A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness http://deborahharkness.com/ took me on a richly detailed journey through Oxford’s libraries, an ancient French chateau, a quirkily haunted house, and a tangled double-helix of a scientific/magical conspiracy.
What I loved: Lush, descriptive writing. Harkness is a master of research. She even lists several resources at the end of the book for those who want to dive into the manuscripts she pulled some of this fascinating history from. The book felt authentic and well-thought-out. There was phenomenal attention to detail.
I also loved how Diana makes up her mind about who she loves and what she values, and doesn’t let anything or anyone change her. She alone is in charge of who she is. She’s strong, brave, moral, honest, sympathetic, and everything a good heroine should be. She was a delight to ride along with and root for.
I also loved the “bind” Diana was in. A witch who rejects her power because of a haunted past, Diana trusts science and science alone. Midway through the book, we learn that there is a bigger and much more nefarious explanation for Diana’s stunted power than even she realizes. Add that to the many threads of plot woven throughout, and ADOW is a wonderfully detailed tapestry incorporating forbidden love, mystery, xenophobia, conspiracy, hidden history, and the comforts of family.
What I didn’t love (reason for 4 stars instead of 5): Too much backstory. The forward momentum of the plot stopped time and again for lengthy descriptions of the histories of minor characters. I found myself skimming theses and sometimes jumping past pages at a time to get back to the story, and I almost never do that. I found this super disappointing, because the rest of the book was so wonderful.
I also didn’t love the point-of-view changes. ADOW is primarily told in Diana’s first-person pov. Occasionally, the pov would jump to third. I liked the information Harkness often revealed through these povs, but I hated the head hopping. I’d start in Matthew’s head (he’s the love interest/ancient vampire). Then, a few paragraphs later, the pov would be making some sort of observation about Matthew’s appearance, and I’d realize we were in his son, Marcus’s pov (younger vampire/scientist). Then I’d be back in Matthew’s head as he reminisced about Marcus’s backstory. Then I’d be in yet another vampires head, Miriam (another scientist), as she watched Marcus and Matthew interact. It was a travesty of editing, in my opinion. The story could have handled the occasional third-person pov, but to headhop in third person was so distracting I almost stopped reading the book the first time it happened.
All in all, I loved ADOW. I will probably read the next in the series, but I’m not in a huge rush to do so. I give it a solid 4 stars and recommend it to anyone looking for an epic tale that envelops one in lush settings and leisurely pacing with the occasional spike of action.
A few of my favorite lines:
My face turned back toward Duke Humfrey’s, and my feet threatened to follow. It’s nothing, I thought, resolutely walking out of the library. Are you sure? whispered a long-ignored voice.–(p. 14). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
If it went bang, involved blood, or promised to unlock the secrets of the universe, there was sure to be a vampire around.–(p. 17). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
Oxford is quintessentially normal in the morning, with the delivery vans pulled up to college kitchens, the aromas of burned coffee and damp pavement, and fresh rays of sunlight slanting through the mist.–(p. 31). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
“Drink.” Marthe belonged to the sustenance school of crisis management.–(p. 278). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
Given the age of the desk, the historian in me squawked— much louder than my conscience had. Violating Matthew’s privacy and engaging in ethically questionable behavior might be permissible, but I wasn’t going to deface an antique.–(p. 319). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.