A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

ADoW starts in Oxford in the present time, where historian Diane Bishop is carrying out research in the Bodleian Libary when she discovers an old manuscript which is about to turn her world upside down.  The manuscript has been bewitched – a fact that Diane is immediately aware of as she in fact a witch herself (although she has turned her back on witchcraft since the violent death of her parents).  The secrets contained in the manuscript are coveted by Demons, witches and vampires and all of these creatures are drawn to Oxford – including the handsome and forbidding vampire Matthew Clairmont – whose protection Diane will come to depend on as she starts to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and of her hidden magical abilities.

I think this is an excellent start to this series.  It is packed full of detail and description and takes you through the streets of Oxford, the countryside of France and then back to Diane’s family home in Madison.  There are wonderful descriptions of food and wine and intelligent writing about historical incidents and characters together with an indepth (in parts) knowledge of science.  The world which DH has created is easily believable with the creatures living in a sort of harmony which has been established over the course of the centuries.  I enjoyed the fact that the creatures themselves were not easily noticable – the Daemons are highly artistic, tempremental or exceptionally clever, the vampires are obviously pale, wealthy, beautiful, slighly intimidating and the witches, apart from casting spells can see the future or travel to the past – but all of them blend in and look (more or less) like normal humans.  They are obviously aware of each other but humans are to a large extent ignorant of their existence (and this is the way the creatures like it – particularly when you consider that the last time the witches came to our notice there was a rather large witch hunt which resulted in a great number of their people being executed).

Matthew and Diane are of course a very easy couple to read about.  Matthew is centuries old and very sophisticated.  Most of the other creatures are in awe of him as he is powerful and quick to anger.  Diane is highly thought of and respected in her Oxford circles.  She does not practice witchcraft and does not mingle with other witches although she is aware of their presence and they seek to include her in their circles and rituals.  I think their relationship is well written and manages to maintain a balance between the two and doesn’t fall into the trap of making Diane weak and feeble.  On the contrary by the end of the novel Diane is quite capable of looking after herself.

The end of the story is very well conceived and I really look forward to reading the next book as it promises to be excellent.

In terms of criticisms – I think that the book is almost over detailed.  Personally I like the descriptive elements but if being honest I think it could have probably been pruned a little and in this respect may not appeal to anybody looking for a fast paced, chilling or action packed novel.  Also, there are a couple of areas which become a little bit overly ‘sweet’ but they are few and far between.  Of course there are parts of the novel which could be compared to other stories but I think this is inevitable.

On the whole I thought this was a really well written and gripping page turner and a real achievement for a debut novel.  It has a wonderful cast of characters, is descriptive, with a lovely romance and a lot of promise for book number 2. This certainly promises to be an epic series.

Rating A


A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches


4 Responses to “A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness”

  1. Gina @ My Precious

    I’ve been waiting patiently to read some reviews on this story. My biggest fear is the length, especially if the pacing is slow. It does sound like a very interesting plot and storyline, though. I’m enticed to read this one, but just not urgently. Thanks for the detailed honest review.

    • lynnsbooks

      Yes, I did enjoy this book – I think the next book has the potential to be better, but, it could definitely have been shortened. I didn’t mind too much but it was really detailed and I’m not sure that all of the detail was totally relevant.

  2. Grace

    I like the way that vampires/demons/etc. blended so well into academia.

    I think the relationship between Diana/Matthew was interesting because even though he was a bit oddly controlling, if there was ever any point where she was really uncomfortable with it she’d probably accidentally blow him up or drown him or something. I find her lack of control over her magic amusing.

  3. lynnsbooks

    I quite liked the fact that by the end of the story Diana didn’t seem to need Matthew for protection – quite the opposite really. The next book should be interesting.
    Lynn 😀

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