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Literary Friday: A Discovery of Witches

Friday, February 25, 2011


This week has been so busy that I am stunned I actually finished A Discovery of Witches (all 579 pages), but I did.  It was difficult to put down, and I believe that this is Deborah Harkness' first novel.  I was also surprised to read that she writes an award-winning wine blog.  Click here for her wine blog, Good Wine Under $20.

Deborah Harkness has created an interesting world of creatures in this book. One tenth of the world's population isn't human:  it is composed of witches, daemons, and vampires.  The creatures' numbers have been dwindling; earlier in history, the percentages were closer to fifty percent human, and fifty percent other.  Another thing I liked about the book is that vampires are constantly drinking wine.  You can tell  Harkness is very knowledgable on the subject.  I also found the depiction of the manic daemons interesting because they are the highly successful artists, rock stars, and other creative-types. The witches in Harkness' world are the most formidable and scary of the creatures.

The book begins as Diana Bishop, a direct descendent of the first executed witch during the Salem Witch Trials, requests a mysterious book,  Ashmole 782, from the depths of Oxford University's Bodleian Library.  Diana is a willful scholar and university professor from Yale, and she is in Oxford researching allegory in medieval alchemical illuminations.   She has shunned the practice of witchcraft for success on a "human level" in her scholarship. She refuses to use magic and is unaware when she requests Ashmole 782 she has worked a very powerful spell.  Diana recognizes the book is bewitched, but instead of thoroughly studying it she takes a few notes on her computer, and then returns it to the rare manuscripts desk.

Then all heck breaks loose!

Suddenly the next day, the Bodleian is crawling with vampires, daemons, and witches, and they all want the same thing: Ashmole 782.  The book supposedly contains information about the origin of the creatures and also answers other questions about their existence in the guise of an ancient alchemical text.  The creatures are there waiting for Diana to recall the text because it has been thought missing for centuries. While using magic to retrieve another text on a high shelf, Diana encounters the mysterious and powerful Professor Matthew Clairmont, a doctor and geneticist.  The pair strike up an unusual friendship over yoga, meals, and scholarship. Matthew and Diana become closer, and he becomes her protector.

In this book, the biggest conflict is that witches, vampires, and daemons are not supposed to mix for fear of attracting too much attention from humans. The Congregation members, or two representatives from each creature group,  are determined to punish Diana and Matthew for breaking the Congregation's ancient covenants. These six leaders also want to understand and control Diana's magic.  Although Matthew is powerful at 1500 years old, can he help Diana cope with the emergence of rare magical powers she does not know how to control?

I really enjoyed A Discovery of Witches, and it is a hard book to categorize.  It is part suspense-thriller, part paranormal romance, and part historical fiction. I enjoyed the science, history, literature, and religion in the book.  Deborah Harkness is a scholar, and it shows in her carefully researched writing. Matthew is my favorite literary vampire.  Period. (Not that I know any real ones, but you get my meaning). The only negative to the book is that the ending is a huge cliffhanger!  I started getting concerned when I had about sixty pages or so left to read, and my worst fears were confirmed: cliffhanger!!!  I want the sequel now!

Check out Deborah Harkness' website here.  It is very neat: you'll find playlists for both Diana and Matthew, plus Matthew's wine cellar!  I need to return to the website and search for information about a sequel *sighs*.

Don't forget about the What We're Reading Linky Party the twentieth of every month!

Also, I am hosting a giveaway here.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill


  1. Oh this sounds like a book I'd love to read. I'll look for it. I love books about history, vampires and witches!

  2. This sounds like my sort of book, I wonder if it is available in Australia? I might be able to get it on Amazon though and I know my daughter will love it.
    I have read her blog recently not sure how I found it, but it is really interesting and I am not much of a wine connoisseur :)

  3. Oh this sounds like another must read, I am falling behind on my reading, I seem to be chasing my tail these days. :) However, I have started a list of your wonderful recommendations and hopefully SOON can get back to my reading. Keep 'em coming and I'll have a great Summer reading list. ;) (When school is out.) Have a super weekend girlie!!

  4. This book sounds like something my 17 year old and I would BOTH love to read! I must see if I can find it this weekend. I may not get much else done if I do! lol Thanks for sharing this. Chris

  5. I am so impressed that you found time to read the whole book!! Envy is all I can think of right now. I was praying for a snow storm today so that I could curl up by the fire and far it is not happening.

  6. I just bought this book last week & have been afraid to read it! I didn't know if it would scare the heck out of me & was having second thoughts about buying it. Maybe I'll actually crack this one open tonight.

  7. You must be excited to see the first of the named cast members for the soon to be filmed series for television of A Discovery of Witches! Nicely described review of the book! Time is coming to re-read it along with the e-companion notes on the Real Time Calendar correlation to the book:

    All Souls Real Time Reading Companion free for Kindle from Amazon. Not sure about iBooks or Nook versions.

    Enjoyed the enthusiasm you generated with this review which I came to via Pinterest!


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I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.

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