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)

my thoughts:

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. :)

2/5 stars

Title: A Discovery of Witches - Book 1 in the All Souls Trilogy
Author: Deborah Harkness
579 pages
Genre: fiction/paranormal


Miss Moppet said...

DNF for me so you're not the only one. I started out really enjoying it and the premise seemed intriguing but it was so slow and I gave up when they got to France and everyone was fussing over Diana for no reason. I was annoyed because I really liked the excerpt and read all the positive reviews and bought the book for once instead of waiting for the library to get it in. If that won't teach me to go library first, nothing will!

Joanne said...

LOL, Miss Moppet! DNF! Great minds think alike, I guess. Thanks for letting me know I wasn't the only one that found this book lacking. It's a shame, as it could have been so much better.

Melissa @ Confessions of an Avid Reader said...

Too bad you didn't like it. I really enjoyed it, but my expectations going into it were low as I'm not generally a fan of novels featuring vampires. I did find the mid-section of the book to be slow going, but the end made up for it.

Joanne said...

Hi, Melissa -- I'm glad you enjoyed it. Oddly, I DO like vampire stories (The Witching Hour and Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice are some of my favorites, as well as Dracula), but this one just didn't do it for me. Oh, well, on to the next book!

Melissa @ Confessions of an Avid Reader said...

Joanne - you might enjoy Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. The first book is called Soulless and features vampires, werewolves and a preternatural (soulless person). The novels are set in Victorian England and fall within the Steampunk genre. I read the first one and thought it delightful...despite my aversion to all things vampire and werewolf :-)

Cat said...

I'm another DNF - a book I really looked forward to but was a definite letdown. Too long, too slow and weighed down by unnecessary detail and I agree with your thoughts on Diana and Matthew.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

I'm about 5th of the way through and while it's not a HATE, it's not really a LOVE, yet. I think it's safe to say that I don't "get" the hype but I'm hoping that at some point the stuff everyone's been raving about will kick in. It's not terrible but its just a fun story at best, I think.

Joanne said...

Cat - Oh, no! Another DNF! Hope you have better luck with your next book! Thanks for stopping by!

Pam - I agree with you about not getting the hype. I definitely didn't hate it -- I gave it my full attention, finished it, and really wanted to love it -- but it just didn't work. I'm not a Twilight fan, but maybe it appeals more to readers who enjoy that series? I don't know.

Melissa @ Confessions of an Avid Reader said...

I'm definitely not a fan of Twilight either, but enjoyed the Discovery of Witches and know several others who felt the same way (I was left with the impression that it would appeal more to readers who dislike Twilight since Discovery of Witches had much more substance).

Even though I enjoyed the book, I have to admit that I don't understand the hype about it either. I mean I thought it was a good book, but it certainly wasn't a great one.

Joanne said...

Melissa -- I'm so glad you popped in this morning -- I want to let you know that your blog is one that has been blocked to me for commenting -- I've tried several identities and I get clicked out.
Getting frustrated that this issue has not been resolved for well over a week now.

The great thing about reading books is that we all take away a different experience that is unique to our own tastes and interests. I consider every book I read a learning experience, and I definitely walked away from this one with an interest in the Bodleian Library and looked up a bit more info about this topic. Looks like a bibliophile's dream!

Melissa @ Confessions of an Avid Reader said...

If I changed my comments section to a pop up window like you have done, do you think that would resolve your issue?

Guess I could always try and see if that helps you out.

Marg said...

It's interesting to see the various reactions to this book. It seems to be quite divisive between the hits and misses! It was a hit for me!

Joanne said...

Hi, Marg -- I'm glad you found it a hit! As a matter of fact, I saw all the really positive reviews on the Ladies of Lallybroch book recommendation board, and since we all need that methadone list while waiting for book 8 in the Outlander series, I thought I'd give Witches a try. I really wanted to love it (love a good series that gets me hooked). Oh well, there are so many good books out there, I'm on to the next! Thanks so much for stopping by, and I hope othes who want to read it will give it a try -- you never know how you will react to a book unless you read it. :)

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