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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal fantasy
Deborah Harkness's phenomenally successful fantasy series somehow passed me by when it was first released. I picked up A Discovery of Witches having spent a few months reading classics and other rather different books, and it was such an enjoyable change back to my old favourite genre! Harkness's well-informed Oxford/academia inspired setting is brilliant - I may be a...
Published 1 month ago by T. M.

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309 of 329 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tea and Yoga
I really, really wanted to like this book.

I thought Twilight was utterly appalling, so when I saw the review on the cover of this book that said something along the lines of "The thinking person's Twilight", I thought, hurray!! An intelligent, well-plotted, well-characterised fantasy with elements of a supernatural romance - just the thing for cold evenings...
Published on 2 Dec. 2011 by Joanne


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309 of 329 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tea and Yoga, 2 Dec. 2011
By 
I really, really wanted to like this book.

I thought Twilight was utterly appalling, so when I saw the review on the cover of this book that said something along the lines of "The thinking person's Twilight", I thought, hurray!! An intelligent, well-plotted, well-characterised fantasy with elements of a supernatural romance - just the thing for cold evenings by the fire. Sadly, I don't feel that the book really delivered on any of these fronts. The premise seemed interesting - a mysterious manuscript that supernatural creatures want to get their hands on is called up by the novel's heroine, a witch named Diana. A dishy vampire - the hero, Matthew - sees the danger she is in and decides to get involved. The location (Oxford) is well-described, and the reader gets a nice sense of settling in for a meaty read.

Sadly, nothing much really happens. Diana spends a lot of her time going running and rowing on the river while Matthew eyes her beadily from the banks. At this point, he starts to tell her how extraordinarily brave she is to be carrying on as though there were no danger. He continues to be amazed by her courage throughout the book. I get the impression that we, the readers, are supposed to think that Diana is terribly brave too, though really it's more like she's just oblivious to the strange turn her life is taking.

She drinks enormous amounts of tea. Every time she puts on the kettle (and spoons the tea into a pot and warms her hands on the hot mug and sips at the soothing, fragrant brew), the experience is lovingly detailed for us. I began to think that tea was going to turn out to be a major plot-device, and that perhaps the action would centre around some sort of ancient tea-leaf feud, but no.

Then there is the yoga. I'm not sure why I found this so jarring. I tried to accept that, within the world of this novel, yoga would be be a perfectly normal hobby for witches, daemons and vampires but it just seemed odd. Diana is being threatened by a host of other-worldly creatures, and strong, mysterious Matthew is deeply concerned for her safety so, to relax, the two of them put their yoga mats into Matthew's car and drive off to an "inclusive" yoga class, in which other-worldly creatures put aside their differences and fold themselves into downward-facing-dogs and sun salutations (quite lengthy descriptions of the various postures and movements, and how it felt to do them, are given). I recognise that authors may create their worlds as they wish but this still felt incongruous to me.

Then there is the fact that we are told, time and time again, that Diana is brave, that she is strong, that she is a capable, independent woman. Sadly, and very like Bella in Twilight, once the alpha-male vampire appears on the scene, she is reduced to someone that just needs to be protected. Matthew is constantly ordering her to go to bed, carrying her up the stairs, wrapping her in blankets, propping her up before the fire and telling her exactly what she may or may not do. When she is not drinking tea, in fact, she seems to be permanently in a state of exhaustion - sometimes only a couple of hours after an enormous sleep, she's worn out again - and this seems to be used as a vehicle for her man literally to sweep her off her feet and tuck her into bed again, while looking adoringly at her and telling her what a feisty, strong and stubborn creature she is. I don't really understand what their deep and abiding love is based on, either. There is no sexual tension or chemistry to speak of. The fact that Matthew treats Diana more like a sickly child than anything else doesn't help. There is kissing, but not as much as there is sleeping, enfolded in manly arms, soothed by a strong and manly presence.

Despite all of this, and somewhat to my own surprise, I didn't hate this book.

This is probably only because, truth be told, I rather like descriptions of food and drink and gothic places (luckily, in this case), so I didn't find the novel quite as tedious as its lack of action deserved. Nothing much happens and I really don't like either of the main characters much, but the cosy images of meals and fires and old castles and quirky houses were enough to get me through to the end - just about. Ideally, the food et al would be coupled with some real plotting and interesting personalities, a female lead who isn't a droopy-drawers and a male lead who isn't an aggressive, over-protective know-all. In this day and age, are we really supposed to be into this image of how relationships should be?

I'm torn between giving two stars and three for this book, so I'll err on the side of generosity! I won't be buying the sequel, though.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars unacceptable female role model, 1 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: A Discovery of Witches: (All Souls 1) (All Souls Trilogy) (Kindle Edition)
i should have known better when people were comparing this to twilight: in fact also here there is a pitiful excuse for a woman as a heroin. it is unacceptable in this time and age to write a story about a woman who just freezes and panic and cry in front of anything that happens to her, while a man takes all the decisions, most of them while she is sleeping. moreover, the two main character who should be romantically involved, have no chemistry whatsoever, no yearning for each other, not much to talk about either. their supposed love is a given and it looks like one of these stale relationship that are nothing more than routine, and they just met!
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Undead in the water..., 2 Mar. 2011
By 
Rachel Sirotinina (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I know I am not the first to consider this novel a grown-up version of Twilight. Yet I wonder if I might be among the first to ask - is this a good thing? Stop me if this sounds familiar: glamorous immortals sneering at feeble `warmbloods' but making an exception for a hot but helpless woman, stepping in to rescue her every time she does anything more challenging than make a sandwich? The fact that this time the damsel in question is an internationally-acclaimed post-doc researcher rather than a feckless teenager makes the pill all the harder to swallow.

If you don't already know, `A Discovery of Witches' is set in a four-species universe where witches, daemons and vampires walk among us. Hands up all who see a problem with this? Aren't vampires supposed to have been people first? And pardon me for asking, but aren't witches people too? These eerily fascist undertones soon come to the fore, when Diana, an umpteenth generation witch with impeccably exclusive genes, meets Matthew, a vampire geneticist obsessed with pinpointing the origins of the supernatural species. (Naturally Darwin was a personal friend, as was George Washington, Shakespeare and every other historical figure the text sees fit to throw up.)

Hold on, here comes the science bit...the novel bombards the reader with endless academic theorising about evolutionary biology, as well as extended digressions into the history of alchemy. The sole purpose of this seems to be to reassure us that we are indeed reading a big grown-up book which we shouldn't be embarrassed to flash in public. Even if it is about randy two-legged leeches hanging out in castles with pointy turrets.

Outside of Castle Matt-ula, the action mostly takes place in a fetishised version of Oxford, where everyone dines on exotic three-course meals and patronises the forelock-tugging porters. This unfortunately smacks of the quaint American ideal of pseudo-mediaeval `Yurp', although it is clear the author has done her research and knows the city well. Rather like driving in Oxford, the novel takes a frustratingly long time to get anywhere, but at least the scenery (or in this case, prose) is pretty. Yet just as you start to enjoy the ride (to overlabour the driving metaphor) the book stalls, catapulting you out of Diana's mildly engaging first-person narrative into a pointlessly omniscient third-person chapter. It then reverts back to first-person, continuing in this vein for so long that you forget the hiccup ever happened. Until it repeats, to equally jarring effect. Surely there is a more elegant way to convey the third-person plot developments?

But perhaps I am being too harsh; for all its faults, the novel is readable, with some nice touches: the daemonic financier named Osbourne was a personal favourite, although I have no idea if the allusion was deliberate. Nevertheless, I remain underwhelmed by the plodding pace, the fact that the whole book proved to be little more than 600 pages of throat-clearing for a presumed sequel, and above all the male Cullen-eque lead whose secretive habits and unpredictable violent rages seem an elaborate cover-up for a case of Mr Floppy. Is this what passes for romance these days?
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars slow slow slow, 18 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: A Discovery of Witches: (All Souls 1) (All Souls Trilogy) (Kindle Edition)
mind boggling detail and a slow plot that does detail the characters but a vampire going to a yoga class - seriously - I never knew they were middle class
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars One of the worst books I have read, 3 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: A Discovery of Witches: (All Souls 1) (All Souls Trilogy) (Kindle Edition)
Dreadful rubbish. Ridiculous plot. And the scene where vampire mother drinks rabbit blood is bordering on the ridiculous! One of the worst books I have read. Trash.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Emperor's's New Clothes?, 28 Aug. 2014
I ordered A Discovery of Witches hoping for an entertaining read in the well established fantasy genre.

Instead I found myself for the first time in my life unable to plough through more than the first 40 or pages of this turgid work. I had been encouraged by the excellent reviews in the press but now I wonder if we don’t have a case of the emperor’s new clothes with no one bold enough to say that this is really not an entertaining book.

For a while I wondered if she was trying to emulate Magical Realism but even that fell short. Marques can carry the reader through his works, yet with Harkness the magic and the reality seem to jar and leave the reader irritated.

I agree with several other reviewers that the author wants us to know what a clever person she is with all her academic qualifications. If you want witches and vampires stick with Harry Potter, it’s more fun!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal fantasy, 23 April 2015
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Deborah Harkness's phenomenally successful fantasy series somehow passed me by when it was first released. I picked up A Discovery of Witches having spent a few months reading classics and other rather different books, and it was such an enjoyable change back to my old favourite genre! Harkness's well-informed Oxford/academia inspired setting is brilliant - I may be a little biased there - and her world-building is second only to the very elegantly crafted relationship between Matthew (vampire) and Diana (reluctant witch).

The book opens with Diana Bishop calling a rare manuscript from the depth of the Bodleian Library's stacks, little knowing that it is bound by a powerful enchantment - one which she unwittingly disrupts. Diana has known she was a witch all her life, growing up with two extraordinarily powerful parents and her witch aunt following their sudden deaths. However, she has been unique in resisting her natural gifts, and knows almost nothing about spell-craft and the skills her ancestors so prized. Her use of magic is an occasional and guilty last resort. She returns the manuscript to the stacks, before being confronted by Matthew Clairmont, an ancient and apparently covetous vampire. She knows immediately what he is, and he her - but this doesn't prevent a strangely protective relationship springing up between them. Diana is eventually forced to confront her powers and her unusual ancestry as her discovery of the manuscript and her relationship with Matthew both cause external forces to become unhealthily interested in her life. Diana and Matthew's relationship is new and hard to define, but a congregation of witches, daemons and vampires are already determined that they will be torn asunder.

I can't recommend this enough for fans of Trudi Canavan's Dark Magician series and Garth Nix's Abhorsen one. It's beautifully constructed, seamlessly weaving the academics in with the world Harkness has invented; compulsively fascinating, taking you on a tour of Diana's world and her murky past and future; and refreshingly original. I read this on the bus, in the five minutes before the start of work, sneaking minutes after bed-time... Truly fantastic reading and a series which I can't wait to continue with Shadow of Night.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow, but just about worth it, 18 May 2014
Let me start by saying that this novel is enormous. It's almost 700 pages long and the print is definitely on the small side. It look me exactly a month to read this one – I usually read books within a week – so if you do decide to read A Discovery of Witches, keep in mind that it's a pretty big commitment.

That's why I'm relieved to say that I've finally finished A Discovery of Witches. I changed by mind about whether I liked it so many times while reading it that it started to get a bit silly, but I'm glad to say that now I've reached the end, I've settled on the positive end of the spectrum.

It certainly wasn't my favourite book ever, and in some ways I think the length of it is to blame. It’s a beautifully written novel full to the brim with delightful descriptions of everything from fortresses and manors to animals, plants and books. I loved the wine and food tasting too, it was almost like I could taste each sip and mouthful myself as I read.

But there was just a bit too much description at times, and I think that's half the reason for the length of this novel. If Deborah Harkness had decided to cut back on some of the descriptive portions and had stuck to the story, I think I wouldn't have swayed between liking and disliking this novel so often. There were too many slow portions with not much happening, and I even found myself tempted to skip ahead a few pages at times. I didn't of course, but it's a sure sign I wasn't absorbed into the story.

Overall, though, slow patches aside, the plot and storylines in A Discovery of Witches are intriguing, captivating and enchanting. There's lots of magic, which I loved because we follow our main character, Diana, as she discovers that magic at the same time as we do. I particularly loved the house at the end of the novel, but you'll have to read it to know what I mean about that. No spoilers here!

I'm still not completely sure I understand daemons, and some of the historical portions of the books went a little over my head, but it didn't matter, because I could still follow what was happening to our main characters. It's a bit over the top at times, and there's some definite instalove between Diana and Matthew that I thought got a little (actually, a lot) too serious far too quickly, but I kept an open mind and managed not to let that bother me too much.

Plus, I would have enjoyed A Discovery of Witches a lot more if Diana and Matthew had been more solid, likeable and relatable characters, but actually, they both annoyed me regularly and their feelings for one another didn't seem all that believable (what exactly does she see in him again?)

Despite taking so long to read A Discovery of Witches and feeling so relieved when I finished it, I am without going to read the second book in the trilogy – Shadow of Night – at some point in the near future. I loved the way this first instalment ended, and I'm intrigued about what's going to happen next, and what the future holds for Diana, Matthew, and the rest of the creatures.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mills and Boon with Vampires and Witches, 6 Feb. 2014
Probably an unfair title given that I have never read Mills and Boon, but if I had this is what I would expect it to be like, albeit with Vampires and Witches instead of swashbuckling heroes and damsels in distress. The book is not as disastrous as some of the reviews would have you believe, but it's certainly not worthy of 5 stars as many have given it (have any of them read Dickens or Twain - I would have thought that's more likely to be 5 star literature).

The overall storyline of the book is very good and the way Harkness uses history, science and fantasy to bring it all together is what makes it an enjoyable read. And in spite of the 700 pages, the writing is efficient enough to carry you through it all without too much pain. But it's all very middle class with yoga and tea and wine and morning walks and scrabble, etc., killing off any real sense of a dark edge to the proceedings. Worse, the romantic element of the book is cringeworthy. I can see what the author is trying to do in attempting to address the challenges of a romantic relationship between a 1500 year old Vampire and a 30 something Witch, but she completely misses the mark and a huge opportunity as a result. If that wasn't bad enough, the heroine of the story, Diana, is not what I would expect of a credible female character in the 21st century. She is highly successful, physically very fit and has latent powers beyond all imagination, yet at every turn needs to be carried out of the jaws of calamity by her Vampire man - even when she saves his life and all the while saying that she will be strong for both of them! Fortunately, the romance settles down and by the last third of the book it's bearable, allowing the story to finish (or at least lead us into part two) very well (I particularly liked the house - very funny).

I will probably read the full trilogy, but I am in no doubt that this is disposable fiction of the McDonalds kind - not necessarily good for you, but fun.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring, and uninformed, 10 Mar. 2013
By 
This review is from: A Discovery of Witches: (All Souls 1) (All Souls Trilogy) (Kindle Edition)
I don't know why this book gets such rave reviews. The author is meant to be a well-educated woman, but her heroine, who we are also apparently mean to take to be intelligent is apparently seriously is incapable of working out the relationship between research into neuroscience, DNA research, animal behaviour and evolution. She says "They don't obviously fit together". For heaven's sake, how does she think she, or any other animal, does anything, were it not for her DNA, molded by evolution? Has she seen any rocks engaged in behaviour?

Diana later says that she started studying the history of science to work out "how humans came up with a view of the world that had so little magic in it" - huh? She finds nothing magical about the idea that the atoms in our bodies with the exception of hydrogen come from ancient exploded stars?

The hero is boring, boring, boring. He's every vampire romantic hero cliché (well apart from the bad effects of being a vampire). He's tall, handsome, dark, rich, well-educated, has incredible vampire strength and sense of taste, when he turned out to be an expert wine taster I started noting "poser" next to his appearances. Oh, and he has a deep dark secret, yawn. One of my friends points out that he also displays abusive behaviour, eg holding Diana and not letting her go when she asks, watching her sleeping etc, my friend is right, but he's so boring that this to me outweighs the creepiness (and it's not like Diana seems to care particularly either). I've known authors to pull this sort of romantic perfection thing off, but everyone I can think of who does succeed gives her hero a sense of humour as well.

There's some interesting world building ideas in it, but the two central characters are so boring!
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