Oh wow I have so many things to say. The vast majority of the time when I go to write a review I have to sit there and think of things to say, when my instinct is just like, I had feelings okay and now you want me to put them into words? But the words are just wanting to flow for this one.
So first, because context is important, three things about this book and also me:
1. It was free. A friend was moving a couple years back and offered to let me snag as many free books as I wanted from her and this was one of the ones I ended up with. Because free!
2. The bad reviews make me soooo curious. Some people LOVE this and some people really HATE this and some people just don’t give a shit, but mostly it’s the first two things. This makes me super intrigued.
3. I was in a mood for something intelligent and/or nerdy, but also make it trash. Oh boy did this fit the bill.
And now my ten years late to this party review.
If you are unaware, this book is about a witch from a family of witches who falls in love with a 1,500 year old vampire. The witch is also a historian currently studying at Oxford and she is an uber-nerd. They get mixed up in the discovery of a very special alchemical manuscript that has been missing for ages and that everyone in the supernatural world wants a piece of because REASONS. I have heard people describe this as Twilight for adults, but I think that’s kind of disingenuous. They have surface similarities, but this book at least knows its hero is toxic (more on this later), and also where this one really sets itself apart is the worldbuilding and the secondary characters.
Another thing that is good info to have about this book is that it really shouldn’t work, for a variety of reasons, and yet I could not put it down. I read this almost 600 page book in less than two days.
I’m going to have to bullet point the rest of this:
• Firstly, let’s just get the brooding elephant out of the way. Matthew is a vampire, and vampires in this world are apparently territorial, possessive, and aggressive. Matthew also has a fierce temper (it is described as “rage” throughout the book), and he has committed serious acts of violence, some questionable, some outright bad. The text acknowledges this. He is also 1,500 years old and spent most of his life in historical eras where women were not equal under the law, or anywhere else. The characters talk about all this between themselves. Diana, the main character, ponders it frequently. She tells us when he does something that scares her. To be quite honest about it, I found that interesting. Usually when an alpha male character is being a bag of dicks like that it’s romanticized or played off. That isn’t the case here. When Diana finds out Matthew had broken into her rooms and watched her sleep, she freaks the fuck out (in contrast to, say, Bella just not reacting whatsoever and loving Edward even more when he did the same thing to her).
HOWEVER. Two things. Firstly, why then does she fall in love with him? I found it personally hard to see, other than it was FATED. And secondly, despite the conflict it adds to the narrative, it took away my ability to love him as a character, even though I found him interesting to read about. It just diminished the experience for me. I like to feel swoony in a star-crossed lovers romance. There was no swoon here.
• Diana’s family (the Bishops, descended from the first witch to be executed in Salem in 1692) has a house that is so full of hereditary magic it has become sentient and does things without permission, like creating rooms when guests are coming, and banging doors and cabinets to get the family’s attention when it wants to show them something. It also steals things and keeps them for decades like a magpie. I loved it so much.
• Which brings me to my next point. I was really fascinated with the worldbuilding here. I loved the atmosphere (which varies between Oxford, the French countryside, and small town America). I loved all the historical details. I loved how into Diana’s work and research the text went (I always love seeing characters do work and be good at it, I don’t know why). And the take on witches here was just different enough from what I’ve read before to grab my attention. For some reason, in this world Harkness only has four species of “humans” (although three of them don’t think of themselves as human). We’ve got actual humans who aren’t supernatural at all, and then there are witches, vampires, and daemons. This is super weird, to be honest, but it did simplify things and provided a foundation for the story. Why only these three creatures? (Any of them can become ghosts, FYI.) And wtf is even a daemon? I realize partly that’s what the story is trying to find out (origin stories are something all three supernatural groups are interested in, hence their pursuit of the manuscript) but I guess they’re just super smart? Or creative?? I’m trying to avoid spoilers so don’t send me any links until I’ve finished book three, please.
• I get why some people found this boring, I really do. There is A LOT of detail here, about academia and research and history and tea and wine and food and pretty much everything you can think of. I did not mind it at all, but I can see why it would make some people want to rip all their hairs out.
• I absolutely loved the weird mix of magic and science here. Matthew is an asshat but he also does really cool scientific research into the DNA of supernatural creatures, and it’s a huge part of the plot that I found fascinating.
• Diana was fine? I liked her well enough. I’m kind of torn between liking her and being annoyed that she is sUpEr SpEcIaL. But the backstory, again, was intriguing so I was willing to forgive a lot.
• Spoilery rant: SPOILERS TIME TRAVEL. I got so excited when timewalking was brought up, and then when I realized it was going to be one of those books where the travelers were going to hop back into their old bodies I got so mad. I HATE IT WHEN TIME TRAVEL STORIES DO THIS. Where did their bodies go? If you are actually bringing your body to the new time and location, your body should be there! And so should your past self! Fuck you, time travel! It’s especially irritating because the rules set there (which aren’t even explained, just implied) are broken at the end of the book when Matthew and Diana time travel back to Elizabethan England and though Matthew has a body/self there in that time, Diana will not be born for hundreds of years, so her body is there but his isn’t??? Why couldn’t she just have made it so there were two Matthews running around? He knew where he was at! They didn’t even have to run into each other. UGH THIS IS A PET PEEVE. Time travel woes END SPOILERS.
The best thing about this whole situation is that I am in a magical headspace where I agree with every review of this book. I can see all sides of all arguments. It is overly detailed and the hero is toxic and the heroine is not as full of personality as she could be but I still enjoyed this book quite a bit! I found it fascinating in its weirdness. I have already ordered book two.
[3.5 stars, rounding up just because I had fun, even though it probably doesn’t deserve it]