The Deal, the Dance, and the Devil
When Diana Bishop, a scholar working on alchemical research in England for an upcoming conference, requests a manuscript from the Bodelian library, she unwittingly sets off a chain of events that will change her life forever. You see, Diana is a reluctant witch who comes from a long line of very powerful spell casters, and though she has forcefully denied her power and magic after the horrific deaths of her parents many years ago, her magic is about to come crashing down all around her. The manuscript in question is called Ashamole 782, and when Diana recalls it from the library, she inadvertently casts a spell that opens the enchanted book, which has been lost for thousands of years. Soon the library is filled with curious and malevolent witches, daemons and vampires, all hungry for the secrets that Ashamole 782 is hiding. Into this mix of curious creatures comes Matthew Clairmont, a very powerful and exceptionally handsome vampire, who seems to take an unusual interest in Diana. But this is a problem because vampires and witches can never mix, according to old customs and laws. However, Matthew is not to be deterred, and before Diana knows it, she’s in over her head not only with unexpected feelings for Matthew, but with protecting Ashamole 782 from greedy and vicious creatures who wish to plunder it for their own ends. So begins an epic tale of forbidden love between two very powerful creatures who are on the run to protect not only themselves and their unspeakable relationship, but the magical book that may contain the secret history and future of the daemons, witches and vampires who long to possess it. Thrilling, provocative, and enthralling, A Discovery of Witches takes its readers on a fantastical and magical journey of epic proportions and leaves them spellbound and hungry for more.I’d heard a lot about this book before picking it up and had remembered that Steph had reviewed it for BookPage earlier this year and had fallen in love with it. I normally pay attention when Steph falls in love with a book because I think she has great taste, so when I was looking for something to get engrossed in over the long weekend, I decided to pick this one up and give it a shot. It was sort of a dicey proposition because before reading the book I wasn’t sure how I felt about books that carried heavy paranormal elements, and aside from the Harry Potter books, this was a relatively new genre for me. Despite my reservations, when I really got into this book, I was totally hooked, and found that the book mixed the elements of The Outlander series with the magic and wizardry of the Harry Potter saga. There was even a little bit of Twilight in here (to my dismay) but this book was much more entrancing that Twilight could ever hope to be.There was a lot going on in this book. From interspecies love affairs, to secret manuscripts and societies, to time travel and magic, to academia and intrigue, this book had it all. It was the kind of story you can’t help but get invested in quickly because it was so vivid and perfectly imagined. The characters (which were a well developed and varied lot) were not stereotypical and this was a great feature because often it’s too easy to fall into stereotypes within the framework of a paranormal tale. I also liked the myths and backstories that Harkness created behind the various creatures. They each had their own defining features and special talents, and I was surprised that she varied a bit from the usual vampire lore to create a subtly different species than what I had come to expect. The book was long by anyone’s standards, but it never felt arduous or overwritten, and the story was consistently morphing between its different elements, making it all seem fresh and exciting. A lot of space was given over to the practice of magic, which is another thing I enjoyed. It was all so refreshing and clever, and the worldbuilding was also done exceptionally well. Each of these components felt very organic and was written with aplomb and energy that gave the story a life and mythology of its own.The Matthew and Diana contingent was one that was easy to enjoy because of the obvious sparks between them and the fact that their love was forbidden. There was a whiff of the exotic when it came to the very touching and sensual interactions between them. I may have swooned a little bit when reading about Matthew’s romantic overtures. Though they tried mightily to stay away from each other, it was obvious that they would find a way to be together despite the danger their relationship created, even if it started a war between the supernatural creatures. Which it did. Like the vampires that we have come to know, Matthew could be possessive and overbearing, but in a flash of brilliance, Harkness created her Matthew as a genetic scientist who was obsessed with finding out the secrets behind the singularities of the different species of creatures. He was a very intense character, full of passion and drive, and he had a very strict set of ethics that were difficult to sway. Diana, on the other hand, was somewhat reserved on the outside but very conflicted on the inside. Often plagued by anxiety, she relished physical endeavors and was stubbornly resolute about refusing to embrace her inner witch. These two players were very different, resulting in a lot of friction that generated some very bright sparks. It was lovely to watch them slowly melting towards each other, despite their instincts telling them that it was not safe to do so.Between the mysteries of the enchanted manuscript, the malevolent witches and vampires out to destroy Diana, and the secret world of magic that lay just beyond human eyes, A Discovery of Witches was filled with action and adventure. Subtle quirks in the storyline were also really appreciated, like the house that had ideas and behaviors of its own and the delicious history of Matthew’s vampire family living in France. It was the type of book that you pick up for only a moment, and before you know it, hours have passed. Danger, love, creatures, fabulist science, and old grudges mixed themselves into a delicious hodgepodge of a book that I couldn’t tear myself away from. The only quibble I had with it was discovering very close to the end that the book ended on a cliffhanger that will be resolved in future books. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have the next installment in my hot little hands right now! The book was intense and mystifying, and it continually surprised me with its inventive plot and the strength of the amorous relationship between two very different creatures.This was a tremendously entertaining book, and it came at just the right time for me, as I had been gorging on much more depressing reads for many weeks now. Unexpectedly, this book took on a life of its own as I read, and read, and read. I exclaimed to anyone that would listen that I found a new favorite, and that’s saying a lot for me. If you’re even mildly curious about this book, I would strongly urge you to pick it up and give it a try. It will surprise you for sure, and keep you guessing all the way to the final page. A wonderful and mystical page turner of the highest order. Heartily recommended!