"A wonderfully imaginative grown-up fantasy with all the magic of Harry Potter and Twilight."
In a sparkling debut, A Discovery of Witches became the "it" book of early 2011, bringing Deborah Harkness into the spotlight and galvanizing fans around the world. In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and the descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript deep in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. Harkness has created a universe to rival those of Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova, and she adds a scholar's depth to this riveting story of magic and suspense.
About the Author
Deborah Harkness is a scholar and writer specializing in the history of science and medicine. She has received numerous awards, including Fulbright, Guggenheim, and National Humanities Center fellowships. Currently a professor of history at the University of Southern California, her most recent academic publication is The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. This is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable. To an ordinary historian, it would have looked no different from hundreds of other manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, ancient and worn. But I knew there was something odd about it from the moment I collected it.
Duke Humfrey’s Reading Room was deserted on this late-September afternoon, and requests for library materials were filled quickly now that the summer crush of visiting scholars was over and the madness of the fall term had not yet begun. Even so, I was surprised when Sean stopped me at the call desk.
“Dr. Bishop, your manuscripts are up,” he whispered, voice tinged with a touch of mischief. The front of his argyle sweater was streaked with the rusty traces of old leather bindings, and he brushed at it self-consciously. A lock of sandy hair tumbled over his forehead when he did.
“Thanks,” I said, flashing him a grateful smile. I was flagrantly disregarding the rules limiting the number of books a scholar could call in a single day. Sean, who’d shared many a drink with me in the pink-stuccoed pub across the street in our graduate-student days, had been filling my requests without complaint for more than a week. “And stop calling me Dr. Bishop. I always think you’re talking to someone else.”
He grinned back and slid the manuscripts—all containing fine examples of alchemical illustrations from the Bodleian’s collections—over his battered oak desk, each one tucked into a protective gray cardboard box. “Oh, there’s one more.” Sean disappeared into the cage for a moment and returned with a thick, quarto-size manuscript bound simply in mottled calfskin. He laid it on top of the pile and stooped to inspect it. The thin gold rims of his glasses sparked in the dim light provided by the old bronze reading lamp that was attached to a shelf. “This one’s not been called up for a while. I’ll make a note that it needs to be boxed after you return it.”
“Do you want me to remind you?”
“No. Already made a note here.” Sean tapped his head with his fingertips.
“Your mind must be better organized than mine.” My smile widened.
Sean looked at me shyly and tugged on the call slip, but it remained where it was, lodged between the cover and the first pages. “This one doesn’t want to let go,” he commented.
Muffled voices chattered in my ear, intruding on the familiar hush of the room.
“Did you hear that?” I looked around, puzzled by the strange sounds.
“What?” Sean replied, looking up from the manuscript.
Traces of gilt shone along its edges and caught my eye. But those faded touches of gold could not account for a faint, iridescent shimmer that seemed to be escaping from between the pages. I blinked.
“Nothing.” I hastily drew the manuscript toward me, my skin prickling when it made contact with the leather. Sean’s fingers were still holding the call slip, and now it slid easily out of the binding’s grasp. I hoisted the volumes into my arms and tucked them under my chin, assailed by a whiff of the uncanny that drove away the library’s familiar smell of pencil shavings and floor wax.
“Diana? Are you okay?” Sean asked with a concerned frown.
“Fine. Just a bit tired,” I replied, lowering the books away from my nose.
I walked quickly through the original, fifteenth-century part of the library, past the rows of Elizabethan reading desks with their three ascending bookshelves and scarred writing surfaces. Between them, Gothic windows directed the reader’s attention up to the coffered ceilings, where bright paint and gilding picked out the details of the university’s crest of three crowns and open book and where its motto, “God is my illumination,” was proclaimed repeatedly from on high.
Another American academic, Gillian Chamberlain, was my sole companion in the library on this Friday night. A classicist who taught at Bryn Mawr, Gillian spent her time poring over scraps of papyrus sandwiched between sheets of glass. I sped past her, trying to avoid eye contact, but the creaking of the old floor gave me away.
My skin tingled as it always did when another witch looked at me.
“Diana?” she called from the gloom. I smothered a sigh and stopped.
“Hi, Gillian.” Unaccountably possessive of my hoard of manuscripts, I remained as far from the witch as possible and angled my body so they weren’t in her line of sight.
“What are you doing for Mabon?” Gillian was always stopping by my desk to ask me to spend time with my “sisters” while I was in town. With the Wiccan celebrations of the autumn equinox just days away, she was redoubling her efforts to bring me into the Oxford coven.
“Working,” I said promptly.
“There are some very nice witches here, you know,” Gillian said with prim disapproval. “You really should join us on Monday.”
“Thanks. I’ll think about it,” I said, already moving in the direction of the Selden End, the airy seventeenth-century addition that ran perpendicular to the main axis of Duke Humfrey’s. “I’m working on a conference paper, though, so don’t count on it.” My aunt Sarah had always warned me it wasn’t possible for one witch to lie to another, but that hadn’t stopped me from trying.
Gillian made a sympathetic noise, but her eyes followed me.
Back at my familiar seat facing the arched, leaded windows, I resisted the temptation to dump the manuscripts on the table and wipe my hands. Instead, mindful of their age, I lowered the stack carefully.
The manuscript that had appeared to tug on its call slip lay on top of the pile. Stamped in gilt on the spine was a coat of arms belonging to Elias Ashmole, a seventeenth-century book collector and alchemist whose books and papers had come to the Bodleian from the Ashmolean Museum in the nineteenth century, along with the number 782. I reached out, touching the brown leather.
A mild shock made me withdraw my fingers quickly, but not quickly enough. The tingling traveled up my arms, lifting my skin into tiny goose pimples, then spread across my shoulders, tensing the muscles in my back and neck. These sensations quickly receded, but they left behind a hollow feeling of unmet desire. Shaken by my response, I stepped away from the library table.
Even at a safe distance, this manuscript was challenging me—threatening the walls I’d erected to separate my career as a scholar from my birthright as the last of the Bishop witches. Here, with my hard-earned doctorate, tenure, and promotions in hand and my career beginning to blossom, I’d renounced my family’s heritage and created a life that depended on reason and scholarly abilities, not inexplicable hunches and spells. I was in Oxford to complete a research project. Upon its conclusion, my findings would be published, substantiated with extensive analysis and footnotes, and presented to human colleagues, leaving no room for mysteries and no place in my work for what could be known only through a witch’s sixth sense.
But—albeit unwittingly—I had called up an alchemical manuscript that I needed for my research and that also seemed to possess an otherworldly power that was impossible to ignore. My fingers itched to open it and learn more. Yet an even stronger impulse held me back: Was my curiosity intellectual, related to my scholarship? Or did it have to do with my family’s connection to witchcraft?
I drew the library’s familiar air into my lungs and shut my eyes, hoping that would bring clarity. The Bodleian had always been a sanctuary to me, a place unassociated with the Bishops. Tucking my shaking hands under my elbows, I stared at Ashmole 782 in the growing twilight and wondered what to do.
My mother would instinctively have known the answer, had she been standing in my place. Most members of the Bishop family were talented witches, but my mother, Rebecca, was special. Everyone said so. Her supernatural abilities had manifested early, and by the time she was in grade school, she could outmagic most of the senior witches in the local coven with her intuitive understanding of spells, startling foresight, and uncanny knack for seeing beneath the surface of people and events. My mother’s younger sister, my Aunt Sarah, was a skilled witch, too, but her talents were more mainstream: a deft hand with potions and a perfect command of witchcraft’s traditional lore of spells and charms.
My fellow historians didn’t know about the family, of course, but everyone in Madison, the remote town in upstate New York where I’d lived with Sarah since the age of seven, knew all about the Bishops. My ancestors had moved from Massachusetts after the Revolutionary War. By then more than a century had passed since Bridget Bishop was executed at Salem. Even so, rumors and gossip followed them to their new home. After pulling up stakes and resettling in Madison, the Bishops worked hard to demonstrate how useful it could be to have witchy neighbors for healing the sick and predicting the weather. In time the family set down roots in the community deep enough to withstand the inevitable outbreaks of superstition and human fear.
But my mother had a curiosity about the world that led her beyond the safety of Madison. She went first to Harvard, where she met a young wizard named Stephen Proctor. He also had a long magical lineage and a desire to experience life outside the scope of his family’s New England history and influence. Rebecca Bishop and Stephen Proctor were a charming couple, my mother’s all-American frankness a counterpoint to my father’s more formal, old-fashioned ways. They became anthropologists, immersing themselves in foreign cultures and beliefs, sharing their intellectual passions along with their deep devotion to each other. After securing positions on the faculty in area schools—my mother at her alma mater, my father at Wellesley—they made research trips abroad and made a home for their new family in Cambridge.
I have few memories of my childhood, but each one is vivid and surprisingly clear. All feature my parents: the feel of corduroy on my father’s elbows, the lily of the valley that scented my mother’s perfume, the clink of their wineglasses on Friday nights when they’d put me to bed and dine together by candlelight. My mother told me bedtime stories, and my father’s brown briefcase clattered when he dropped it by the front door. These memories would strike a familiar chord with most people.
Other recollections of my parents would not. My mother never seemed to do laundry, but my clothes were always clean and neatly folded. Forgotten permission slips for field trips to the zoo appeared in my desk when the teacher came to collect them. And no matter what condition my father’s study was in when I went in for a good-night kiss (and it usually looked as if something had exploded), it was always perfectly orderly the next morning. In kindergarten I’d asked my friend Amanda’s mother why she bothered washing the dishes with soap and water when all you needed to do was stack them in the sink, snap your fingers, and whisper a few words. Mrs. Schmidt laughed at my strange idea of housework, but confusion had clouded her eyes.
That night my parents told me we had to be careful about how we spoke about magic and with whom we discussed it. Humans outnumbered us and found our power frightening, my mother explained, and fear was the strongest force on earth. I hadn’t confessed at the time that magic—my mother’s especially—frightened me, too.
By day my mother looked like every other kid’s mother in Cambridge: slightly unkempt, a bit disorganized, and perpetually harassed by the pressures of home and office. Her blond hair was fashionably tousled even though the clothes she wore remained stuck in 1977—long billowy skirts, oversize pants and shirts, and men’s vests and blazers she picked up in thrift stores the length and breadth of Boston in imitation of Annie Hall. Nothing would have made you look twice if you passed her in the street or stood behind her in the supermarket.
In the privacy of our home, with the curtains drawn and the door locked, my mother became someone else. Her movements were confident and sure, not rushed and hectic. Sometimes she even seemed to float. As she went around the house, singing and picking up stuffed animals and books, her face slowly transformed into something otherworldly and beautiful. When my mother was lit up with magic, you couldn’t tear your eyes away from her.
“Mommy’s got a firecracker inside her,” was the way my father explained it with his wide, indulgent grin. But firecrackers, I learned, were not simply bright and lively. They were unpredictable, and they could startle and frighten you, too.
My father was at a lecture one night when my mother decided to clean the silver and became mesmerized by a bowl of water she’d set on the dining-room table. As she stared at the glassy surface, it became covered with a fog that twisted itself into tiny, ghostly shapes. I gasped with delight as they grew, filling the room with fantastic beings. Soon they were crawling up the drapes and clinging to the ceiling. I cried out for my mother’s help, but she remained intent on the water. Her concentration didn’t waver until something half human and half animal crept near and pinched my arm. That brought her out of her reveries, and she exploded into a shower of angry red light that beat back the wraiths and left an odor of singed feathers in the house. My father noticed the strange smell the moment he returned, his alarm evident. He found us huddled in bed together. At the sight of him, my mother burst into apologetic tears. I never felt entirely safe in the dining room again.
Any remaining sense of security evaporated after I turned seven, when my mother and father went to Africa and didn’t come back alive.
Excerpted from "A Discovery of Witches"
Copyright © 2011 Deborah Harkness.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
Diana Bishop has spent her entire life trying to deny who she really is. The only child of two powerful witches, orphaned when she was just seven years old, Diana has rejected her magical abilities, determined to pass as human. But with her unwitting discovery of a mysterious manuscript long hidden in the archives of the Bodleian Library, Diana is forced to face the heritage she has tried so hard to forget. The power of the enchanted manuscript, known only as Ashmole 782, is both tantalizing and intimidating and she quickly sends the book back to the stacks, hoping to return to her normal life. Unbeknownst to her, she has discovered a volume that can unlock all the secrets of her world and, in doing so, has ignited a war—and made herself the prime target.
Drawing on a wealth of knowledge about alchemy and the history of witchcraft, Deborah Harkness has crafted a fast-paced, intensely readable novel of magic, adventure, and romance. A Discovery of Witches charts Diana's struggle to accept her family's magical legacy, her growing understanding of the scope of the battle she has begun, and her dangerous alliance with handsome geneticist—and fifteen-hundred-year-old vampire—Matthew Clairmont.
Vampires, known for their jaw-dropping good looks and seductive charm, aren't supposed to associate with witches, but Diana's discovery has caught Matthew's attention. Contrary to everything she has been taught and despite her initial reluctance and suspicion, Diana joins forces with Matthew to battle the dark spirits that are gathering around them. But cooperation quickly leads to attraction as Diana and Matthew begin to fall in love—an act forbidden by the Congregation, the covenant of witches, daemons, and vampires who dictate the rules of behavior for all underworld species and have the power to cruelly punish those who break them.
A complicated yet entirely relatable heroine, Diana must discover the surprising truth of her own legacy and realize the strength of her magic in order to prevent Ashmole 782 from falling into the wrong hands. Her journey, as well as her relationship with Matthew, will keep readers turning pages late into the night and have them hotly anticipating the next stage in her adventure. A world filled with enchantment and danger, sorcery and science, A Discovery of Witches is a sophisticated and smart novel that blends the excitement of a classic supernatural thriller with the intelligence that could be provided only by a respected scholar and skilled storyteller like Deborah Harkness.
ABOUT DEBORAH HARKNESS
Deborah Harkness is a scholar and writer specializing in the history of science and medicine. She has received numerous awards, including Fulbright, Guggenheim, and National Humanities Center fellowships. Currently a professor of history at the University of Southern California, her most recent academic publication is The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. This is her first novel.
A CONVERSATION WITH DEBORAH HARKNESS
Q. Diana is an appealing heroine, determined, accomplished, and yet aware of her own weaknesses. In what ways, if any, does Diana reflect your own experience or personality?
There are some similarities—Diana is also a historian of science, also interested in the history of alchemy, and shares some of my passions (including television cooking programs, tea, and rowing). Really, all the characters have some element of me in them. I think that's how authors create imaginary people who nevertheless feel real. The rest of Diana's character comes from a combination of qualities I admire in others, wish fulfillment, and my completion of the following statement: "Wouldn't it be great if a heroine in a book was…"
Q. How did you become interested in the intersection of alchemy, magic, and science? Historically, what do you see as the relationship between science and religion or mysticism?
In college, I had a wonderful professor who taught a class on these subjects. To kick off the class, he asked us, "How do you know what you think you know?" I've spent the last quarter century trying to answer that question. Because the world is a mysterious place and our relationship to it is not always clear, people have often turned to science, faith, and magic for answers. They help people find responses to the questions of Who am I and why am I here?
Q. You've written two well-received scholarly books. What inspired you to write a novel?
It's pretty hard not to notice the popular preoccupation with witches, vampires, and things that go bump in the night. But we aren't the first to be fascinated with these creatures. Today, we often imagine them into fantastic otherworlds, but the people I study believed that such magical beings were living alongside them in this world. So I started thinking, if there are vampires and witches, what do they do for a living—and what strange stories do humans tell to explain away the evidence of their presence? A Discovery of Witches began with the answers to those questions as I essentially reimagined our modern world through the eyes of medieval and Renaissance people.
Q. On page 72, Matthew observes that Diana sees her work as a historian as similar to that of a detective. Is this how you approach your own research? Is a novelist also a type of detective?
I definitely see my historical work as a process of detection. Historians fit pieces of evidence together and hope that they eventually form a coherent picture. Often, a historian's most compelling questions—and the most difficult to answer—concern personal motivations and why something happened the way it did. These are questions we have in common with detectives. Fiction is more like alchemy, though. You take a little of this, a little of that, combine it, and hope that something wonderful occurs so that your creation is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Novelists, like the alchemists of old, know that true creation takes time and patience, and that it's likely you will have many disasters and failures before you achieve success.
Q. What prompted you to include both first-person and omniscient narration? What does each method of storytelling contribute to the book?
Early in the process of writing the book I realized that vampires must be secretive and protective creatures. For Matthew, this means he has both a strong instinct to hide from Diana's questions and a need to protect her from threats. The only way to show that dynamic in Matthew (without making the reader very impatient with him) was to take Diana out of the picture temporarily and show him interacting with others who knew him in other ways. Since Diana is the first-person narrator, this caused some problems that omniscient narration solved. I think the combination of the two narratives works surprisingly well and gives the reader the immediacy of Diana's experience along with some answers to their questions about Matthew.
Q. Elias Ashmole and Ashmole 782 are taken from real life. Who was Elias Ashmole? Why did you base your novel on this particular manuscript?
Elias Ashmole was a seventeenth-century English antiquarian and scholar. He gave major bequests to Oxford University, including the collection of books and objects that provided the foundation for the Ashmolean Museum (which is still in operation today). Ashmole's books and manuscripts were first kept at the museum and then moved to the university's Bodleian Library in the nineteenth century. The Ashmole manuscripts include numerous rare alchemical texts. One of the manuscripts, Ashmole 782, is currently missing. As a scholar, I've done a lot of research in the Ashmole alchemical manuscripts and always wondered what Ashmole 782 might contain.
Q. There are many references in the novel to literary works and authors throughout history; for example, pages 148 – 149 include an exchange of quotes about the passage of time from writers Ben Jonson and John Milton. Do the references and quotes you've incorporated have any personal significance for you?
These are two authors I admire and enjoy, but the passages had no special meaning for me until I wrote A Discovery of Witches. A good romance needs a combination of tension and common ground, however, and I wanted books and literature to provide that for Diana and Matthew. A little homework in the literature of Diana's period of specialization provided the perfect sentiments for that scene.
Q. What was your inspiration for the concept of the Congregation and its trinity of daemons, witches, and vampires?
Both came from my desire to imagine extraordinary creatures into our modern world. I reviewed ancient and medieval ideas about the organization and creation of the universe and was struck by how many of them use organizing principles based on the numbers 3, 4, and 7. Four species of creatures—daemon, human, vampire, and witch—were soon central to the novel. But I was still troubled by the problem of how humans could be surrounded by such beings and not know it. The Congregation was useful in resolving that issue because it's an organization dedicated to preserving and protecting daemons, vampires, and witches from the majority of the population—which is human.
Q. From the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula in the nineteenth century to the current Twilight series, vampires have always fascinated the reading public. What is the appeal of the occult novel? What kind of freedom from the ordinary does it provide, both for readers and writers?
Vampires are relative newcomers among the supernatural creatures who have fascinated readers. The word "vampire" wasn't even used in English-speaking countries until the early eighteenth century. Before that, readers were far more interested in ghosts, devils, witches, daemons (and demons), and exotic hybrid creatures like dragons and the basilisk. The appeal of all these creatures—and vampires, too—is that they help to explain the inexplicable. Readers and writers are given the opportunity to suspend belief and wonder How do I know there aren't witches? and even more important What if there are?
Q. When writing a novel that involves the supernatural, it's necessary to create a framework for that invented world, a set of rules to maintain consistency and credibility. How difficult is it to establish that kind of structure and to faithfully work within it?
As a historian of science, I study the changing ideas that past generations have had about the world and how it works. Throughout history, most educated people believed in a theory of creation that was essentially alchemical; for example: some combination of opposing elements resulted in new life if subjected to the right celestial and terrestrial influences. This was entirely logical, given their understanding of the world and how it worked. A number of ancient and medieval worldviews helped me create the logic and structure of the world of A Discovery of Witches. Once those were in place, I found them very helpful in imagining what could (and could not) happen in it.
Q. Diana and Matthew's story ends on a mysterious note. What do you see as the next step in their adventure?
Diana and Matthew have known each other only for forty days. That's not much time to get to know someone and fall in love. Besides, falling in love is rather easy compared with staying in love and growing into a relationship. The next step of their adventure will begin just where their last step left off—and the adventure will involve all kinds of new discoveries about themselves, each other, and the creatures who share their world.
- Diana's mother says that fear is "the strongest force on earth" (p.5). What does she mean? Do you agree?
- Early in the novel, Harkness describes the typical personalities and physical traits of daemons, witches, and vampires. If you could be any one of these beings, which would you choose and why?
- Who is the Congregation? Is it a force for good or a force for evil?
- What happened to Diana's parents? What were they trying to hide?
- Diana studies alchemy, which she defines as a type of "science with magic" (p. 73) used to explore and understand unexplained phenomena. Do you use astrology, fortune-telling, or ESP to provide a deeper understanding of events in your own life?
- Why is Diana and Matthew's love forbidden? Have you ever loved someone whom your family or friends thought was inappropriate? How did their reaction influence your feelings?
- Most of the book is told from Diana's perspective, yet a few chapters are written in the third person. Why? What feature or purpose unites those chapters?
- Diana and Matthew travel back to the sixteenth century. If you had the power to time walk, as she does, what period in history would you visit?
- In chapter 31, Diana remembers the bedtime story her mother told her as a child. In what ways does that story foreshadow the events of Diana's life?
- Harkness presents the use of witchcraft not only as an otherworldly ability but also as a part of everyday life; for example, Diana uses a spell to fix her washing machine. Which example of the novel's blending of the magical with the mundane did you find most entertaining or creative? If you could use magic in your daily life, what would you use it for?
- Look at the last page of the book. What is the significance of the blood and mercury? What is the reason behind the sense of relief felt in the house? What does the last sentence of the book mean?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have just finished reading this book and found it far more enjoyable than I expected to from reading the synopsis. A Discovery of Witches is by a first-time fiction author and is set in modern times, the fantasy element comes in when we discover that the makeup of the world's intelligent creatures is only around 90% human with the other 10% comprising witches, vampires and daemons. It is the story of Diana, the last witch in a long line of Butler witches who can trace their history back to the Salem Witch Trials. Diana has spent most of her life denying her magical abilities, her parents were killed when she was very young and fear plays a large part in her reluctance to use magic. When she discovers a mysterious lost (and magical) file in a library whilst researching the history of alchemy her life changes in a major way. She meets a gorgeous male vampire, Matthew, a distinguished scientist, who is a lot older than he looks, and he appoints himself as her protector against the horde of witches, vampires and daemons who want to know the secret of the missing manuscript, they all have their own theories about what this work contains and will stop at nothing to get it. This is obviously the first book in a series and has both romantic and thriller elements in addition to its modern fantasy theme, it started a little too slowly for my liking but it is well worth persevering as once the pace picks up it is very hard to put down. In this society, vampires and witches hate each other as a general rule and the relationship that develops between Diana and Matthew has serious repercussions for the whole of non-human society. The dynamic between the two of them is fascinating, and more than a little erotic, this book is likely to appeal to women far more than men. Diana is feisty, Matthew is controlling, the clashes between the two of them, particularly as Diana learns just how much power she has, are sometimes emotional, sometimes humorous and always entertaining. I particularly loved the Bishop family house where Diana's aunt and her female partner (both witches themselves) live, I won't spoil the surprise but its certainly no ordinary home and the events that take place there provide some of the most humorous moments in the story as well as one of the most dramatic. This novel will definitely appeal to fans of Anne Rice's Mayfair Witches and Vampire Chronicles novels and I am looking forward to the next instalment. Be warned, it has a cliffhanger ending!
I was warned by my Pop to never begin a book if you know it will be part of a set that is not yet completed. I have heeded his advice in the past but, unfortunately, I started reading this book before I realized it was set to be a part of a trilogy. By then, it was too late. I was hooked. There are elements of the book that remind me of the Lord of the Rings (the idea of different species all having to overcome prejudice to accomplish a goal for example). But the centerpiece of the book is a romance between a witch and a vampire. Oddly enough, I am not usually a fantasy reader, nor do I usually find myself interested in vampires in particular. I worked at a bookstore and banded together with several other booksellers who all refused to read Twilight, for example (because it had become so mainstream). Also, I usually scoff at romance novels because of their cheesy nature and obvious patriarchal stereotypes (I did like the Traveler's Wife, though, so I do enjoy a good romantic story occasionally). When this book came up as a recommended reading, I was in the mood for an escape, so I took a chance on the book. I read some of the negative reviews and can see where they are coming from. If you are trying to find enlightenment through reading material, this probably isn't for you. If you want an enchanting escape from the mundane, on the other hand, I say this is a fantastic choice. But if you are anything like me, you will find yourself getting sucked in and thoroughly frustrated when you realize that you will have to wait for the next in the series to come out. So if you don't want to itch with anticipation, wait a few more years before entering into Deborah Harness' world of witches, demons, vampires, history, mystery and intrigue.
Very great story line. Very well written. enjoyed this
Hated this book. And really surprised that I did since I typically like this type of genre. The first half of the book started out great, and then went downhill from there. More and more absurd situations and characters. I found myself so sick of the lead character that I didn't care what happened to her anymore. I just wanted to be done with the book. And when I finally was..WHAT?! How about a heads up that this book is going to end with no real ending? It's obviously setting up for another book but I don't think I could sit through another. I read a lot of the other reviews before I purchased this book, so I was really looking forward to reading it. I am obviously in the minority with my review, though. Thought I would throw in my two cents worth so you would have another perspective on what you might be getting yourself into.
This book is just flat out awesome. Sometimes when you pick up a book, within the first few pages you know you're holding something special in your hands. This is one of those books. It is unlike any paranormal novel I've ever read. It's a smart, sophisticated tale of Diana Bishop, the last in a long line of powerful Bishop witches, and Matthew Clairmont, a vampire who has lived 1500 years. It takes place in Oxford, England. Diana is an American professor who's in Oxford researching ancient alchemy books when she calls up Ashmole 782, a manuscript that possibly holds the secrets to the origins of four species: humans, daemons, vampires, and witches. Diana's magical abilities unlock the spell keeping Ashmole 782 from all of those who desperately want it. She quickly sends it away, and the race is on between witches, daemons, and vampires to control Diana and find the manuscript again. Matthew is also after the manuscript, but his growing feelings for Diana soon begin to eclipse his need for the ancient manuscript. And he is the only one who can protect Diana. This book is written for an adult audience--wine, alchemy, genetics, and the world of the supernatural all combine to put you on the edge of your seat. The novel is long--almost 600 pages, but the story flows along quite nicely, building into an incredible ending. Can Diana tap into her powerful magical abilities in time to save herself and Matthew? Can a vampire and witch break an ancient taboo and be together? Will Ashmole 782 give the answers everyone has been waiting centuries to find? You must grab this, sit down, and begin reading this immediately when it comes out in February 2011. It is amazing! And, best of all, it's the first in a trilogy.
This is an epic page turner with a complicated story line and twists and turns over centuries and multiple locations. Unfortunately, it does not conclude. 25 pages from the end of the book and I realized that this was just one of what will eventually be a series of books... At least I hope so. Otherwise, we will just wonder what became of these characters. I don't mind reading a series of books, but I prefer to know prior to getting sucked into a book that I expected to conclude. The romance portion of the book as a little sappy. A bit much unless you are into over the top, rapidly developing emotions that don't happen in real life. The mystery portion was fascinating, but again there is no conclusion. So many questions are left unanswered. The characters are well developed and completely likable. It was a great read, but it leaves me wanting a resolution to the story lines and there is no information on any additional books that may be writen.
I am imagining a corporate brainstorming session. A guy in a suit says "Ok, chicks dig these genre vampire romance series, right? We put a pic of a sexy guy on the front, shovel on the sex, and BOOM you gotta hit. But we can make MORE money by hittin the brainy chicks who won't set foot in the Romance Section cuz they're too classy. So, let's make a high-brow vampire romance for the snooty chicks! Get some brainy girl to write it, keep Fabio OFF the cover, and shelve it in Literature! Cha ching!" I don't know if that's how "Discovery of Witches" came about, but it's a theory not without merit. The plot is a clever amalgam of every tried and true formula out there. Harkness chooses only the most lucrative franchises to pull from. Her first stop is Harry Potter. Nice, unassuming, every-woman heroine whose parents died under mysterious circumstances finds out (surprise) that she has amazing magical powers that she cannot understand or control. Action ensues when these powers are coveted by a coterie of creepy creatures. Thanks, J.K. Rowling! Next stop, Anne Rice's witch and vampire novels. Multigenerational, wacky witch families (Queen of the Damned)? Check! Tall, muscular, sexy vampires with more money than god who run multinational corporations (Interview with the Vampire)? Check! A haunted house whose every decoration is painstakingly described (The Witching Hour)? Check! Now, let's leave Anne Rice and move to the other queen of vampire angst, Stephanie Meyer, and her Twilight Saga. No, Harkness' vamipire doesn't sparkle, but his brooding, tortured silences, his astonishing prettiness, and his desperate need to protect his damsel in distress is perfectly copied in "Discovery"'s Matthew. And these are just the main targets of "Discovery"'s cut-and-paste plotting. There are any number of vampire romances crowding the shelves that share these same themes. All the pulp vampire series draw out the drama of the vampire's need to hide from normal humans. "Discover" covers no new ground here. Every one of the pulps spends time showing the reader the hero/ine's special powers. Harkness sheds no new light here, either. The author has gone to a lot of trouble to copy all of these themes and authors and somehow comes out with a pale, bland story. Someone evidently told her that in order to make her characters three-dimensional she must describe in detail every item of clothing they wear and every cup of tea they consume. We must also slog through a long description of the heroine's yoga class for no apparent reason. I fault not only the author, but her editor who might have spoken up and said, "Honey, cut down on the yoga and tea. Please." To give it credit, there is one way in which this novel deviates from the pattern. There's no sex. At all. Whatsoever. Zero. This is an interesting choice because if Harkness' target demographic is the vampire reader, they expect some sex. Maybe not the erotic free-for-all that Anne Rice's novels offer, but something. "Discover" is the sad result when a novel is conceived as a marketing ploy rather than storytelling. There is not one original idea here.
Reminded me of early Anne Rice mixed with The Phisik Book of Deliverence Dane. Has that sort of rambling story telling that is really building a world. The authors history background brings a real richness to the story mixed with a very intense romance, ending left me wanting more. Would recomend it to Anne Rice fans and older Twilight fans
In the beginning there were myths and legends brought about by a smidgen of truth and in that truth we find Historian Diana Bishop at Oxford doing research for an upcoming lecture where she comes across a strange medieval manuscript that's locked not by a physical key but by a magical one, one that will require her to open the door to a painful past that she has stubbornly refused to acknowledge. In the shadows watching is the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont a renowned professor of genetics. Diana and Matthew soon discover that their fierce attraction to each other is not only strange but forbidden as well and they will have challenges to face the least of which is their supposed predisposed mistrust of each other's species. He is a vampire and she is a witch. Will they find the answer they must, will they fight for each other or against each other and will this be a new beginning or the end. Deborah Harkness brings us an amazing story filled with fact and fiction, legend and myth and gives us a fantastical twist to the age old question of where do we come from. She brings her story to us using a plot that is both fantastic and easily believed by her audience by adopting historical references and facts and mixing them with occultist beliefs and horror stories. She will mesmerize her readers with her dialogue so much so that the almost 600 pages will fly by in the blink of a witches eye. She takes us to magical and real places with effortless and picturesque descriptive narrative as we live vicariously the lives of her characters through our eyes by her words. She also gives us characters none of which we've ever experienced before by making them unbelievable and real at the same time and by giving them the substance they need to make them unforgettable to her readers. The characters will each tell you their own story interspersed into the novel so that they all become an important part of the whole. Our hero Matthew and heroine Diana are two of the most unlikely lovers ever to grace the pages of a book and they will quickly become part of your must read again and again tales. Her romance is innocent and reminiscent of times long ago while also being sensual as to appeal to today's most critical reader. But this is much more than just a romance it's an epic tale that will alter your ideas of good vs evil, it's a mystery of historic proportion and is filled with the fantasy that readers today can't seem to get enough of. So fill all of your fantasies in one read and give yourself over to the care of this amazing storyteller for the duration of her book and relish in the knowledge that there's more to come. Make this a must read for 2011 and I promise you won't be sorry. I hate to put this novel in a box of likes because there's nothing out there really like it so instead if you are a fan of Diana Gabaldon, JR Ward and Karen Marie Moning you will love this book and also fans of The Historian, Dracula and Dracula the Undead will love the fantasy in this one.
With all the hype and good reviews, I had high expectations for this book. However, half way through, the story really drags, and is rather boring. Loved the beginning, and felt the chemistry between the main characters, but after she meets his mother the story really drags. And she is pathetic in her attempt to avoid her magical powers. It was hard to care about what would happen next, especially with the author going on and on with needless details! Couldn't wait to finish it to be done with it. VERY disappointed and a waste of time.
This book was so good I lost sleep over it! And then when I did sleep I'd dream about it some more! All the trouble starts when the main character calls up a library book that's been lost for, oh.. a few hundred years! After that everything starts to go downhill, with other witches, daemons and vampires getting involved, she's faced with the fight of her life. This book was like Anne Rice meets Sharon Shinn meets Dan Brown lol, you won't be disappointed!
Yet another take on vampire-as-hero...but in this case, not only is the vampire heroic, brilliant, erotic, and physically fit, but he is cuddly as well. Within a remarkably short period of time, the female lead morphs from an intelligent Ivy League professor to a sullen teenager. She is infantalized by the vampire, who tells her when to eat and sleep and tucks her in at night. The characters were shallow; peripheral characters were indistinguishable from one another; the plot meandered; and given the failure to come to a resolution at the end of the book, we are in for yet another vampire-cum-otherwordly-creature series. Yawn. Perhaps teenagers in search of another Twilight might enjoy this series, but the rest of us need not waste further time.
I loved the characters and the magic. The story drew me in. I can't wait to read the next one.
why would some one write a review bashing readers who liked and enjoyed this book? To me, that sends a message ignorance of the poster...her review only made the book more interesting to me and I am sure to others who dislike these kinds of reviews...
I just read a number of reviews from other "readers." Did we all read the same book or are many of you out there who read the first chapter then spew your venomous opinions. I bought this book on a whim, having never seen "Twilight" or read Ann Rice. I'm new to this little nitch of the literary world and glad I found it. To appreciate the genius and skill of this author takes one thing-imagination! If you allow yourself to be pulled into the story and the great adventure it becomes, it's a fantastic ride. I read it cover to cover (forsaking sleep at times) and laughed at the ending because it was perfect-both an ending and a beginning. I've since reread the book several times to get more of the detail and nuance the author weaves in so skillfully. I am anxiously awaiting July and the sequel. For you negative types, don't buy it, don't pretend to read it, and don't post more drivel posing as a review.
After reading the reviews and sample of the book, I was hooked. Then I got the book. It went downhill from there. No action, no plot, not very likable characters. I kept waiting for something to happen, and it occasionally would hint at something but it was over in a flash and then we were back to reading how Diana likes to drink tea, and nap and does not have any decent clothes. And Matthew, if he ruffled his hair, once, he did it a thousand more times and we were informed of it everytime. For two characters who were supposed to be soulmates, there was no chemistry between them. Diana starts out as a strong, independent, tenured professor whose career is important to her. Then she meets Matthew, the brooding, beautiful vampire (bossy and not so nice also) and she just gives everything up to follow him and becomes this weak, helpless female. For a character who is supposedly the most powerful witch of them all, she can't be bothered to learn spells or make potions, though she is studying alchemy. I didn't find her character likeable or belivable.
This is not your ordinary story about witches, vampires and daemons! Diana Bishop's famous ancestor was executed for being a witch. As a heart-rending consequence of Diana's parents' mysterious deaths, Diana has vowed she will live totally as a human, denying her identity as a witch with both usual and unusual powers. Dedicating her life to logic and ordinary living, she is now a history scholar doing research on alchemy texts in the Bodleian library at Oxford. Upon receiving a requested text called Ashmole 782, she realizes either the book is spellbound or there is something about this book that connects with her hidden witch powers. Add to that the reactions of suddenly appearing witches, vampires, and daemons whose animosity and threatening looks and words make Diana's wish for normalcy an illusion she can no longer ignore. Into the midst of this reality arrives a handsome, extremely intelligent and old vampire, Matthew Clairmont, who is supposedly pursuing his own research as a geneticist. Initially disliking and avoiding his presence, Diana finally begins to realize he is protecting her from direct attack by the hordes of persons appearing daily in the library who are insisting she recall the text they are desperate to obtain. Then he begins to appear during her running and rowing exercises which seem to be the only way she can stop her natural abilities from emerging with perilous effects on herself as well as others. Why is Matthew so attracted to Diana and what is behind the interest so many have in this mysterious text lost for centuries which has appeared and again disappeared after Diana's innocent unbinding of its pages? Finally, when several close calls with death frighten Diana into realizing her lack of control, she accepts shelter first with Matthew's vampire family in France and then with her own witch family in America. A Discovery of Witches is so much more than just a supernatural story! Yes there are adventurous thrills for those who love the proverbial accounts of such creatures. But here is an intelligent consideration of the essence of origins, differences, genetic mating and consequences, shared powers defying definition and classification, versions of history holding secret and amazing phenomena, relationships of enmity forced to unite under common needs - both good and evil, the quintessential realities behind the search for the Philosopher's stone or alchemy, and so much more. Add to that a sweet, dangerous romance all the more real because of what seems to be its doomed end, and herein is the perfect combination, preciously difficult to adequately encompass in any brief review. This tale is a smart, tense, provocative, and enchanting read you will not want to end and will be relishing long after the last page is turned. This reviewer is so looking forward to the sequel to this amazing novel which will be a best seller!!! Absolutely delightful and impossible to put down!
After the glowing reviews in any number of outlets I was beyond excited to read this book. I'm a sucker for any sort of supernatural stuff so I figured this was a no-brainer. Well, it IS a no-brainer, but in the sense that I feel stupider for having read it. The plot has promise but the author does zilch to advance it at a tolerable pace. The characters are simply not interesting enough to fill the sheer amount of space she appears to need in order to tell this story. I am about 250 pages in and I seriously don't think I can finish it. I am no stranger to overly long and verbose books, being a fan of both Tolkien and Anne Rice (to whom this author is inexplicably compared), but this novel is just painfully boring. Nothing happens, at least not 250 pages in. I could almost forgive Harkness for taking her time to get to the point, but not when her characters grate on your nerves like it's nobody's business. Diana, if she's supposed to be a "heroine" of a novel, is just about the most helpless and insufferable female character I've encountered in literature. You are a 35 year old tenured Yale graduate but you are letting a man dictate your every move? Why does she even like Matthew so much anyway? Why do they like each other? He's arrogant, bossy and bordering on misogynistic. I don't have any idea why anyone would want to be with him. If it's just the sweaters and dark hair, you'd probably be better off with Bill Huxtable...at least he had a sense of humor. The supposed attraction (and I say supposed because there's about as much chemistry here as one would find at a mixer for the KKK and NAACP) is never really explained and I guess us readers are just supposed to accept it. Never mind the fact that for all the supposed inter-species warring there is zero tension and drama in this book...and I'm sorry, if you aren't a good enough writer to at least inject a little bit of action in your book 1/3rd of the way into it, then you need help. So far all it's been is an endless repetition of yoga, food, sleep, yoga, horseback riding, running, rowing, more yoga...and oh yeah, tea. Can't forget the tea. Or the wine. Long story short, I wish I had been smart enough to take this out of the library, or even to buy the hardcover as opposed to the nookbook....that way I would have had a shot at returning it, or at least selling it and getting some of my money back. The premise shows so much promise, but I'll be damned if Deborah Harkness didn't completely drop the ball on the execution. The fact that this book is getting the sort of praise it's getting literally boggles my mind...either that or the author and publisher are real witches and are using magic to make everyone think this is better than it was. I'm struggling to finish it, mostly because the English major in me hates to leave a book in the middle but also because I want my thirteen bucks worth. I don't think I've got the strength to power through though.
Started out good. But oh my did it go down hill from about the middle on. I forced myself to finish it. Half way through you think is the author getting bored writing it? Towards the end you think shes just become down right silly and amatuerish. In the beginning I cared about and liked the characters and wanted to know more about their lives by the end I didn't. I won't be spending any money on #2.
This book got my attention at the beginning very well. But once the romance started developing I wanted to stop reading. It became more and more like Twilight (which was the most poorly plotted book I have ever read) The romance in the middle was too contrived and fast. The book is 500 pages, take some time on it. The main character became a total idiot, doing whatever the vampire told her to do. They kept saying that she was strong and stubborn, but all I saw from the middle on was a damsel in distress. The characters all started to melt together and become the same person, or a cliche. Minor characters were not developed at all. Stop comparing harkness to anne rice, she isn't that good.
I got about 250 pages into this 580+ page book before I finally gave up. It started off pretty promising, but really went nowhere - very slowly. I read the sample before I purchased and really, that was the best part. Hey, I read the Twilight Saga, and this was cheesier! Save your money! I wish I could get a refund.
This is an odd book. Now that I have finished reading it, I'm not sure why I was so enamored of it. With so much discussion of spells and enchantment, I wouldn't be surprised if the book put a spell on me to make me think I liked it. But now that I am finished, I see lots of things about it that irritated me. First, the author needed a better editor. I am finding more often books are not well-edited. I don't know if the editors think that every word the author writes is gold or if we just have timid editors, but in either case, they aren't doing their job. Much of this book could have chopped out and the story tightened up. There are way too many extraneous details weighing down the plot. I think the author, in order to differentiate her supernatural book from all the other supernatural books on the shelves, threw everything, including the kitchen sink, into her novel. It's exasperating stumbling around the pages trying to figure out what the plot is. I'm going to try not being too specific because even though nothing really happens in this novel (really, nothing does), there is information that shouldn't be divulged until you read the novel. Harkness has several plot lines going: the mysterious Ashmole 782 manuscript, the forbidden love affair between Diana the relunctant witch and Matthew the 1,000 + years old vamp, the mysterious death of her parents, the possible extinction of the supernatural beings, the Congregation wanting to know the extent of Diana's power, tracing Diana's DNA, and the threat of a witch/vamp war. Wow. This book is some kind of pseudo-science, pseudo-historical novel. The excessive alchemy details get annoying, as does the DNA discussions(and you'd better know what mtDNA is because I don't think the book does a good job explaining it. Luckily, I knew). But at least the DNA details have relevance to the plot(s), unlike the alchemy.The romance is fairly interesting and intense at first, but it quickly peters out into some of kind of boring, lovey-dovey PG-rated sappy mess. As another reviewer mentioned, they never even consummate their marriage. It's not that I need pornographic details, but the author kept telling me how much they loved each other and how intense their passion was, but I never really felt it. Matthew, as a scary vampire, is a huge disappointment. I'm sorry,but you cannot have a vampire doing yoga and talking DNA with new-age geeky precision and then have me believe that he is scary. Doesn't work. Diana is also a disappointment. She talks about how she wants to be a strong independent woman, but she is the wimpiest, most annoying witch ever. She won't use her witchy powers (to give the author some credit, I understand why), but when it comes time for her to protect herself, she wimps out, cowers, faints, and in rushes Matthew to save her AGAIN. Give me a break. Basically the whole book is Matthew moving her from place to place to keep her safe. Apparently this book was compared to the Twilight series, but I never saw the connection (I did read them). The vampire/human (witch) love affair is comparable to Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series. Sookie is a human with one power (the ability to read minds) and she also engages in a forbidden vampire love affair. She also finds her life often threatened, but not only holds her own, but has come to the aid of her vampire friends. Plus the vamps in her life are much scarier. Don't buy this book, borrow it.
What a waste of time! After all the buzz about this book, I was really excited to get my hands on it. Then I couldn't wait to get my hands OFF it. I made it through the first few pages, then I already felt the story start to drag - witches, daemons (I still don't know what exactly these were supposed to be), vampires, running, rowing boats, yoga, gay daemon... What exactly is the point and where is this going? After 100 pages, I did not even care anymore. Nothing was happening! The best part of what I read was that the boredom put me to sleep.
When I heard about this book I bought it right away. It sounded like it would be one of those books that I would say for the rest of my life: "That was one of the best books I've ever read." I was planning on suggesting it to friends and family. It was so hyped up to be about magic and a world filled with other-worldly creatures. I even put my other books aside to read this one immediately. It started out promising and had a few parts in the middle and end that were also intriguing. However, when I finished the book, I put it down and said "Wow, NOTHING happened." Quite literally nothing happened. Essentially , it was a love story with an old fashioned feel with Matthew courting Diana. They didn't even consummate their marriage for crying out loud!! At one part, which was the only part with potential action, where Diana is captured, Matthew rescues her without a fight or struggle. He literally figures out where she must have gone after about 30 seconds of thinking, went there, took her and went home. I thought the book was going to take off at that point but instead it was incredibly anti-climatic. The book was also too long. The author basically set up the rest of the trilogy with the entire first book. The book could have been much shorter considering nothing happened and then readers would not be as peeved about it. There were also a whole lot of new characters introduced in the last couple chapters which left the reader slightly confused and hanging. What comes to mind when I think about this book is that it was 572 pages of talking. That is the best way to put it. I wouldn't call it a story about magic. This book was a love story. Period. I have to praise a couple things about this book though which is why I gave it 3 stars. Harkness is a beautiful writer. The way she uses the english language in some parts is like poetry. And I think that is why, despite the lack of plot in this book, I kept on reading. She also seems very well educated using many references to historical events and people. I am mixed because, even though this book was a disappointment, I think she set up the trilogy enough that the next 2 books have potential to be absolutely amazing. And I have to admit I am interested enough in the characters to possibly pick up the rest of the trilogy in the coming years.
I wasn't aware that this book is designed to be one of a series and was very disappointed that I had to read the entire book to realize that nothing happens. If Harkness had written less about the heroine's need for rest and sleep, the book would have been much shorter. For a Ph.D. from a powerful family of witches, the character seems a bit naive and dependent on everyone else in the story. Not my favorite read by any stretch.