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I've read a fair few books on vampires, witches and like by now. After the Twilight phenomenon it seems every book must squeeze in a supernatural being or two.
I was lend this book by my sister-in-law, because as a history obsessive and general book obsessive, she thought I'd like this book. It's premise sounded interesting; a story set around Diana Bishop, a reluctant witch, who becomes involved in a mystery involving a historic manuscript. As a result she becomes involved with the elusive 1500 vampire Matthew Clairmont.
Unfortunately, I didn't find the love story all that compelling. Perhaps that is because I've read far too much about reluctant vampires and women in danger to care much about this couple. I like a love story that makes your heart pound and you just can't wait for the two characters to engage in the story. I didn't feel that. But perhaps that is just me.
Saying that, I did throughly enjoy the historical basis to the book, and the way in which Deborah Harkness describes Oxford and the life there. It made me wish I was clever enough to get into Oxford University. But alas I'm not. This author certainly knows her stuff and the knowledge and historical references in this book are certainly enough to keep you interested if the love story is not.
If your looking for a love story that isn't flat then this is certainly worth a try. However, it did border on samey for me at several points, and sometimes I found it hard to believe parts ( we're all surrounded by witches, vampires and demons but we don't realise? There also seems to be an awful lot in Oxford. But hey, it's fiction right?).
All in all, an enjoyable book, but perhaps not for the reasons she intended. My historical interests were more peaked than my romantic bone.
This book gripped me from the start. I got lost in the plot and the characters and the history as well. There are many stories in the story in this book and it takes you into a world of witches, vampires and daemons that walk the earth along with humans.
I personally find any kind of myth and science fiction hard to grasp and so i lose inerest in books of this genre because there are no special effects of films to make it more real to the viewer. But this book had me hooked to the point where i could believe every word and even wondered if some of the people in my world were actually daemons...!
Diana Bishop is a witch who is fighting against being a witch when she accidentally breaks a spell on a manuscript that holds secrets that many beings are after. This discovery causes the attention of lots of different beings and one in particular....the lovely Matthew Clairmont who is a vampire. He would like to know the secrets of the manuscript, but also has an interest in keeping Diana safe from less scrupulous beings. Such close attention can only mean one thing..... they fall in love! Causing much grief due to the fact that there are age old pacts and agreements about inter-being relationships. Another set of problems, wars starting and secrets coming to light. It all sounds a bit cliche but i don't want to give too much away. The story is one thing but the way in which it is written is another. It is very intellectual and history orientated. There are stories within stroies, family history, personal history, legends, myths, chemistry and science all play a part in the writing to really take you deep into the novel and to another place where you are rooting for a vampire and a witch to have that first kiss!
It is extremely well written, but if history is a big NO for you then i wouldn't bother. You need to be able to concentrate and keep up with the stories and histories and characters as well as remain interested in it all. It is a big book and just when things are getting seriously gripping, the book finishes and you have to get the next one to find out what happens! A tad frustrating.
When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript, she's drawn into a supernatural world she's struggled to avoid since childhood (coming from a lineage of powerful witches). However, by opening the tome, she exposes herself to a world of warlocks, daemons and vampires - and, in doing so, she meets and falls in love with the incredibly clever and enigmatic vampire, Matthew Clairemont as they battle this that and the other in what quickly becomes a very long-winded account.
Basically, this book cries out for some serious editing. Worse still, it's not really that original either. It's sort of like a grown up Twilight but, unfortunately, Diana herself still swoons round like a smitten teen in the wake of Matthew. She's supposed to be intellectual, intelligent and powerful - yet much of the book was given over to her having hot baths, doing yoga to relax, mulling around and being encircled by Matthew's manly arms. Yawn. I mean there are only so many times a woman can get a bit of a shock and have to start running the bath taps.
Worse still, as the book progressed, rather than picking up speed, the reader is forced to endure mind-numbing descriptions of things like Diana putting a riding hat on. And, given that it was a grown up book, Matthew and Diana never actually end up sleeping together - so even all that arduous lead-up was for naught!
Oh, and don't expect a conclusion - you won't get one. You'll just have to buy the sequel and put yourself through the monotony all over again!
Diana Bishop is a Historian specialising in ancient manuscripts associated with Alchemy. She is also a Witch of impressive pedigree. Due to distressing incidents in her past Diana has turned her back on all things magical and is determined to live an ordinary life studying the subject she loves.
An incident in the Bodleian Library suddenly plunges Diana into a world she genuinely knows little about and luckily a tall, handsome Vampire by the name of Matthew is on hand to guide her through the mysterious world of the fragile peace that exists between Humans and Creatures.
Vampire books seem to have been extremely popular in the last few years varying from the romantic love stories such as the Twilight saga to the more blood-thirsty offerings that are taking over the book-shop shelves. This book came to me via a rather circuitous route having been purchased and enjoyed by my friend's 70 year old mother, then my 40-something friend and finally her 20-something daughter before getting to me. My friend's mother had bought it after hearing an article on the radio that described the book as Twilight for adults, having refused to read Twilight and dismissing it as teenage rubbish she decided to give this a try.
This book is a rather large hard-back volume with nearly 600 pages. My copy has a red and black cover with heraldic embossing which is very appealing and I couldn't wait to get started as I was really looking forward to reading it.
As soon as the story started I felt very involved, it had a mysterious edge and being set in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, which is very local to me, also heightened my interest. Unfortunately I then found that the story seemed to progress very slowly. Sometimes I find that the progression of a book may be slow but the delightful writing style and the brilliant descriptions can almost compensate for lack of substance and still make for an enjoyable read. Unfortunately A Discovery of Witches didn't seem to have any of these redeeming features in my eyes. Deborah Harkness seems to have a very plain way of writing, somehow her descriptions lack depth and I never felt I was truly "there" whenever she was describing somewhere; she just didn't seem to capture enough atmosphere for me.
The author has obviously done a lot of research into ancient literature and she writes a lot of information about the illustrations and texts in the books that her heroine is reading. At first I found those quite interesting but after a while they seemed to become long-winded and repetitive, some of the details were closely involved in the story and were essential but some felt superfluous.
Diana Bishop came from a long line of witches but seemed to think that she could turn her back on all of her skills but the reasons for her reticence become clearer throughout the novel. Unfortunately I found some of the descriptions of her magical strengths a bit excessive and unbelievable (yes-I know it isn't real but I am supposed to enjoy the story!). These parts of the book felt very juvenile, more the sort of thing that I would expect from a young writer who is using excess for effect rather than for the benefit of the story. I appreciate that Diana's unusual strengths are an integral part of the story but I simply found their manifestations were poorly described.
Matthew Clairmont, the vampire hero of this novel, was what really spoilt this book for me. He was pretty much Edward from Twilight. Don't get me wrong I love Edward, he could climb in my window anytime, but if I am reading another book I want another character. Matthew has more history than his Twilight counterpart but his behaviour, talents and ethics are pretty much the same. I felt almost uncomfortable reading this and if I was Stephenie Meyer I think I would be a little cheesed off that all the finer points of my hero had basically been reproduced, it felt like plagerism on a wide scale. Once again we have a cold, quick, intelligent, wealthy, handsome man who won't sleep with his girlfriend and tries to avoid human blood, sound familiar?
It didn't take me long to realise that this book was being written to be part of a set and I have since found out that it is the first part of the All Souls Trilogy and the next book will be released next year. The story was moving so slowly it became apparent that there was going to be a distinct lack of a conclusion.
The author does come up with one or two interesting twists throughout the story which were probably its only redeeming features in my eyes and I feel she should have concentrated more on these fresh ideas as she would have produced a more unique storyline.
Personally I will not be bothering to try and get a copy of the next book upon its release. This started with real promise and I think if the author had concentrated on writing a well-written, fast-paced story with the more unusual ideas that she had it would have been a great read. Instead she appears to be writing it with an eye on a film deal and several books and coupled with the rather basic writing style I felt that the book was a real disappointment.
As for the original description of Twilight for Adults? It may be about adults rather than teenagers but that does not make it a book more appropriate for adults. I enjoy the Twilight Saga but appreciate that they are not the best literary masterpieces in the world and know many people hate them however I felt A Discovery of Witches was much more childish, houses that slam doors whilst sulking and build extra rooms at the drop of a hat seemed ridiculous to me and it was that sort of thing that spoilt it. This would make a reasonable holiday read as it doesn't require much concentration but if you are looking for a gripping story with well-rounded characters then you may be disappointed.
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In a nutshell
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A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES is centred around American historian Dr Diana Bishop when she happens to come across an enchanted manuscript one night whilst researching at Oxford's Bodleian library. Diana is a witch, who has been living as a human since the death of her parents 20 years earlier, so she panics when she feels the magic surrounding the mysterious manuscript and sends it straight back down into the stacks and tries to forget about it.
However she quickly notices that fellow witches and daemons seem to be flocking around her, but most distracting of all is Professor Matthew Clairmont - a highly intelligent geneticist and 1500 year old vampire to boot.
It turns out all three supernatural races are determined to get hold of the manuscript to uncover it's secrets of their pasts and futures and as Diana has been the only person to find it and unbreak the centuries old spell she has unwittingly put herself in danger...
** Sorry for the short and vague overview: It was actually hard to write as this book is fast paced and there seems to be a new twist on every page and I don't want to spoil anything - even telling you what the manuscript actually contains is a spoiler **
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I admit that I only read A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES as Amazon sent me a free copy to review. And even then it just sat on a end table for a month as I'd seen a online review by fellow author Katie Fforde which included the line "this is Twilight for grown ups". Hmm. Now I know that the Twilight books and films have a enormous fanbase and everything, but to me that's just a huge turn-off.
I'll also admit that the first few chapters drag a bit and I kept putting the book down in frustration. Author Deborah Harkness herself is actually a historian of science and a university professor who really has spent time researching at Bodleian library, so she spends too much time describing all of the surroundings as she takes a walk down memory lane...
... Fortunately she soon spreads this rich description to the characters themselves and I especially love how she brings Matthew and her take on vampires to life. vampires here can walk quite happily in the sun, don't have fangs and form families. There is a well-rounded cast of secondary characters, spanning across all three supernatural races - vampires, witches and daemons.
But the main thing that really appealed to me with A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES is that it is written in both first-person and omniscient styles. Most fantasy books nowadays are wrote in first-person only, which on one hand is really good for establishing suspense and understanding motivations. But, on the other hand, it is also really limiting as you don't know what other characters are thinking, so you can end up with a book full of paper cutout secondary characters and if you don't care for and/or understand their point of view you won't care if something happens to them.
So anyway A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES really delivers on the goods when it comes to character development and writing style and I soon forgot about the slow start and. ended up getting five hours of sleep over one weekend as I sat up all night reading.
Now for the not-so-great bits:
The reason I've removed a star is because I just wasn't convinced by how quickly Diana and Matthew fall in love with each other; It does indeed seem a bit too Twilighty and it's all [open a page at random] "since I've meet you you've shown me all the pleasant parts of being a vampire. You taste things I can't even imagine. You remember people and events that I can only read about in books. You smell when I change my mind or want to kiss you. You've woken me to a world of sensory possibilities I never dreamed existed", I wouldn't be surprised to find out that he sparkles in the sun. They've known each other for just a few weeks and are already prepared to endanger the lives of everyone around them for their great love, but I can't see where it's coming from. Even being in lust is a bit of a stretch at this stage.
Also; As mentioned above author Deborah Harkness is a historian of science, with an interest in the history of alchemy, like Diana. So when her character is paired with current geneticist Matthew [and there are also a few other fellow scientists] quite a few conversations are beyond my understanding and they slightly remove me from the story as a result.
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To try or not to try?
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Even though I'm not totally happy with the book and have the above issues, the characters themselves are all well drawn and I intend on checking out the next book [no name or release date yet] in the trilogy to see what happens to them next.
If you like books with a strong romantic theme you'll enjoy it a lot more then I did. I prefer fantasy books where the action takes center stage, so I'll loan book two from the library or maybe buy a second hand copy.
"The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable. To an ordinary historian, it would have looked no different from hundreds of other manuscripts is Oxford's Bodleian library, ancient and worn. But I knew there was something odd about it from the moment I collected it."
In Diana's Bishop's life, there is something odd about a lot of things. Hers is a world that appears to be the same as our own, but it which something unusual hides just out of sight of most humans. Creatures, to be precise. Some are vampires, some are witches, and some are daemons, unstable beings who sit on the divide between great creative genius and destructive madness. The creatures generally manage to continue their lives unnoticed by the human majority and unbothered by each other, avoiding meeting in large groups in public places to keep their existence from disturbing the tentative peace they keep with humanity. Diana, for her part, is a witch (the descendant of two distinguished lines of New England witches), and is well aware of the other creatures that inhabit the world around her. Yet, despite her heritage, she is determined to ignore magic and build an independent life and academic career without stealing an advantage on her colleagues through using witchcraft. As a visiting fellow at Oxford University and a respected authority on alchemy and the history of science, things are going well for her in this respect.
That is until she manages to call up a book from the special collections store at the Bodleian Library that contains rather more than she bargains for. Realising that the book is bound in ancient and complex magic, and wanting nothing to do with it, she sends it back to the store and tries to forget about what she saw. However, over the coming days the quiet summer library gradually fills with disproportionately large numbers of creatures, all apparently watching her and waiting for her to do something. Most evident amongst them is the elegant Professor Matthew Clairmont, a secretive scientist who stands out as much for his startlingly attractive appearance as the academic respect he commands. Witches and vampires don't traditionally mix, so why are Diana and Matthew so drawn together? What did Diana find that day in the library, and why does the discovery pique the interest of so many creatures that previously ignored her? So starts a novel that is part history, part fantasy, part love story and almost entirely absorbing.
While the opening paragraph of "A Discovery of Witches" sucked me into the story very well - any book lover who has set foot in the Bodleian couldn't help but marvel at the wonders it might well contain - I found much of the opening section a little stilted and over-written, as if the author was trying too hard to sound like a proper novelist. I sighed a little and thought at this point that I might be in for a very long read. Fortunately, once Harkness gets past the chore of trying to describe Diana and her immediate surroundings in a suitably literary way, and instead concentrates on the character background and real meat of the story, the stiffness in her writing evaporates and it all starts to flow much better. Get past the first chapter, and the love of the writer for books, history and the beautifully imagined fantasy world she has created comes across to create a story that it is very hard to leave alone. I was carried along very nicely indeed until a few chapters around the middle of the book, when the narrative moved away from what I felt was the story proper and lingered far too long for my liking on the inevitable romance between witch and vampire - it may have been far more intelligently done and elegantly written than "Twilight", but that doesn't mean I had any more patience for it. But of course, I suspect a lot of readers of a more romantic bent will disagree with me on this point.
This is a novel that combines the best of historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy and mythology - and a good deal of romance. It is for the most past well paced and engagingly written, and Harkness has managed to create an intriguing underworld that fits in well with our own known world and history, making it come to life in an entirely believable and rather clever way. The characters are well-developed and lifelike, and great thought and detail has gone into every aspect of the background, and even to the title. The title is of course a nice play on the infamous work "The Discovery of Witches" by notorious English witchfinder Matthew Hopkins, which described what he saw as symptoms of witchery and techniques for finding witches in the general population. The past persecution of women believed to be witches does arise in the novel, although the only witch-finding that is done is distinctly not by humans - the people who want find Diana are all other creatures.
It is perhaps unsurprising that the author, Deborah Harkness, is a professor of history; the author of several non-fiction works previously, this is her first novel. That the author is an academic comes across in her writing, in the best possible way - like Philippa Gregory (who holds a PhD in literature), the writing is articulate, erudite and meticulously well-researched, weaving historical and mythological information seamlessly into the narrative. The author has said she became a professor because she loves to teach what she is enthusiastic about, and this has doubtless allowed her to develop her ability to communicate with great passion. The book is aimed at intelligent readers, but manages to stay away from dry, academic prose, instead remaining lucid and enchanting. In places it is quite hard to believe that this isn't the work of a far more experienced novelist.
I must admit that if I hadn't been sent this book as a review copy, I would probably never have read it, being put off by the very mention of the word "vampire". The saturation effect on modern popular culture inspired by the insipid novels of Stephanie Meyer and the ensuing army of mini-me novels has unfortunately meant the vampire - a potentially fascinating mythological creature to use in literature, as ably demonstrated in Elizabeth Kostova's "The Historian" - has been relegated to nothing more than an excuse for a brooding romantic lead. While Matthew Clairmont does for a time mid-novel seem to be behaving as if he is in a version of "Twilight" for grown-ups, there is fortunately sufficient depth and interest in the characters to raise "A Discovery of Witches" well above this. Other than the slow mid-section, I demolished the book in remarkably short time, considering it was 590 pages of dense text; always a good sign that I have enjoyed a novel. Barring one or two small points, I really enjoyed reading this book and will look out for future works by Harkness. The only problem I have is that this was pre-release review copy, not available in the shops until February 2011 - so it will be a long time before I get to find out what happens next!
**With thanks to Headline Books, who provided me with a review copy of this book.**
**This is an edited version of a review originally written for www.curiousbookfans.co.uk. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview the author after reviewing her book, and the result will appear on Curious Book Fans shortly.**