Review: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls trilogy novel #1), by Deborah Harkness
Diana Bishop doesn’t want to be a witch and she tries very hard to avoid using her magic, but after she accidentally breaks a powerful protection spell and uncovers an ancient manuscript, her life will never be the same. This is a smart, classy, heart-warming tale of witches, daemons, and vampires, and the ties that bind them.
- Title: A Discovery of Witches
- Series: The All Souls Trilogy – book #1
- Author: Deborah Harkness
- Prominent Characters: Diana Bishop, Matthew Clairmont
- Recommended reader age: 15+
- Sexual content level: Very light, nearly none
Starting out, I expected not to like this book. I’m not sure why – I just had a “bleh” feeling about reading it. Maybe it was the length. Maybe it was my fondness for smutty novels (which this absolutely is NOT). Maybe because it was assigned to me as part of a book club (and I generally dislike authority *grin*). Whatever the reason, I am SO GLAD I stuck this out and committed myself to reading it! I was told this before I started, and I’m verifying it now by passing it on: unless you are the scholarly type who enjoys hanging out in libraries, the first quarter of the book is slow. Very methodical. Very Diana Bishop, actually, who is the first-person voice for the story. I skimmed much of the pre-Matthew chapters, which I wouldn’t actually recommend because I missed out on some critical information and had to go back and re-read. That said, once I realized there was a relationship blooming between Diana and Matthew (I went into this with as little information as possible), it was much easier reading. What can I say? I’m a sucker for romances! =)
‘A Discovery of Witches’ (ADoW) is The Da Vinci Code meets The Fellowship of the Ring (complete with three subnovels, albeit unlabelled as such), The Pillars of the Earth meets Angels and Demons. If the Twilight Saga (TTS) weren’t obviously written and released first, I’d think *it* was a teenage adaptation of *this* book, minus the witches and daemons. I know, *GASP!!*, but hear me out and think about it. There are many similarities between ADoW and TTS: the forbidden relationship between a vampire and his human love & the war that ensues, the families closing ranks to protect them and wage that war, the evil council determined to pry them apart (for political gain & maneuvering) by any means possible, the slow pace of the sexuality in the relationship and the prospect of a child who is like neither and both parents, the frail heroine who grows into her own strength and power so she can protect her mate and family.
ADoW has a fairly deep cast of characters, in both the sheer number of them and the level of development given to some of the secondaries. Many romance-centric novels focus on the hero and heroine to the detriment of most of the other players. Ms. Harkness skillfully weaves in enough personality and details about many of the secondary characters to help the reader accept them as an integral part of the story. As the book goes on, it becomes more of an ensemble cast (including the house itself!), providing a nice warm fuzzy family base for the primary couple.
Aside from the strange mix of first-person and omniscient narration (which is ideal for the characters’ individual personalities), the scientific talk of DNA and such was just understandable enough to be interesting without being offputting. There were some thought-provoking passages during the DNA discussions and explanations, alluding to things like how our lifestyles and choices throughout our evolution directly affect our DNA mutations as a species across time. That’s some high-brow stuff and should be discouraging to many people who aren’t schooled in that science, but I found Ms. Harkness expressed these ideas clearly & simply enough so that I could both follow along and still make my own leaps of thought.
I love the allegory in this… on so many levels!
“There’s more to the game than protecting your queen,” Hamish said. “Why do you find it so difficult to remember that it’s the king who’s not expendable?”
“The king just sits there, moving one square at a time. The queen can move so freely. I supposed I’d rather lose the game than forfeit her freedom.”
Aww, humans are special too!
“<Vampires> have strength and long life, you have supernatural abilities, daemons have awe-inspiring creativity. Humans can convince themselves up is down and black is white. It’s their special gift.”
Imagination, the spark of life…
Remember, Diana: ‘The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.”
If you like A Discovery of Witches…
Ok, this is a tough one. Most of the books I review really aren’t anything like this one. It would be easy to fall back on my standard “Read Cassie Palmer!” (because she time travels and people are trying to kill her too), or mention one of my other traditional favorites (Cat & Bones, Black Dagger Brotherhood), but honestly, ADoW is not nearly as similar to those series as it is to others that are outside the genres of paranormal romance and urban fantasy. I mentioned a few above, and since I thought of them while reading, I’m going to recommend those instead. Now I know some purists may be offended at my comparing this book to any work of Tolkien. Yes, I know, Tolkien is something special and rare and making offhand references to Fellowship is sacrilege… yeah yeah, whatever! The truth (as I see it) is, if you liked Tolkien’s ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, then you will appreciate the level of detail and thought that went into building the universe and storyline of this novel, and that is a pretty high compliment to Ms. Harkness. Personally, I prefer the narrative style of ADoW to the excruciatingly-specific-and-flowery Fellowship passages since it makes it easier to read. Yep, I’m a blasphemer! *grin*
ADoW also reminded me a little bit of the Dan Brown novels ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Angels and Demons’. Again, that’s probably a controversial comparison, but think about the depth of the mystery here and how rooted it is in existing history, science, art, and lore. Ms. Harkness is a decorated scholar and historian, and that really shines through in this novel.
Finally, I referenced The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. This is another work of fiction (which does NOT focus on a primary couple romantically) that is rich in history and intrigue. It is set in the middle ages, during the age of the great cathedral builders, and is a stimulating journey through the life struggles, politics, and construction of the majestic structures of the period.
‘A Discovery of Witches’ is cleverly compelling and affectionately engrossing. It is a rediscovery of the senses and the intellect, a celebration of indulgence through science. This is the kind of story that can inspire a new generation of aspiring scholars or speculative conspiracy theorists. It tugs at the heart strings with a cast of characters and plotline that is rich in such diversity of race, nationality, sexuality, and culture that it’s nearly impossible not to enjoy.
I would like to give this novel 4.75 or 5 fangs, but the first quarter put me to sleep a few times until I finally got into it. In light of that, I’ll give it a solid 4.5 fangs and two enthusiastic thumbs up. With all the curveballs Ms. Harkness sent our way and with all the new possibilities that opened up in the final chapters, I can’t wait to see what happens next!
|4.5 fangs: BITE IT!|
http://www.karenchance.com/ (Cassie Palmer)
http://jeanienefrost.com/ (Cat & Bones)
http://www.jrward.com/bdb/ (Black Dagger Brotherhood)
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