Saturday, May 28, 2011
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
"Deep in the heart of Oxford's Bodleian Library, scholar Diana Bishop requests a manuscript called Ashmole 782 in the course of her research. Coming from an old and distinguished lineage of witches, Diana senses that the ancient book might be bound up with magic--but she herself wants nothing to do with sorcery; and after making a few notes on its curious images, she banishes it quickly back to the stacks. But what she doesn't know is that the old alchemical text has been lost for centuries, and its sudden appearance has set a fantastical underworld stirring. Soon, a distracting horde of daemons, witches, and vampires descends upon the Bodleian's reading rooms. One of these creatures is Matthew Clairmont, an enigmatic and eminent geneticist, practioner of yoga, and wine connoisseur--and also a vampire with a keen interest in Ashmole 782.
Equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense, A Discovery of Witches is a novel of epic scope, traveling from the cobbled streets of Oxford to the chateaus and mountains of the Auvergne to a small town in upstate New York. It also takes us into a rich fifteen-hundred-year history that spans Clovis and the Crusades, the Knights Templar, and the American Revolution. As Matthew and Diana's alliance deepens into intimacy, Diana must come to terms with age-old taboos and her own family's conflicted history--and she must learn where the modern woman she is meets the course of ancient power that is her legacy. With a scholar's depth and the touch of a great storyteller, Deborah Harkness has woven a tale of passion and obsession; the collision of magic, alchemy, and science; and the closely guarded secrets of an enchanted world."(from the publisher)
I had high expectations and hopes for this novel.
I thought the premise of the book sounded absolutely fascinating, and what could be better than a rich combination of historical, romantic, and paranormal elements? There has been quite a buzz (good and bad) on some book sites about A Discovery of Witches, so my interest was piqued and I just had to get my hands on this book!
To be honest, it was a letdown.
Now I know that too much hype about a novel can raise a person's expectations too high, but I went in with an open mind expecting to read a fresh take on witches and vampires. I gave it my undivided attention for many days and kept hoping it would take off and be magical, but I struggled to stay interested. I found it hard to like the character of Diana Bishop, the powerful witch at the center of the story, as she constantly needed answers and help from others around her. For an alchemical scholar at Oxford, she is awfully dense and naive. She was far too weak and dependent throughout the entire book -- no real character arc here at all. Matthew Clairmont, the vampire and love interest, was a more richly drawn character, but I still couldn't get past the fact that he was an expert on everything and far too perfect.
Chalk it up as just one of those books that is either a hit or a miss, and for me, it was a miss.
I hasten to add that others thought it was fantastic, and I've seen many five star reviews, so this is just one person's opinion. I thought it was one of those ideas that if it had been in the right hands, it could have been brilliant. It had a strong beginning but lost steam along the way, and I'm not sure I'm interested enough to read any of remaining books in this trilogy when they are published. Glad I read it, though, as I wouldn't be able to rest until I satisfied my curiosity. Now I know better. :)
Title: A Discovery of Witches - Book 1 in the All Souls Trilogy
Author: Deborah Harkness