Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Genre: Fiction, Supernatural
Publication Date: 2011
Dr. Diana Bishop is the last descendant of Bridget Bishop, the first woman executed during the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. And just like her ancestor, Diana is a witch. But since the death of her parents when she was seven, Diana has been stifling her magic. She has earned her doctorate, and her prestige as a historian, on her own merit.
While doing research for a conference at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Diana discovers a 17th century book on alchemy that makes her sixth sense tingle. Wishing to avoid any magical entanglements, Diana returns the book and continues her research — but she can’t get the book out of her mind.
And she’s not the only supernatural being spending time in the library. Daemons are coming seemingly out of the woodwork, and several of the local witches seem to be paying Diana extra attention. And then there’s the vampire.
Soon Diana finds herself wrapped up in a mystery that is becoming more dangerous by the second, and threatens to unravel everything she thinks she knows about supernatural life — and her own.
First in the All Souls Trilogy, Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches is a huge kick in the pants to the outbreak of paranormal/supernatural books being written these days. I thought I was pretty much done with enjoying this particular genre, just because there’s so much of it, and most of it is pretty cliche and/or lame.
There were a handful of eyeroll-worthy moments, but they are overshadowed completely by the author’s incredible historical detail — a lot of research on history, alchemy, witchcraft, books, food, and wine went into the book, and it shows. I couldn’t put it down.
The only negative thing I can say is that Harkness appears to have fallen into the “super special character” trap: the further into the book you read, the more super-amazing-awesome-things Diana discovers that she can do. Obviously the product of a union between a Bishop and a Proctor (two well-recognized names in the history of witchcraft) will be powerful, but sometimes it felt like just a bit too much. Hopefully this will be less of an issue in the next book.
If you’re into richly detailed, complex novels—and you don’t mind waiting for the next book in the series—I can’t recommend A Discovery of Witches enough.
“ ‘Alchemy tells us about the growth of experimentation, not the search for a magical elixir that turns lead into gold and makes people immortal.’
‘If you say so,’ Sarah said doubtfully. ‘But it’s a pretty strange subject to choose if you’re trying to pass as human.’ ” (p. 10)
“ ‘Did you know that your mouth puckers when you sleep? You look as though you might be displeased with your dreams, but I prefer to think you wish to be kissed.’ ” (p. 262)
What do you think about authors who keep revealing more and more reasons why their character is super special and different? Does it bother anyone else?