Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Published by Viking Adult
Released February 8, 2011
20 CDs-24 hours
Where I got it: Public library
Rating: 4 stars

When scientific historian Diana Bishop calls for alchemical manuscript Ashmole 782 while researching at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, she hardly expects that it will draw the attentions of the entire community of witches, vampires, and daemons.  Ashmole 782 has been missing for 150 years, and all creatures want to get their hands on it, thinking that it could explain many of the mysteries of their existence and the secrets of the philosopher’s stone.  Luckily for Diana, she meets dashing vampire Matthew Clairmont.  However, as they begin to fall in love they realize the danger that their partnering will bring.  Their destinies, and the destinies of all magical creatures, may rely on Diana’s being able to read Ashmont 782, and to keep it out of the hands of those that would do her harm.

A Discovery of Witches is a sprawling bibliomystery, romance, and paranormal adventure.  Harkness has created a rich world where magic is real and all around us, hidden in plain sight from humans.  A slew of characters show us the many facets of this universe, and magic is explored in its various incarnations in delightful ways, such as a magical house that seems to have a mind of its own.

Harkness’s love of description, however, can be quite meandering and indulgent.  The story gets stalled from time to time while she paints a scene in minute detail.  We see far too many scenes of yoga, rowing, tea and wine tasting, horseback riding, and other pretentious pastimes that show us just how much cooler it is to be a vampire or witch than a human.  I, for one, did not need to hear about every single flavor in every wine they drank (Harkness also writes a wine blog).  If you’re a person for extravagant writing, though, this might be right up your alley.

Overall, when Harkness isn’t getting bogged down in the minutia, the story is really good.  I love the idea of a lost alchemical manuscript, and the details about creatures that are slowly revealed throughout the story.  Romance isn’t really my thing, but I didn’t mind Matthew and Diana’s love story.  I’d put this in the same class as The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (although I liked that book a bit better) and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (although I liked that book a bit less).

A Discovery of Witches is book one in the All Souls Triology, meaning we can look forward to two more massive installments.

A word about the audiobook: This audiobook is LONG.  I spent literally an entire day of my life listening to it.  The narrator, Jennifer Ikeda, is fairly good.  She rocks the many accents.  However, her voice is too smooth for my taste.  I like my audiobook narrators to have a bit more gruffness and character, and her voice is like butter.  That said, I think I would have read parts of the book differently if I had been reading from the printed word, which in turn would have probably changed the tone of parts of the story and my overall opinion.

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3 Responses to Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

  1. Nikki-ann says:

    I’ve read some good reviews for this and a few people have recommended it to me. I’ll get to it at some point, but the only thing putting me off it at the moment is its length (as I’ve got quite a few other books to get through at the moment).

  2. Thanks for the review. I have had my eye on this one for awhile but like Nikki-ann… the size is a commitment :) I appreciate you sharing about the over detail of things… that drives me nuts too and I found that in Swan Thieves….. the book could have been 200 pages shorter if the details were not so….. detailed. :)

    • Audrey Audrey says:

      Yeah, Discovery of Witches reminded me a bit of The Historian, which is by the same writer as Swan Thieves. I can’t believe how many hours I’m willing to give to this author, although her being a prof at my alma mater doesn’t hurt. Another book that was insanely long, but I loved, was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I think it was too long for a lot of people, but I never wanted that one to end!

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