Historian Diana Bishop specialises in the study of alchemy. What her colleagues don’t know is that she comes from a long line of witches. She is careful not to use her magic, she wants to prove that she can succeed without it and she doesn’t want to see the fate of her parents repeated. But when she retrieves an ancient text from the Bodleian Library, she sends a ripple through the magical community. Soon there are witches, vampires and daemons every time she turns around and when the reclusive Professor Matthew Clairmont witnesses her using magic to retrieve a book from the higher shelves, she knows she’s in trouble. Matthew is not only a highly respected scientist, he’s a vampire. And witches and vampires are deadly enemies, or so she’s always been told.
Academia meets magic! The world is full of research musty books and cutting edge research as well as a richly told world of magic and secrets. There’s an awful lot going on, and it is a rather lengthy tome, but I was so immersed that I didn’t notice the pages turning or the time passing. I think you can tell that the author herself is a historian; she has clearly set out to create a history for her version of witches and vampires.
In some ways, it’s a coming of age story delayed until adulthood. Diana has hidden her magic away and has no idea what she is capable of. She knows little of the world she is part of and it’s enthralling learning about it as the same pace as her. I liked the whole research into creature DNA and that magical beings care just as much about where they came from as humans. Whilst there might be no werewolves in this world, the behaviours of vampires are attributed to those of a wolf pack. The alchemy texts that Diana studies show how the images actually represented things in more modern science. The fact that her research focuses on the moment where science started to replace magic and superstition gives A Discovery of Witches an unusual take on the genre.
There were a few moments between Diana and Matthew that came across a little cheesy. I think their relationship relies on the fact that there must be something other going on. After all, the story unfolds over only 40 days, between the Autumn Equinox and Halloween. I was really surprised that so little time had passed as it had felt like months to me. Diana did spend a lot of time sleeping so maybe that skewed my perspective but I didn’t find the timescale realistic. Though it was interesting to see the characters observe the same thing in the final pages!
Considering Harkness has taken the time to research ancient languages to include, it did irk me somewhat that her ancient French vampire that had lived for hundreds of years in a rather English part of England, used modern American English. It’s not a lot but I noticed it as I didn’t really know what a subcompact was (I’m assuming a small hatchback) and that made me pick it up on other things.
The ending tails off a bit and I don’t think there’s any big conclusion. The climax could be considered to happen too early with a lot of loose ends left lying around. I had around 40 pages to go and I really couldn’t see how it was going to get finished…and well it doesn’t really. But, a sequel is around the corner, and for some reason, very unlike me which such a long book, I really wanted to jump straight back into the world. I’m so looking forward to Shadow of Night.
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