REVIEW: A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES BY DEBORAH HARKNESS

Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance
Pages: 579
My Rating: 3 stars

 

THREE_CATS

 

Okay, this one took me FOREVER to get through, and while I enjoyed it for the most part… holy shit what an arduous book. My feelings towards the story changed just as unpredictably as Matthew’s mood swings, and my opinion on whether I actually liked the book was as hot and cold as Matthew and Diana’s relationship. This is going to be a long review because this was a LONG book, so I apologize in advance.

“At first I was sure this was about the manuscript.
Then I supposed it was all about you.
Now I’ll be damned if I can figure out what it’s about.”

I feel you on that one Matthew because I read the whole book and I’m still not totally sure what it was about.

 

I enjoyed the narrator’s voice; it’s sophisticated and the story is historical and intelligent.. the whole book had an atmosphere that I appreciated the feel of.  Who doesn’t like a story that revolves around books and magic? Plus she studies at Oxford, which is a great setting full of things like “medieval gardens”, Gothic architecture, and a huge library. I will admit that the book’s contents were way different from what I expected. There was a lot less action and a lot more time involving the characters having intellectual conversations and spending time exploring scientific concepts while drinking tea/wine. We’ll get to that. In the end there was something about the author’s writing style and the characters that kept me reading and wanting to find out what finally happened/tied everything together.

Pros:
-No humans allowed yoga classes, daemons that play billiards and snooker, castles, desks with secret compartments
-Lush, detailed descriptions of the different settings/buildings/surroundings that had an elegant feel
-A variety of characters that all stand out and have interesting backstories. I liked so many of the characters, from Hamish to Ysabeau to Marthe to Sarah.

Cons:
-Pages spent analyzing history/science/books. For example, at one point Diana reads Matthew’s notes on Darwin’s The Origin of Species and we’re given an in detail play by play as she does.
-Insta-love. Diana accepts everything about Matthew on the spot, no matter what, and vice versa.  They’re courting each other and then suddenly they’re inseparable. I guess this intensity was needed for the family to accept Diana and rally behind them, but kinda sudden for a vampire that keeps saying they have all the time in the world. OH and this was after less than a month of knowing each other.
-This book was 579 pages and only covered about a month.

 

Matthew is OLD, old old old. Also his temper is awful and his protectiveness was cute at first but quickly became bothersome. “I will kill you myself before I let anyone hurt you.” The words caught in his throat. “And I don’t want to kill you. So please do what I tell you.” Like wtf. Then we have his habit of MURDERING PEOPLE. “Matthew wasn’t a killer, or so I told myself over and over again. But he killed to feed himself, and he killed in angry, possessive rages. I knew both of these truths and loved him anyway. What did it say about me, that I could love such a creature so completely?” So he isn’t a killer, but he kills people? Mhmm.

And Em even calls her out on this: “You’ve known Matthew for a few weeks. Yet you follow his orders so easily, and you were willing to die for him. Surely you can see why Sarah is concerned. The Diana we’ve known all these years is gone.” “I love him,” I said fiercely. “And he loves me.” Em and Sarah are worried about her and she’s just like OMG but auntie I LOVE him.  It felt like Diana was way less fierce and independent towards the middle/end of the book than she was at the beginning. She seems like a totally different person for the second half and it was pretty disappointing.

I think the book needed more plot advancement and less descriptions of the day to day activities of the characters. It made the book unnecessarily long and so much could have been left out that wasn’t important and/or related to the plot as a whole. Something interesting would happen, and then we would have five (long) chapters of horseback riding and tea drinking before we would come back to any of it. There was a bunch going on (Diana’s parent’s murder, Ashmole 782, Diana’s magic, etc), but the intermissions of dull activity between these things being touched on lasted much too long for my taste. I almost gave up at times! But I’m glad that I stuck with it in the end. I had to tell myself to sit back, relax, and enjoy the story for what it was. It became frustrating at times because there was so much potential for this book to be amazing if some of the crap was just edited out, but unfortunately we were neglected by the editors and were left with something that dragged on.

I found it hard to believe that there is a longstanding covenant that governs their species and lays out very strict and specific rules about the conduct of vampires/daemons/witches, and somehow Diana in all her research and with a family full of witches was oblivious to all this. Granted she tried her best to ignore her roots and stay away from magic, but wouldn’t her aunt at least warn her when things started going down? Like “Oh by the way you should know these things as they could have very major consequences on your life and somehow everyone has neglected to inform you before now.” (p264 this is all referenced) Also, Diana apparently has all this power, and there’s all this danger after her, so why not prioritize figuring out a way to have her train and defend herself? We got there in the end, but it took way too long.

There were some small editing issues that bothered me and really shouldn’t have made it into the final product. There were a couple times where Diana would say what Matthew was thinking, even though the narration was from her perspective, so how would she know what he is thinking? Or some logistics that just didn’t sit well. For example: “While he fed, I began to kiss him. My hair fell around his face, mixing my familiar scent with that of his blood and mine. He turned his eyes to me, pale green and distant, as if he weren’t sure of my identity. I kissed him again, tasting my own blood on his tongue.” So how are you kissing him while he is drinking your blood? I’m confused. I won’t even start on the time travel aspects because other reviewers have touched on that, but again, major issues.

The different traits that each race had were explored in detail, and I did appreciate how much explanation we were given on that front. Whether it was a daemon’s predilection for art and music or a vampire’s tendency to be very good at making money, each groups quirks were elaborated on and it really helped you understand the dynamic between the species. We were also given a ton of history and backstory, and while I enjoyed most of it, sometimes it became too dense for my taste. I like getting to know the characters, but there were times that the past was brought up and explored while something was happening in the story, and this caused an annoying delay. Especially when I couldn’t see the reason or the need to include THAT MUCH information.

At this point I’ve gone on way too long with this review, and I’m sorry for the length, but I spent so much time reading this book that I had way too much time to think it all over. At this point I’m really not sure if I’ll continue with the series, and I’m really sorry to say that. I definitely became attached to the characters, and I want to find out where this story takes them. I may give the second book a chance, but if it’s more of the same with too much detail and not enough plot movement, then sadly this series just might not be for me. Thankfully the TV adaptation was done really well, and after finishing the first season, I’m really looking forward to the next one, so at least there’s that!

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