A Discovery of Witches is the first book in The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness.
Quick Review (read on for full review)
A beautifully written paranormal romance for adults that drew me into the story from the very first page. 4.5 / 5
Summary (from Goodreads)
A world of witches, daemons and vampires. A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future. Diana and Matthew – the forbidden love at the heart of it.
When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…
There were so many to choose from but I opted for:
“A little book can hold a big secret – one that might change the world. You’re a witch. You know words have power.”
“It begins with absence and desire.
It begins with blood and fear.
It begins with a discovery of witches.”
I knew when I read the first words on the back of the book, I knew I was going to love this story. And I did. This is the second time I’ve read the book in the past few years, but this is the first time I’ve got around to reviewing it. Reading it a second time was just as good as reading it the first time, if not better because I managed to pick up on the little things I missed, enriching the reading.
The book is beautifully and intelligently written – the author has a wonderful way with words – and I was drawn into the story from the very first page. The descriptions of places and people are detailed enough to bring the story to life, but not heavy enough to bog it down. The pace and flow of the book was spot-on, so the story unravelled seamlessly. The story is rich in science, alchemy and historical references, and when a chunk of the book is set in one of the most famous library’s in the world…well, what’s not to love.
All the characters were well thought out and believable. Neither Diana or Matthew are perfect – she is wilful (sometimes against all reason) and wants to believe her academic merits were achieved without the help of witchcraft, whilst he is ancient and comes from a world where he is to be obeyed without question. However, despite this, they are interesting and engaging, and together they have a lot to learn. As for the other characters – I loved Ysabeau, Sarah and Em, Marcus and Miriam and Hamish.
I thought the world building was fantastic. The distinctions and attributes of witches, vampires and deamons was cleverly conceived and clearly depicted in the story, especially the fine line between madness and genius in daemons. Neither does the story shy away from or gloss over the darker aspectss of these creatures.
As the first book in a trilogy, A Discovery of Witches lays a good, solid foundation for the following two books. I’m excited to read the second instalment, Shadow of Night, to find out where the story takes us next. If you enjoy paranormal fiction, I recommend you give A Discovery of Witches a read.