Yes, I know it’s incredibly cliché these days to love Autumn and Halloween but honestly, I just do. Therefore, I knew it was high time I settled myself down to read A Discovery of Witches as I had a sneaky feeling it would provide me with the perfect Halloween vibe that I was desperately seeking. Was I wrong, dear reader?
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (the first book in the All Souls Trilogy) was not at all what I was expecting in terms of characters or plot, and yet somehow it was exactly what I was after. I think in my head I was anticipating something more akin to The Witcher in vibe, or perhaps even Twilight. However, A Discovery of Witches is essentially what would happen if you let the fandoms of Gilmore Girls and Supernatural collide over their love of Jared Padelecki and write a novel.
We follow Diana Bishop, a prominent historian currently studying at Oxford University, as she discovers more about herself than she had ever considered possible. Through her academic studies (she’s a Professor of History, specialising in ancient texts on alchemy, obviously) she uncovers secrets of the supernatural that others thought long lost. We learn about witches, daemons and vampires and how they live (relatively) comfortably among us. In Diana’s new found quest for a truth she didn’t know existed, she develops surprising and intense relationships with people around her but specifically a rather dashing vampire named Matthew. I’m sure you can guess what happens next.
Some of the most fun details of A Discovery of Witches come from the elements of cultural and historical truth that we see within it. For example, Diana’s family history includes names we already associated with witchcraft – Proctor, Bishop. There are additional frequent references to Salem which we commonly associate with the Salem Witch Trials. All of these details add to the overwhelming feeling of authenticity when reading A Discovery of Witches. I don’t know about you, but even the tiniest element of realism in a book steeped in the supernatural ensures that I am hooked and completely immersed in the world.
Harkness, a professor herself, uses her vast knowledge of the world of academia to thrust the reader into the rammed full libraries of Oxford, and reignites that love of studying. Her attention to detail is remarkable, and I whilst reading I could honestly hear the gentle hubbub of a Blackwell’s coffee shop. We meet other supernatural creatures throughout the book, all of different ages and nationalities and the diversity of the languages they use is so beautiful it feels like certain pages of A Discovery of Witches are more song-like than novel.
My niggle with the book comes in the final third. I had so hoped that our protagonist, the wildly talented and fiercely intelligent Diana Bishop, would retain some of her freewill and remain as focused on her work as ever. However, soon we drifted into territory that felt uncomfortably close to Twilight, and Diana’s needs and desires soon became almost entirely focused on a vampire she had just met. Barely three weeks after meeting him she silently muses on the idea of becoming a vampire to be with him. I almost snorted with laughter at this, as I really had thought better of Diana up to this point. Bella we could forgive, she was 17, hormonal, moody, and Edward her first lust. Diana is mature, intelligent, experienced and lets not forget, she is also magical. She is on a supernatural par with Matthew. So why does she immediately become a weak at the first sign of her own power? Why does she have a need for this vampire, why not just a casual lusty desire?
I have to admit, dear reader, that I have a couple of chapters to go before I finish A Discovery of Witches so I will hold my final judgement until then. For now, I’ll say that it is a lot of fun, full of detail and a perfect autumnal book to get lost in as you sip on a cup of tea. Just don’t fall in love with a hot, tall vampire straight away, please?
Happy Reading x