A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness — Review

“It begins with absence and desire. It begins with blood and fear.It begins with a discovery of witches.”

Wow! It’s been a while since I’ve been so engrossed by a book this much, specifically of this genre. After the craze of series such as Twilight, House of Night, and The Vampire Diaries, I thought I was quite finished with urban fantasy/paranormal romance books. This one, however, proved me wrong. A Discovery of Witches is the first book in Deborah Harkness’ adult urban fantasy All Souls Trilogy. We follow Diana Bishop, a historian and a witch, who discovers a long lost alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, which thrusts her back into a world she has tried to ignore since the tragic death of her parents. While trying to keep her powers in check and go back to her normal, human-like life, she meets Matthew Clairmont who only makes her dig deeper into the secrets hidden within manuscript. However, Matthew isn’t just a geneticist, but a vampire who seems to be hiding secrets of his own.

Right from the beginning, the story sucks you in with its Oxford setting and its mysterious, magical atmosphere. During the first few chapters, we get introduced to the main character, Diana, through different expositions that display multiple aspects of her persona. Nonetheless, it does not take long to get the main plotline started, which is something I greatly appreciated. I was concerned that it was going to take a good couple of chapters to begin with the storyline considering the size of the actual book (579 pages), but I was not disappointed. There are some people who might think the story was dragged on too much with unnecessary scenes, however, I personally found the pace to be quite consistent until the last 100 pages or so. For example, the climax of the story happened too quickly which made it hard to keep up with all that was happening. I caught myself slowing down my reading speed in order to be able to take in all of the information. However, there’s no denying that when we reach the climax, the accelerated speed of events add a sense of excitement while reading.

The writing style was also very straightforward, allowing for an easy read. Despite this, it would have been great to see a bit more style in the writing since, at moments, the dialogue became cheesy and the descriptions quite generic. When it comes to the world building, on the other hand, it was just enough to pull you in, leaving plenty of room for the continuing story to be unveiled in the next two books. Also, there were a few POV switches between Diana and Matthew, which added great substance to the overall story.

With the consistent pace of the story, it allowed the build-up of the characters to be done beautifully and in such a manner that our familiarity with them was a very natural process. Every single character we were introduced to had an engaging quality, and they were not used as simple plot devices. Each of them had a solid backstory and purpose for being present within the story, and it seems we will be seeing most of them in the following books. Our main characters, however, are the ones that took the spotlight. For instance, I really liked the anxiety representation we got through Diana’s struggle with her own anxiety. As someone who suffers from such mental illness, I felt it was handled quite respectfully and authentically to my own experiences. Diana is described and portrayed as an independent, intelligent woman, but I wish we would have gotten more of her separate from Matthew. It sometimes felt like her character was so intertwined with his that we saw little of what she is capable of doing on her own.

On the other hand, Matthew was the most fleshed out character in this first book. Some aspects of him as a love interest made me go “yikes, not healthy,” but it was very minimal and far in-between, so I personally didn’t have a huge issue with it. I believe that when the love interest is a hundreds-of-years-old vampire, one should expect some negative qualities in the romance that one might not find in a humans-only relationship. Since we did see him mainly through Diana’s POV, it makes sense that he was the one that we dwelled deeper into. I hope to see more of Diana in the second book considering how her character was transformed by the end of this one.

Diana and Matthew’s relationships ties into some of the issues I had: the whole instant-love trope. In most cases, it would have put down my excitement for the book almost instantaneously; however, this one did it really well, so I forgave it somewhat. It was done at a fast and hard manner, but since we follow them in each other’s encounters, it does not feel that way as much. With that in mind, I still would have preferred for the relationship to develop a bit more slowly to truly grasp the magnitude of their relationship. That trope also played into multiple other tropes found in the romance. There’s no denying that I personally enjoyed a majority of them, which is also why I was so pulled in by the book overall. However, if you aren’t a fan of very typical paranormal romance tropes, then you might not enjoy their relationship at all. Also, due to the clichés, some dialogue was too cheesy when it was meant to be romantic. I giggled to myself whenever I read a line that was just trying to be too much. Even so, I found that the reason I was so engaged with the romance was because of how well Harkness played with such tropes in somewhat of a refreshing manner.

By far, my favorite thing about A Discovery of Witches is the mythology that is interwoven through what appears to be the overarching plot of the whole trilogy. It was all so bewitching (pun intended)! I am dying to know so much more since I can tell we were only given a taste of it in the first book. Once everything seemed to fall into place, I could not put the book down. I had such a great time with it, and I can’t wait to jump back in to the series. There’s no better books than those that make you forget about your own little world, even if it is for a few hours. This one was one of them.

Rating: 4.5/5

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