the trilogy.