Monday, March 19, 2012

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness [Review]

4 out of 5 Robots!

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Genre: Paranormal Fiction
Release: February 8, 2011
Hardcover: 579 Pages
Publisher: Viking Adult
My Copy: Personal Copy
Reviewer: Shannon
Buy the Book: Amazon

Shannon's Thoughts:
A Discovery of Witches centers around Diana Bishop, a history professor at Oxford University.  Diana is also a witch, but has shunned her powers ever since her parents were killed when she was seven.  Diana finds herself having to use just a little bit of magic to open an old manuscript during her research.  But that little bit of magic attracts Matthew Clairmont, a 1500 year old vampire who also has a great interest in the manuscript but for entirely otherworldly reasons.  Diana and Matthew begin an unlikely friendship that leads to a forbidden romance as Diana discovers more about her past and the forces that want to keep them apart.

Harkness lays some good foundations here.  I love the world she creates with three different types of paranormal species: witches, vampires and daemons. (Daemons are creatures who are incredibly creative and brilliant, but cursed with madness).  It feels different than a lot of other vampire/witch novels in that it keeps a good balance between paranormal, fiction and history.  I also really like the characters, not just Diana and Matthew, but their families and friends as well.  All the characters are very strong and have well defined personalities.  It is especially fun when they all converge.  Also, Harkness, being a history professor, knows her stuff.  She backs up the history with facts and obvious research.  I can honestly say that there are not many plot holes, if any at all.

Which brings me now to a few complaints.  I have a couple minor quibbles, but there are two large ones that I just can't ignore.  My first complaint is Diana and Matthew's romance.  I really enjoyed the beginning of their relationship but once they declare their love for each other it  became over the top.  I think writing about "True Love" is hard for a lot of authors and they try to make us buy into it with maudlin prose and overwrought love declarations. I especially hate it when the female is reckless and will do anything to stay with her True Love.  There is one point when Diana says she will give up anything or anyone to keep Matthew alive.  It's a good thing her family couldn't hear her as she is so willing to let them die in his place.  I would be pissed if I were her family!   I have a hard time with this kind of thing. I would be lying if I said I didn't roll my eyes more than a few times.

The second problem is that Harkness had so many ideas and she stuffed them all into the book.  There is so much going on that it muddled the plot.  Even now, I am not sure what the main plot is! Some of the ideas are more interesting than others, but I feel Harkness has a hard time deciding what kind of book she wants.  It is hard to get any tension going because there is  just so much explanatory dialogue and back story. As a reader, I don't need to know everything all the time. It really disrupted the story and the pacing lagged.  I feel this book could benefit from editing to create a tighter, cleaner story.

I'm hoping some of these problems are fixed in the second book, Shadow of Night, which is due out this summer.  Overall A Discovery of Witches lands somewhere between a 3.5 and 4.  The problems frustrated me, but I also found myself anxious to continue reading it.  I think fans of Diana Gabaldon would also like this book. It reminded me of her Outlander series quite a bit.


  1. So glad this review popped up today.. I just won a copy from Penguin this afternoon and I am actually looking forward to reading it now. Hopefully I can get past what you didn't like.. but we shall see. Thanks so much!!

  2. I really need to read this book. I listened to the audiobook last year, and loved it! But I often find I have different reactions to reading a book vs. listening to one. I bought the paperback a few months ago, but I haven't found time to read it yet. I should get on that since I requested the sequel on NetGalley!

  3. I haven't actually heard many good things about this one, and I can understand with the issues you describe here. But it sounds interesting, and I hope that those problems don't get in my way when I get around to reading it. I want to read it more after reading that it is somewhat like the Outlander series (absolutely love those books!) Great review, can't wait to see what you think about the second one when it comes out.



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