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A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy) Paperback – December 27, 2011
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Ten More Books for Readers of A Discovery of Witches
Interested in learning more about magic and science?
I may have written a novel, but I’m still a history professor! Here are some reading suggestions for those of you whose curiosity has been stirred up by the story of Diana Bishop, Matthew Clairmont, and the hunt for the missing alchemical manuscript Ashmole 782. All of the titles here are non-fiction, and inspired some aspect of A Discovery of Witches.
Elias Ashmole, Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum: Don’t be put off by the Latin title. This is a collection of English alchemical texts that were gathered by Elias Ashmole. The missing alchemical manuscript that Diana finds in the Bodleian library is not among them, alas, but if you are interested in the subject this is a fascinating glimpse into the mysterious texts that she studies as a historian.
Janet Browne, Darwin’s Origin of Species: Books That Changed the World: Browne is not only a great scholar, but a superb writer. A highly-regarded biographer of Darwin, here she turns her talents to writing a “biography” of his most famous book—and one of Matthew Clairmont’s favorites, as well.
Owen Davies, Grimoires: A History of Magic Books. If you are interested in the history of magic and witchcraft, Davies’ description of the development of magical spellbooks will provide insights into how ideas about magic, science, and nature developed over the centuries.
Carol Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. Diana Bishop is descended from a long line of witches. You will find out more about some of those witches—the Bishops and the Proctors—while reading this classic interpretation of what happened in Salem in 1692.
Robert Kehew, Ezra Pound, and W. D. Snodgrass, Lark in the Morning: The Verses of the Troubadours. Matthew is a very old vampire, who has slightly old-fashioned views on love and romance. You might be surprised at the love poetry of his early life, and come away with a whole new appreciation for “old-fashioned.”
Bruce Moran’s Distilling Knowledge: Alchemy, Chemistry, and the Scientific Revolution. This marvelous book is not only deeply learned but extremely readable. Touched with Moran’s sense of humor and his compassion for his subject’s tireless efforts to understand the natural world, you will come away from this book with a new appreciation for the alchemists.
Alexander Roob, Alchemy and Mysticism. Diana Bishop is an expert on the enigmatic imagery that is used in alchemical texts. Many are included in Roob’s book, along with other illustrations from mystical and magical traditions.
Lyndal Roper, Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany. This scholarly book was important to me as I wrote A Discovery of Witches because it helped me understand how the belief in witches influenced the imagination. Many of the notions we have about witchcraft today have their roots in these terrifying fantasies.
James Sharpe, Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in Early Modern England. Sharpe’s book is an ideal starting point if you are interested in the history of witchcraft beyond Salem or Germany. One of his most controversial arguments focuses on the role that women played as accusers—not just as victims—in the witchcraft trials.
Bryan Sykes, The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry. I was fascinated by the combination of history, genealogy, and science in Sykes’s work. The book provides an introduction to the study of genetics, and to the legacies that are carried from generation to generation among the population.--Deborah Harkness (Photo of Deborah Harkness © Marion Ettlinger)
From Publishers Weekly
In Harkness's lively debut, witches, vampires, and demons outnumber humans at Oxford's Bodleian Library, where witch and Yale historian Diana Bishop discovers an enchanted manuscript, attracting the attention of 1,500-year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont. The orphaned daughter of two powerful witches, Bishop prefers intellect, but relies on magic when her discovery of a palimpsest documenting the origin of supernatural species releases an assortment of undead who threaten, stalk, and harass her. Against all occult social propriety, Bishop turns for protection to tall, dark, bloodsucking man-about-town Clairmont. Their research raises questions of evolution and extinction among the living dead, and their romance awakens centuries-old enmities. Harkness imagines a crowded universe where normal and paranormal creatures observe a tenuous peace. "Magic is desire made real," Bishop says after both her desire and magical prowess exceed her expectations. Harkness brings this world to vibrant life and makes the most of the growing popularity of gothic adventure with an ending that keeps the Old Lodge door wide open. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Have you ever liked something almost against your will? Something that encompasses roughly half of the things you hate in reference to said thing? Something that makes you scratch your head in wonder, b/c you can't figure out why on earth you aren't terribly bothered by those detested things in this situation?
Welcome to my life.
This book has:
1. What can be construed as insta-love. Matthew and Diana are drawn to each other from the moment they meet, BUT it's so subtle that you aren't sure that's what is happening. And that's probably why it gets a pass.
I never really thought about it (before this book forced me too), but it's the things that insta-love seems to be comprised of, rather than the insta-love itself, that I take issue with---fluttery eyelashes, wild proclamations of ardent, enduring (but wholly untried) love, and the accompanying false sense of urgency. P-U-K-E. Get a room, already. And preferably AFTER the inevitable danger has passed.
But none of those things are an issue here. By the time it becomes obvious that, yes, these two feel more for each other than trepidation and annoyance, enough time has elapsed to almost warrant the depth of emotions, and the rest can be chalked up to fate, animal instinct, mating imperative, etc.
2. A super, special snowflake who denies her super, special snowflakeness. Not only is Diana the last in a powerful line of matriarchal witches, her father was a powerful warlock in his own right. So powerful that a union between her mother and father was strongly discouraged by the powers that be. Mom and Dad said, "Screw you, hippies!" and Diana was the result. But when her parents were killed when Diana was seven, she assumed their deaths were the result of their abilities and refuses to have anything to do with magic.
B/c that always works out so well. *sighs*
But again, it gets a pass. Diana is being just as ridiculous as every MC who tries to ignore their gifts, but this time you can't help but be sympathetic. She's not being obstinate simply to be a pain in the arse. She understandably believes that nothing good can come from using magic, so she's not going to do it. So there. And that's not the only reason it gets a pass, but I can't tell you the other one. Suffice it to say, there's a darn good reason Diana isn't using magic, and that reason is not even remotely her fault.
3. Super, secret information withholding. And this is perhaps the one I have the hardest time with. I cannot stand it when someone in a position of authority, older, more experienced, etc. unilaterally decides who gets to know what. HATE it.<------I'm audibly grinding my teeth right now.
But Matthew . . . it's kind of the same thing that happens when I read historical romance. Am I overly fond of a woman's only option being to marry and marry well, have children, keep house? NO. I'm NOT. But that's the way things were, and getting mad about it isn't going to change anything, and besides, Dukes are HAWT.
So is Matthew. AND he's a 1500 year old vampire, so he kind falls under that same umbrella, and really, he means well. I got frustrated with him a few times, but it was obvious that he was trying, and I imagine it'd be pretty darn hard to attempt major behavior modifications to habits 1500 years in the making. So yeah. Yet, another pass.
The good news is that having talked it out, I'm no longer banging my head against a wall. I now know why I like this book despite the major book peeves around every corner. And besides those peeves getting passes, A Discovery of Witches is just entertaining. It might have taken me awhile to like Diana, but I instantly respected her, and I was as gone for Matthew as she was the moment he showed up. In the LIBRARY. Of OXFORD. Lots of bookish fun in this book.
Also---while I have no complaints about the pacing in the front 75% of the book, the last 25% is just consuming. The second that Matthew and Diana show up at her childhood home, I could not put the book down. The house is sentient and highly opinionated. It's also full of the ghosts of Bishops past, also opinionated. A couple of new secondaries show up, one of which is absolutely darling. GAH. This book is awesome, just read it. Highly recommended.
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.**