A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

February 11, 2011
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A Discovery of Witches
Deborah Harkness

Penguin Group USA
2-11-11
Hardcover/579 pages
ISBN: 978-0670022410
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". . .romance along with a dash of danger, murder and intrigue.

Diana Bishop is not your run of the mill everyday kind of witch. In fact, Diana would rather ignore her lineage and live the life of a normal human, determined to slice her way through the academic world using nothing more than her intellect and passion for research. Circumstances take a radical and unexpected turn, threatening to overturn Diana’s carefully constructed world based on reason and logic. Being the last of the powerful Bishop line, Diana’s innate magical abilities cannot be suppressed by her fierce attempts to cut them off. We follow Diana’s journey from the moment she unwittingly comes across a rare manuscript (simply referred to as Ashmole 782) in the course of her research. From the first contact with the cover, Diana knows this is no ordinary collection of documents. The leather bound manuscript, so innocuous in appearance, is the catalyst for the events to come.

Now that Diana has released the spell from the book, she is suddenly the focus of vampires, daemons and other witches. The interest is partly due to Diana herself and the mysteries of the manuscript which, as the reader will come to know, has gone missing for a very long time. While she has the attention of these otherworldly beings, she especially has the interest of Matthew Clairmont, an enigmatic man also looking for answers that only the pages of Ashmole 782 can provide. He also happens to be a vampire. Sparks naturally fly as they are inextricably drawn to each other, risking everything and breaking old taboos deeply entrenched in their respective, but separate, worlds. To complicate things even further, Diana's own history is not what she'd always been led to believe. The mysterious deaths of her parents unravel lead down a path to danger and intrigue, threatening her very life.

Deborah Harkness weaves an intricate tale of a woman torn by her compulsive need for scientific explanations, her fear of her very own nature and her mistrust of anything even remotely supernatural or magical. It is obvious that Ms. Harkness is a scholar. Her writing style, while interesting, may not appeal to readers who dislike detailed passages about academic research. The narrative tends to read like a textbook–unsurprising if Ms. Harkness's bibliography is taken into account. The story itself, however, shows promise. The flow is a little choppy, especially in the first thirty pages, and the point of view switches from first person to third perspective which can be a little jolting. The heroine of the book reads a little too perfectly to truly connect with this reader. She is the last in the line of extremely powerful witches. She refuses to acknowledge her lineage. She is stubborn, independent, has a keen intellect and an inability to tamp down her own magic, therefore entrancing nearly all those who come into contact with her, both human and nonhuman. The love interest seems a little formulaic, both in physical stature and in charisma. He's handsome, has a strong personality, he’s at the top of his field, both mysterious but widely known and respected in certain academic circles. He also happens to have a huge amount of wealth, accumulated over centuries of existence. Their courtship is predictably charged as they fight their own instincts that draw them to each other: she doesn't need anyone to protect her and he experiences feelings for her that no other woman has ever inspired. The plot unfolds. For readers who are looking for a vampire novel in the traditional sense, Ms. Harkess's version veers away from Bram Stoker's Dracula. This book doesn't offer the immediacy of terror so much as the creeping menace just below the surface of the words, which this reviewer quite enjoyed. The first of a planned trilogy, Deborah Harkness’s vision of a world of mysterious beings integrating seamlessly into modern society is an interesting point of view. While typical vampire novels tend to shuffle away questions about how such a being would actually survive and make a living with today’s sophistication and advanced technology, Ms. Harkness posits a realistic scenario that is unique and will leave the reader nodding their head and thinking, “I can see that.” While I wouldn't queue in line to read the sequel to this story, I believe this book will appeal to readers who are seeking a novel that has romance along with a dash of danger, murder and intrigue.

< />Reviewer: A. Gonzales

 

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