All bookworms out there know the problem. You have piles of unread books, lists of things you want to read and new and exciting books getting published all the time. And yet, many of us find ourselves going back and reading old favourites time and time again.
This is currently what I am doing. Recently, I reread A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I read it for the first time around 2014 I think, and I quickly because obsessed with it. I couldn’t stop reading it. The moment that I finished it, I ordered the second one and kept an avid eye out for the third. I’m not sure what made me want to bypass all my new books and go back to this one, but something about it was calling to me from the shelf.
A Discovery of Witches tells the story of Diana Bishop, a historian of science who comes to Oxford to undertake research into the history of alchemy. Diana is also a witch but refuses to use her magical talents (which have always been somewhat lacking anyway) because she blames magic for the death of her parents many years before. While working at the Bodleian library, Diana discovers a lost manuscript that appears to have been enchanted. While she doesn’t care about the manuscript (to begin with), every other witch, deamon and vampire in the country seems to and many will do whatever it takes to get their hands on it. One such creature is mysterious vampire Matthew Clairmont. Diana and Matthew start to work together to find out the secret of the manuscript and why the other creatures appear to be as interested in Diana as they are in the book.
There are a couple of things about this story that stand out for me. Firstly, I love the settings. The book is effectively split into three sections: Oxford, France and America. The author makes all three places feel so tangible especially Oxford. Oxford is one of my favourite cities and having been to some of the places mentioned, I can honestly say that everything had a very authentic feel to it.
Secondly, the characters are really well-rounded. Everything they do, even if you don’t agree with it, has a motivation and fits with what you already know about their personality. It’s really clear that each character, whether major or minor, was really well thought out.
There are times when the pacing suffers slightly. There is a lot of time spent drinking tea and going over the same ground because of Diana’s stubbornness, which can drag after a while. It is also fair to say that the main problem with the story is Diana herself. I think she meant to be and strong and independent but there are times when it just comes off as annoying and sometimes whiney. it makes it hard to understand why everyone is so willing to help her, especially when it is at great risk to themselves.
What interested me the most, was that my feelings towards the book changed over the course of my second read-through. While the first time round, I thought everything about it was completely and utterly perfect. Now, as mentioned above, I started to get annoyed at Diana and even Matthew had his moments. This second read through showed me how controlling he is. This does fit in with the mind set of a vampire that the book lays out, but even for a vampire it seems particularly strong. It wasn’t uncommon to wonder exactly how healthy the relationship between Diana and Matthew was. I also noticed that the second time round, I was more interested in the secondary characters of the story and it was these people that I looked forward to hearing more about chapter after chapter.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes supernatural/fantasy fiction. While I have never read Twilight, I imagine that it has a similar feel, only probably for a slightly older audience. It is a story with many levels, and you get new things from it all the time. You have the story which in itself is great but there is also a depth to it that makes you really think about what is going on with the characters and why they are the way they are. The issues I mentioned above, if anything make the plot seem more real and tangible because is showed the flaws in what would otherwise have been characters that were perfect but bland. I would suggest though, that if you aren’t sure if this book is for you or if you aren’t a fan of series, either avoid this one or get a copy from a library. It is very much part of a series and ends very abruptly so that the second one can carry on the story immediately. This wasn’t a problem for me as I knew I wanted to read the next two but I can imagine that the sudden ending and lack of closure could be annoying for some – particularly if they didn’t want to read the next instalment.
Overall, I would give A Discovery of Witches 3/5 vampire bats.