Review: “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness

“A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness

Wandering around my local Barnes and Nobles I happened upon this book. The title caught my attention and I perused the book jacket. I was intrigued because of what looked to be a twist on a history book and a contemporary fantasy novel.

The author, Deborah Harkness, is a professor of history which lends the book a heavy history foundation and many times lessons.

The storyline centers around a non-practicing witch, Diana Bishop, and a vampire, Matthew Clairmont. Both are extremely learned in their fields of study at times making the book seem very technical as opposed to a work of fiction. There is enough true historical and scientific references to make all characters within be believable with their knowledge and actions.

At times the book reads like a history text book, or a science manual and then in the next moment it is a witch’s grimoire. I am a history buff, it was my minor in college so I enjoyed the tangents into history. I also read a variety of books about different faiths, religions, superstitions – so I was onboard with the witches, ghosts, vampires, daemons as well.

The research and detail that went into the book was superb, but at times it was also the wrench in cogs of the movement slowing the book down. Wading through sections which were stuffed to the brim with historical and scientific back-story made it hard to care deeply about the characters. The moments of action were spread throughout the book in jumpy groupings to the point of making them feel forced.

I had the impression this was more of a history and history of science book intermingled with a story to try and enhance the readers experience. At one point I thought of trying to pour maple syrup on brussel sprouts to make them more appetizing. Chapters in the book jumped into a different point of view, understandably this was to explain the motivation behind an act or to allow the reader access to another character’s thoughts and feelings but the dips into other minds did not continue throughout the book.

However, I enjoyed the read even with the bumps and twists which at times had me turning back a few pages to make sure I knew where I was – I enjoyed the dips into historical and scientific knowledge. I am excited to see an author on the scene with such a strong background in a subject as to want to produce a work of fiction to educate while taking the readers on a journey.

From the book jacket comments, this is book one of the All Souls Trilogy – I for one will be awaiting the next installment.

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