- TITLE: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls #1)
- AUTHOR: Deborah Harkness
- PUBLISHER: Headline (UK) [Copy displayed topmost is Penguin]
- PUBLICATION DATE: September 1st 2011
- RATING: ★★★ (Really, 2.75 – reluctant to commit to the full three)
A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness, is a book I’d been looking forwards to for some time. I love the academic world; I love supernatural, urban mysteries where it’s clear the author has done their research. It’s like Dan Brown, but fantasy and with witches, vampires and daemons. It should have been a book that I gave a whole-hearted five stars to.
So why didn’t I?
Well, first, what is A Discovery of Witches really about? The blurb is a little vague (on my copy at least, displayed below – though I prefer this cover <—) and honestly doesn’t really get to the heart of the story. Essentially, A Discovery of Witches is about a woman who has denied her power as a witch all her life—irresponsibly, since witches are in fact a different species; it’s much like if she were a panther pretending to be a cat—and now she is about to feel the consequences of all that. When her life collides with that of a vampire and she finds daemons watching her whilst she works on alchemy texts in the library, Diana will discover that she can run, but she cannot hide. She is what she is.
This really is, at its heart, an excellent offering of urban fantasy and historical intrigue, complete with injections of real magic and real fantasy. The very central arcing plot, that I expect will run throughout the trilogy, is so intriguing that despite struggling often with A Discovery of Witches, I didn’t put it down. Diana and Matthew—the vampire you know she’ll be in love with even before the book starts—meet early on (this is a good thing) and they seem perfect opposites: her a historian and him and scientist. Matthew, an impossibly old vampire, is researching something that will affect witch, daemon and vampire all. And it is this that kept me reading.
The problem is the length.
Now, I like big books and I cannot lie (yes: I stole that from a meme), but this was… it was difficult. I’ll also say now that I like romance: no problem with lovey-dovey stuff from this corner. I love it. But this was overdone in the most awkward of ways. There was too much of it, and honestly, too much of nothing.
The romance felt like two parts name-dropping, of wines (and discussion of what they smelt like) and of the absent mention of people from Matthew’s past, that seemed only included (by the writer, not by Matthew, to a point) to impress Diana and one part genuine courting. It was nice that it wasn’t the formula of “meet > ogle > obsess > sex”, but the romance did feel very “grown up” to me… there wasn’t any spice and it was completely devoid of passion. Oh, there was plenty of need conveyed, but honestly it seemed awkward. I think it was awkward for the characters, too, though this did at least mean that the awkward pre- and after- sex dialogues were realistic and funny.
The romance did not work. There was no romance, just words on a page. Massive problem for me because: a) the book was supposed to be very paranormal romance-y, b) so, so, so much of the book (we’re talking a 690 page book here) was taken up with step-by-step accounts of their courtship, their dates, their wine-tasting, their food. Over and over and over.
Furthermore, we are subjected to a complete description of Diana’s every move: there are no skilful transitions between scenes, only between chapters and it’s just too much. This book could have stood to lose at least 150 pages. And if you take out the bulk I’ve mentioned (the excess romance, and the tedium of reading everything Diana does) then you’d end up with more than a 2.75 star review.
I was going to give this three stars, but whilst writing this, I realised that I was so damn bored with the book because of the aforementioned, that I almost quit. I hate not finishing books. But this tested me… especially when the postie delivered something I’d been waiting for and new ARCs went up on NetGalley. You get the picture.
I stuck with this book because of the story, but I did not enjoy the book. There’s a lot of book for not a lot of story.
I’m going to read the next book, because they’re —Spoiler (hover thine mouse):going into the past—yet another book that features Christopher “Kit” Marlowe—and I’m hoping it’ll be awesome… Witches and vampires in Elizabethan England? Yes, please. /Spoiler. But nevertheless, I was horribly disappointed with this: it is a weak start to what could be a promising series, if, and only if, the second book makes up for the extremely slow and uncertain start.
Ultimately, A Discovery of Witches is a good book with an intriguing, fascinating and deep story at its heart, unfortunately it is weighed down with excess baggage that not only holds the story back, but contributes to the most sagging middle part of a book I have ever read.