“If there really were vampires, what would they do for a living?” That is a question that this book became the unexpected answer to, according to the author on her blog. As for me, although I’ve read that Harkness hasn’t read the popular YA series, I’d dare say this book could be considered a Twilight for adults. Compliment? Or criticism? You decide. But at its simplest, there are vampires, witches, and daemons. (If you’re not sure what a daemon is…think borderline insane, ADHD, wildly creative person…beyond that, I haven’t figured it out in terms of superpowers or anything).
Here’s what I like about the book, and it mostly concerns the author. Harkness is a historian. She has several degrees and teaches at USC and has extensively studied the history of magic and science in Europe from 1500-1700. If you, like me, have ever wondered why classes like this exist beyond giving history buffs something random to chew on, maybe this novel is one. Harkness’ love for these things is obvious from reading A Discovery of Witches, which is a historical work of fiction. There are all kinds of allusions, most of which were lost on me, to scientists, authors, and novels. The story spans a range of geography and time, and Harkness seems comfortable with it all. At times, I feel our 1500 year-old, well-learned vampire Matthew can get a bit pretentious, but understanding Harkness’ love for history forgives that for me.
The story begins with Diana, an alchemical history professor at Oxford university (if there is such a thing at Oxford, I wasn’t able to figure it out from their website). Diana is descended from a prominent line of witches, but has shunned her magical ability, at least to the degree it’s possible (WHY!?!?!). During her studies, she is able to recall an old, long-thought-lost volume of magic called Ashmole 782, and this draws the attention of not just her fellow witches, but other supernatural creatures as well. While Diana doesn’t realize the significance of her finding, it sets in motion a series of events that make magic an inevitable part of her life. As she becomes entrenched in the mystery of Ashmole 782 (which you can read about on Harkness’ blog), Diana meets Matthew, a geneticist (and also a vampire). Why would a vampire be interested in an old book of magic? Is there something extraordinary about Diana that Matthew sees? How could Diana’s find be the catalyst for a war between witches and vampires?
These are the questions A Discovery of Witches begins to answer, BUT…and here’s where other reviewers and I agree, the pacing is slow. In fact, it took me several months (if not a year) to get through this book as it was a between-book-read. But I felt, by the end, Harkness had really laid out her premise and introduced her characters fully. It also helped that the book picked up steam near the end and left off on a cliff-hanger that makes me really curious to see how she handles book two (yes, this is a trilogy…and yes, there is a movie in the making).
So, to be honest, this was a book I almost gave up on. But in desperation for something to read, I finished it and now want to read the second book. Probably not for everyone, but if I had you at “vampires” or “Twilight,” then we already know you’ll want to read it.
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