I dunno if I could be lured to read Deborah Harkness' best-selling All Souls trilogy. I'm not so keen to dive into dense, gothic world-building and myth-making. Right now, I'm in a phase where my reading preference lines up more with post-apocalyptic survival novels. So, maybe another time.
Having said that, I did just binge-watch A Discovery of Witches, an eight-episode arc that had collected digital dust in my DVR purgatory. Frankly, I'd recorded the show only because I have a mad crush on Teresa Palmer.
She plays Dr. Diana Bishop, an American historian and reluctant witch. She's our eyes into an uneasy supernatural society what's composed primarily of demons, vampires, and witches (they refer to themselves as "creatures"). The series opens with Diana's arriving at the venerable Oxford university. She's a visiting research fellow come to Oxford to give a lecture. Not that she's a stranger here. Diana took her DPhil in history of science at Oxford, after which she wrote two prize-winning books, after which she was awarded tenure at Yale, one of the youngest ever to be accorded such honor.
But that's just surface gloss. To get to the bones of Diana Bishop, you must know that she's not comfortable around magic, not since her parents' passing all those years ago. As it were, she exhibits scant control over her witchcraft.
So, it's all the more shocking when - oh, and I should drop a ***plot spoiler alert*** here - Diana, while conducting research in Oxford's Bodleian Library, (unwittingly) retrieved the legendary Ashmole 782, a long-vanished, feverishly sought-after alchemical manuscript that is rumored to explain the origins of the supernatural creatures.
Ah, the furor triggered by Diana's activity. No way could she remain oblivious to the occult doings around her, not when all manner of creatures have become suddenly keen on her and on the manuscript, purported to contain the witches' first spells, including the spell that created vampires. No wonder everyone wants it.
As mentioned, this is rich, dense world-building. If you need a fix after Game of Thrones done left ya, then maybe A Discovery of Witches'll do. Same elaborate plotting. Labyrinthine creature politics. A lush, forbidden, gothic romance. Okay, it's a bit sparse in the fighty fight department. But there is a haunted house. It has a personality.
"Time to take a big step into the mysterious. Pick up one foot and travel," she's told. It's Diana Bishop's journey all the way as she comes into her power, as she runs into that formidable geneticist and biochemist and 1500-year-old vampire, Dr. Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode). Theirs is at times an uncertain relationship that, nevertheless, is guaranteed to make da ladies swoon and catch the vapors and such.
Swoony romance aside, something's gone screwy with the creatures. The witches are losing their powers. Vampires are failing to sire. Demons are suiciding, have mental health problems, and demon homelessness is on the rise. In the face of man's technology, creatures are becoming extinct. It's believed that the Ashmole 782 can deliver a cure.
Into this snake pit of politely warring supernatural species steps Diana Bishop, at times guided by a brooding vampire desperate to understand the evolution of his kind. It's a role I'd never seen Teresa Palmer play before, and she rocks it as the reluctant witch and direct descendant of the first woman executed at the Salem witch trials. Matthew Goode is also really goode and is, to quote my girlfriend, quite a dish. Girl actually fanned herself, which was irritating.
If you'd read and liked Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain trilogy, there's similarity in that characters in A Discovery of Witches also take a scientific approach towards vampirism.
I get it that this show may not be for everyone's taste. It sets a leisurely pace. The story unfolds like a fever dream. Lots of backroom politics going on. There's the sterile backdrop of academia. But the acting's excellent. The cast breathes life - unlife? - into their characters. Props to Owen Teale who, as the dark magic practitioner, Peter Knox, is as repugnant as he was playing the venomous Lord Commander of the Night's Watch in GoT.
Parting thought. Even though Diana ultimately proves herself to be the brightest witch of her age, I'll still take Hermione Granger over her. Hermione is like the Batman of the wiccan community. Give her time to prepare and to think, and she can beat all comers.