767 of 877 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Monumental Collision of Magic, History and Science
This is not your ordinary story about witches, vampires and daemons!
Diana Bishop's famous ancestor was executed for being a witch. As a heart-rending consequence of Diana's parents' mysterious deaths, Diana has vowed she will live totally as a human, denying her identity as a witch with both usual and unusual powers. Dedicating her life to logic and ordinary...
Published on February 8, 2011 by Viviane Crystal
345 of 391 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed bag of contrived and clever
In A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES Harknes takes all the urban fantasy romantic tropes and...uses them. Main PoV character Diana is smart, orphaned, stubborn, beautiful-though-she-doesn't-know-it, and a powerful witch. Her vampire love interest Matthew is almost perfectly thoughtful, impeccably dressed, brilliant, rich, and well connected. The antagonists resent their blossoming...
Published on February 25, 2011 by Vanessa
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345 of 391 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed bag of contrived and clever,
The issue isn't that Harkness uses these tropes over again--they are tried and true for a reason--it's that it's her first novel and you can tell. Her foreshadowing lacks subtlety. Last-minute contrivances fix issues. Too much time is spent on the minutiae of eating/traveling/clothing. Expository conversations are used to forward the plot. And the plot itself is bogged down with irrelevant information. You know, the kinds of things any writer's workshop would explain are problems because they affect flow and readability.
But do these problems ruin the story?
For most urban fantasy readers, those are issues that won't impede their enjoyment of the love story. However, while I enjoyed Harkness' blending of ideas and the magic, even if they aren't exactly groundbreaking, the execution made it hard for me to enjoy it on a level that would make me give an unhesitating endorsement.
The story starts off with a problem: why does everyone want Ashmole 782? Diana is a Ph.D. in history, an expert on alchemical texts, and during her research at Oxford she finds a text that has been missing for 150 years. She can tell it's special because it fires off all her witch's senses. But she's here as a scholar and not a witch, so sends it back, where it disappears again. Now every vampire, witch, and daemon in Oxford wants to know how she got it to appear and if she's going to do it again. Because its hidden text supposedly explains the origin of paranormal creatures--and perhaps even how to destroy them forever.
During Diana's research, Matthew Clairmont appears. He's mysterious and attractive, but he's a vampire. He's a scientist at heart, who wants to not only know the how but also the why. He claims to want to help Diana, and is interested in Ashmole 782, but his altruistic intention is suspect. Diana, against her better judgement, is drawn into Matthew's circle of protection. The other witches don't want anyone but another witch to ever obtain Ashmole 782, and see Diana's vampire-trusting behavior as a betrayal.
Then the dots start connecting: the death of her parents, the text, the motives of witches and vampires who are trying to keep Diana and Matthew apart. Harkness blends history, magic, science and alchemy into a story that sucks you in despite its awkward pace--because, really, you don't know where Harkness is heading with all this and you are compelled to know.
Harkness's prose is easy enough to read, and she handles the magic well, including the separation of the supernatural races, and even the 'science' of their behaviors. Even though some of it seems to be for convenience's sake (i.e., vampires awake and walking around during the day). My favorite part of the entire book is the sentient house where Diana's witch Aunt Sarah lives. It creates new rooms for guests, has temper tantrums, and hides/reveals things at the appropriate times.
The love story between the main characters is a strangely mixed bag of reality and contrivance. I wanted to want to see them together, and they seem to fit together as a couple personality-wise, but the execution made Matthew creepy and Diana wishy-washy. Matthew is an over-protective control freak and Diana is a 30-something Ph.D. who devolves into a lovestruck teen, which made me kind of embarrassed for my sex. It doesn't help, either, that it only takes them three weeks to decide this is True Love Forever.
While I was eventually able to enjoy the main characters, and even the plethora of secondary characters that are important in Diana and Matthew's lives, I couldn't get around the meandering storyline. Certainly there's forward movement as they fall in love, travel, and unravel the mysteries of Ashmole 782, but I look back and there's just so much fluff. I spent 500+ pages reading to remember all these details (historical, alchemical, etc), only to have them mean nothing to the story. If you asked me, I don't think I could pinpoint the exact climax of the novel (I think it was around the 2/3 mark, which is an awkward spot); then the last third of the novel devolves into a meandering buildup for an event that leads into what's obviously going to be a sequel. I guess we'll have to see if she improves with susequent novels.
**This review was posted on Elitist Book Reviews. For more reviews and interviews stop by our blog.**
767 of 877 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Monumental Collision of Magic, History and Science,
Diana Bishop's famous ancestor was executed for being a witch. As a heart-rending consequence of Diana's parents' mysterious deaths, Diana has vowed she will live totally as a human, denying her identity as a witch with both usual and unusual powers. Dedicating her life to logic and ordinary living, she is now a history scholar doing research on alchemy texts in the Bodleian library at Oxford. Upon receiving a requested text called Ashmole 782, she realizes either the book is spellbound or there is something about this book that connects with her hidden witch powers. Add to that the reactions of suddenly appearing witches, vampires, and daemons whose animosity and threatening looks and words make Diana's wish for normalcy an illusion she can no longer ignore.
Into the midst of this reality arrives a handsome, extremely intelligent and old vampire, Matthew Clairmont, who is supposedly pursuing his own research as a geneticist. Initially disliking and avoiding his presence, Diana finally begins to realize he is protecting her from direct attack by the hordes of persons appearing daily in the library who are insisting she recall the text they are desperate to obtain. Then he begins to appear during her running and rowing exercises which seem to be the only way she can stop her natural abilities from emerging with perilous effects on herself as well as others.
Why is Matthew so attracted to Diana and what is behind the interest so many have in this mysterious text lost for centuries which has appeared and again disappeared after Diana's innocent unbinding of its pages? Finally, when several close calls with death frighten Diana into realizing her lack of control, she accepts shelter first with Matthew's vampire family in France and then with her own witch family in America.
A Discovery of Witches is so much more than just a supernatural story! Yes there are adventurous thrills for those who love the proverbial accounts of such creatures. But here is an intelligent consideration of the essence of origins, differences, genetic mating and consequences, shared powers defying definition and classification, versions of history holding secret and amazing phenomena, relationships of enmity forced to unite under common needs - both good and evil, the quintessential realities behind the search for the Philosopher's stone or alchemy, and so much more.
Add to that a sweet, dangerous romance all the more real because of what seems to be its doomed end, and herein is the perfect combination, preciously difficult to adequately encompass in any brief review. This tale is a smart, tense, provocative, and enchanting read you will not want to end and will be relishing long after the last page is turned. This reviewer is so looking forward to the sequel to this amazing novel which will be a best seller!!! Absolutely delightful and impossible to put down!
343 of 404 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Supernatural for Smarties,
I just adored this novel. It has everything you want in a good read: terrific characters; a fast-moving plot filled with the world of academia, science, and the supernatural; and a singular world to explore. There are lots of details for the reader who wants even more, like hidden "Easter egg" references to other novels/characters; lots of descriptions of wine and tea and food that made me seriously hungry; and equally well-developed secondary characters.
The only trouble is, when you reach the end you will throw the book across the room and yell because the sequel is not already in your hot little hands. So then you'll be forced to read it again.
251 of 296 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Yawwwwwwn!,
I'm sorry but while Debora Harkness's debut fiction story starts off well and is quite beautifully written, the plot is very, very thin and quite boring. The love story plot thread is boring and stale. I seriously couldnt give a flying F about Matthew and Diana, I found their relationship frankly ridiculous.
Diana is in her mid thirties (THIRTIES!) and she behaves around Matthew just like a self involved TSTL teenager. Actually I got really strong Bella vibes with Diana. This woman starts out intelligent and strong, she is working in the Bodelein library in Oxford when she happens to call an ancient alchemical text that is thought by 'creatures' around the world to be extict. Diana hates magic, she thinks it resulted in the death of her parents and flat refuses to use it or acknowledge her witchy status. That is until Matthew comes on the scene and tells her to start learning how to use her seemingly boundless powers. I really don't buy that Diana has practically every witch power under the sun, she just doesnt know it. *Rolls eyes*
Matthew (a fifteen hundred year old vampire) falls instantly for Diana, even though inter-creature relations are forbidden, not really getting why that is, but it creates romantic tension so I roll with it. The thing is, Matthew treats Diana like an precious pet. AND SHE LETS HIM. By the end of the book he is telling her when to eat and sleep and go for a walk, just like some small child. He carries her everywhere (think Paris Hilton with her chihuahuas) and makes all her decisions for her. It is so annoying watching Diana become more and more pet-like. I mean grow a backbone already.
Matthew is your typical vampire hero, darkly handsome (unbelievably good looking) super insanely rich and the powerful head of a bunch of vamps. It is so boring hearing about Matthew's exploits in perfection. He is literally the most uninteresting hero I have ever read about. It's like Debora Harkness read twilight and a few other YA vampire books and wrote down essential criteria for a vampire hero and then just transplanted those qualities onto the page. He has no interesting personality quirks or original aspects. HE IS BORING, except when he is telling Diana when she is allowed to breathe and then he is kinda repulsive.
Many other reviewers have perfectly pointed out the boring repetitive nature of the plot in A Descovery of Witches and the deeply unsatisfying ending. Needless to say, this book is completely self-indulgent. A cut-throat editor was really called for, there are pages and pages and PAGES of Diana excercising or eating or drinking tea or thinking about stupid boring Matthew and man does it drag. There are brief action sequences but they are over before they even really begin and usually involve Diana descovering another unrealised power within herself.
This book is a romance, pure and simple, the fantasy plot takes a total backseat. I found the stuff around Elias Ashmole and the Alchemical manuscript really interesting but as soon as Matthew is on the scene it's barely mentioned. I desperately wanted Diana to find some strength of character but she just devolved before my eyes. The romance if very twilight-esqe but in no way measures up to that book. I have no idea why Harkness created a heroine in her mid-thirties because Diana behaves precisely like a teenager. Matthew, in typical twilight fashion, refuses to have sex with Diana, because he *cough* wants it to be special and hates rushing things. It rings totally false and makes me kind of embarrassed for Diana.
One last pet peeve, is that within a few weeks of Diana and Matthew meeting, they are married in the vampire fashion and Diana starts calling his vampire progeny (who are all hundreds of years older than her) her "son" and "daughter". It's freakin wierd.
A Discovery of Witches contains the bones of an interesting story but desperately needs a cut-throat editor to get rid of all the boring unnecesary padding and fluff. Also, Diana needs to find a personality and Matthew must jump of a cliff immediately.
297 of 355 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Beware the Hype!,
What a disappointment. Harkness has certain charm that occasionally shines through in her writing, but the story is a mess. Villains appear and lurk in the shadows. The heroine goes rowing. Twice. She goes to yoga a couple times, too. The villains multiply. The heroine goes horseback riding. Three times. Then she learns to make an herbal tea.
Oh, and she falls in love. With a vampire, of course. Annoying "mon amore!" crying love. Eyerolling, "Will you ever stop surprising me, mon coeur?" kind of love.
Then the heroine discovers her powers. Naturally, she is the most gifted witch in generations. Here is a partial list of her powers (so far): flight, precognition, talking to ghosts, control of water, telekenesis, control of witchfire (you can't put it out, or heal its burns), and teleportation. Did I mention time travel? Time travel. So she's pretty tough, right? ...No. She does kill one vampire after it wounds her lover, but mainly she wanders around in a kind of daze, remarkably unconcerned by the strange and violent turn her life has taken.
Anyway, I stuck with it to the end, only to find that I could have put it down at ABSOLUTELY ANY POINT and had as much closure as the "ending" provided.
Other reviewers have compared this to Anne Rice. Anne isn't my favorite writer either, but she should be offended by the comparison.
One last note: I'm kind of appalled by the number of reviewers that think this book is smart, or "brainy." It's partially set in a university and it has some scientific words. Like... mitochondria. Whoa! Heady stuff! Not.
202 of 241 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What I discovered of "witches".,
This was working reasonably well until a self-depreciating, well educated witch with a great pedigree, a go-to pair of leggings and an insatiable thirst for tea meets a 1500 year old vampire with multiple degrees, an expensive wardrobe and a thirst for vintage wine.
In summary, the first 72% of the book (percentage courtesy of Kindle) goes as follows:
1. Witch visits Oxford library to check out books on alchemy. A strange book pops up that gives her the tingles, and it takes several pages of back story before she decides to open it, and several more before she actually does. Deciding that it is an extraordinary book in many ways and very magical, the distinguished historian and avid researcher simply closes it up and sends it back to the stacks.
2. Lots of creatures become interested in her, including aforementioned vampire dude.
3. She rows a lot, jogs a bit, sleeps and eats a lot, and starts consorting with the vampire.
4. She consumes vast quantities of tea, toast and eggs, he nibbles nuts and berries and consumes vast amounts of wine, and we learn that he smells like cinnamon and cloves and likes Montblanc writing instruments.
5. Between alternating phases of weakness and stubbornness, sleeping and eating, some historical accounts of various events, and scientific discussions on genealogy, a classic Harlequin romance theme slowly unfurls, frustratingly rambling on for eons.
The last quarter or so of the book gives the reader hope that the first three quarters was not endured in vain, but sadly, other than two quick bouts of action, and a lot of groaning and sighing due to unfulfilled passionate encounters, the book ends in a most unsatisfactory fashion, never even attempting to tie up loose ends, or apologize for wasting the reader's time.
Unlikeable main characters, a meandering storyline and far too much descriptive prose focused on the mundane totally ruin what could and should have been a fast-moving, paranormal, historical romantic adventure.
Amanda Richards, May 15, 2011.
511 of 621 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mary Sue with nothing to do,
This review is from: A Discovery of Witches: A Novel (All Souls Trilogy) (Kindle Edition)A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES is bad. Trainwreck bad, the kind of awful you can't look away from. The narrator is the most flagrant Mary Sue I've run across in a loooooong time. First we find out that she's a tenured professor at Yale at the age of 35. Anyone who knows anything about getting tenure is probably already laughing, but if the process is unfamiliar that's kind of like saying she achieved world peace or found Atlantis. Really, really unlikely.
But it's not enough that she's the wunderkind scholar of her generation. No, she's also the greatest witch of her generation. Her mother and father were two of the most powerful witches in their day, and now Mary Sue...er...that is, Diana gets to be as powerful as they were combined.
She's also a star athlete, super hot, and, oh yeah, she's got mysterious otherworldly eyes that are like five different colors! Her hair too!
A superwoman like Diana ought to be up for some pretty major challenges - it would take something pretty epic to give her a run for her money - which is why it's so very, very strange that NOTHING HAPPENS. I mean, NOTHING. The "plot" (and I use that term verrrrry loosely) gets rolling when Diana calls an enchanted manuscript up from the bowels of the Bodlean Library in Oxford: Ashmole 782. She's trying to deny her magical heritage, so even though she can tell the book is more than it seems she just takes a peek and sends it back.
It turns out that supernatural creatures of all sorts have been trying to get their hands on Ashmole 782 for more than a hundred years. They can't call it up, they can't open it - the enchantment is too powerful, it defeats everyone but Diana. So now all these scheming supernatural creatures start scheming after Diana, hoping to use her in order to gain access to this book.
So what happens next? Well, let's see. She goes rowing. She takes a run. She goes out to breakfast. She has lunch. She goes to yoga class. I don't mean that she thinks to herself, "I'll go out for a run," but before her run is over, something dramatic happens to further the plot. Oh no. When she goes for a run, she clocks her miles and gets home without incident. Same with the rowing and the yoga and the lunch.
So back to the main plot. She calls the book and opens it within the first couple of chapters. She doesn't try to look at it again until about 25% of the way through the book. Does anything dramatic happen between the beginning and the 25% mark? Well...she has a couple of tense conversations, does that count? And she meets her boyfriend.
Speaking of the boyfriend, Matthew...well, don't get your hopes up for an exciting romance. Here is a quote, totally in context, where the narrator gushes about how great her relationship with Matthew is: "This was so different from books and movies, where love was made into something tense and difficult." She is NOT KIDDING. There is NO tension. They meet, they're soulmates, the end.
Once Matthew takes over, all Diana ever seems to do is sleep and eat. There is one passage that made me laugh out loud. Matthew has been away accomplishing things and he's due home, so Diana is "determined to be waiting when he pulled up." OK! Now we've got some courage and strength on display! She's determined to be waiting! The very next sentence begins, "First I waited in the salon on a sofa by the fire..." and the next couple of pages describe all the other ways she waited. Nothing interrupts her, nothing distracts her. She really spends the afternoon waiting, and we're really expected to read about it.
I could go on and on. A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES is like a pinata, in a way, I just want to keep bashing at it. There's just SO MUCH to dislike. Like, imagine all the "spoilers" I'm not spoiling in my review (hint: there aren't many, because NOTHING HAPPENS).
80 of 94 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A SEVERE Disappointment.,
All of the other negative reviews on here have said it much better than I have - in short this is a boring, plodding, un-interesting brick. The plot has definite potential but the fact that I'm a third of the way through and pretty much nothing has happened is not very encouraging. The characters are flat, uninteresting and totally un-engaging. Why the hell would I want to read about people who are perfect in every way and have everything they could ever possibly want? If that's what I was interested in I'd just go read internet fan fiction. There is zero conflict and drama in the book. Others aren't lying when they say it's literally the "heroine" reading, doing yoga, drinking tea, rowing, running and staring longingly into her (rich, perfect, genius) hero's eyes. I have gotten this far into only because I paid for the damned thing and the consumer (and the English major) in me are somehow trying to prod me into seeing this thing through to the end. Unfortunately, I look forward to another chapter in this book the way I would look forward to a root canal.
Sad to say, this book is more or less "Twilight" for grown-ups. The fact that it is being compared to Anne Rice is beyond silly. If I was Anne Rice that would be insulting. Rice may be able to spend ten pages describing a door knob but there is a definite purpose to her narrative, not to mention all the stimulating philosophical and ethical discourse along the way. At least those books made you think, even when not much of anything was happening plot-wise. Most of Rice's characters might have been impossibly beautiful, but they had personality flaws aplenty, enough to at least make me be able to identify a little more with them, lowly imperfect non-Oxford educated human than I am.
Please, I implore you, save yourself the money, or at least take it out of your library for free. I am going to try and finish it on the off chance it might redeem itself, but based on what I've read so far and what others have said, I am not having high hopes for it.
81 of 96 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Seriously???,
116 of 140 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Could have been SO much more...good for subway reading though,
#1: If you've read Twilight, do you know how Bella is very mopey and stubborn, refusing to get out of the way of danger, putting numerous people/creatures in danger by doing so, and then lamenting what a selfish person she is...before she does it again 100 pages later? Yeah. That's the main character in this book, Diana. She's a witch, btw.
#2: If you've read Twilight, do you know how Edward is very stoic and secretive, torturing himself for loving a girl he wishes to eat, yet tormenting himself by constantly placing himself in positions where he must fight his animalistic impulses...before he does it again 100 pages later? Yeah. That's the other main character in this book, Matthew.
#3: Matthew seems to have conveniently over his 1000+ years of living ended up best buds with the greatest thinkers, scientists and astronomers in world history (Think the diminutive Will...for William Shakespeare). While this might have been funny one time, it is used SEVERAL times over. It's corny. Also, Matthew, like the vampires in Twilight, has accumulated an incredible amount of education and wealth, and therefore owns chateaus and sports cars.
#4: There were LOOOOONG scenes of tortured abstinence (Twilight-esque...again)where I literally flipped 15 pages before getting to the next scene. This was not a one-time deal. There were quite a few conversations or scenes that dragged on far too long to hold your attention.
#5: VERY REPETITIVE. For the entire book , there are about 3 climactic scenes. Between, the other hundreds of pages are flirtation and angst between the two lovers, and a very butchered, manipulated history of alchemy. Most of the abstinence plot line stems from the fact that witches and vampires are not supposed to love each other, a key driver in the plot. There are also pages and pages of Diana taking a bath (not erotically. just the author wants you to know she bathes, apparently) and sleeping, eating and taking another bath, sleeping and eating. Over and over. With dialogue.
#6: The explanation of witch powers and history, and science tied into the plot make this book everything that it is, and that's not much. These provide the only components of the book that make it distinctive from the very many other books of this genre to come about on the tail of Twilight.
Overall, it's an indulgent, easy read. It won't challenge you (it's not meant to, but it probably won't really entertain either), and when you're done, the only reason you'll want more is because the book stops at the oddest place known to book endings. Maybe there is another book coming, but if not, the ending is ridiculously unsatisfying. Basically, the way the plot runs, and with the foreshadowing, a big show down is expected that never materializes.
I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS BOOK. With some better editing and more creative writing, it could have been a good thing.Too bad you can'tn do do-overs in publishing.
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A Discovery of Witches: A Novel (All Souls Trilogy) by Deborah E. Harkness (Paperback - December 27, 2011)