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94 of 111 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly good
I have to admit that this book surprised me. I selected it because of the Oxford connection - it is always interesting to see how authors interpret the place where I live. It was an additional surprise to see that the central character had rooms in my old college (the ironically named New College - founded in 1379!)

I haven't attempted to read a...
Published on 1 Feb 2011 by Simon Tavener

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272 of 290 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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272 of 290 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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28 of 31 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)   
This review is from: A Discovery of Witches (Hardcover)
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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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Despite high hopes, 19 Mar 2011
This review is from: A Discovery of Witches (Hardcover)
I picked up this book on recommendation and have been sorely disappointed. I truly feel that the success of 'Twilight' has simply lowered the bar for vampire fiction, and from now on female protagonists will be pretty but fragile things waiting on their Edward, or in the case of this book, Matthew. In my opinion this book draws very heavily from both the Twilight and Harry Potter franchises and while the basic premise started out promising enough the entire novel de-evolved into almost unreadable shlock. This is only compounded once one realises just how much of that shlock there is to get through. The entire thing is unnecessarily long, with the author drawing on the same phrases over and over again (I was quite tempted to mark each time that hair was drawn behind an ear, or the female lead commented on the smell of cloves) making the reader feel incredibly frustrated as the plot plods at a snail's pace. With only a few bright points in the story, the characters Ysabeau and Marthe being one, by the middle of the book one feels alienated from the story entirely, or unable to care what happens to the weak, predictable characters.

Unless a serious reworking of the next novel and its characters is forthcoming, I have no personal interest in a sequel and I do hope that the author considers putting aside all the regurgitation of other works so that something new and original can emerge.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Deeply flawed and deeply irritating, 27 Dec 2011
There are some good ideas here, but their handling is deeply flawed and deeply irritating. The two lovers, Diana the witch and Matthew the vampire, seem to have no real chemistry at all - a difficult trick to pull off in a romantic novel. They protest extreme love, but it's all just words that don't convince. And that goes for so much of this book.

The author constantly expects us to accept assertions that don't match up with what she's actually written. For example, we're frequently told by various characters that Diana is extremely brave and defiant, but this is not how she comes across at all. She's dedicated her life to working diligently, avoiding magic and being as normal as possible. Occasionally she will say No or Shan't, to which the other characters respond by shaking their heads in disbelief and exclaiming, "They told me you were strong-willed, but I had no idea!". Most of the time, however, she passively lets it all happen to her - more Sleeping Beauty than Lara Croft. Even her own wedding doesn't register with her - Matthew mates them for life according to vampire law without bothering to ask for her hand or even mention it until later, and she doesn't even comment. Surely someone supposedly so strong-willed and independent would have had something to say about that, even if only in principle? Captured and tortured by another witch, she seems to spend most of the experience in some sort of trance, then sits in her prison waiting to be rescued by Matthew. "I've never seen anyone fight like that," says Matthew, in awe. Before tucking her into bed like a toddler.

Deborah Harkness needs to realise that just saying a character is brave, even saying it many times, is not the same as creating a brave character.

We're supposed to believe that Diana and Matthew's love is daring, forbidden, taboo-breaking - but why? Because... er... the supernatural creatures' ancient treaty says so. Apparently witches and vampires can't be together. This doesn't create any real sense of drama or love across the divide, because there's no obvious reason why this should be so. There are a few mentions of good-looking vampires shagging around with mortal women, which seems to be fine, and all of the "good" creatures think that the rule is wrong anyway, so why should we believe it's so deeply ingrained in their culture? At least in Twilight one can see why the vampire authorities might frown on relationships with humans. But what's intuitively wrong about vampires and witches? It might as well be forbidden passion between elves and hobbits, centaurs and leprechauns, or dwarves and the Loch Ness Monster for all the emotional sympathy one feels.

Ultimately it's this mismatch between what the author keeps telling you and what she's actually written which accounts for the lack of chemistry between the lead characters. Matthew claims to love the wilful, spirited, "impossible" creature that Diana patently is not. On Diana's side, I'm prepared to buy the idea that she's an independent, intelligent, modern woman, but if so, the sort of cosseting mixed with condescension that typifies Matthew's behaviour towards her should make her want to deck him, not snuggle up adoringly.

The appearance of Juliette, Matthew's insane and unstable vampire ex-lover, promises to liven things up a bit. Until she gets killed off a few pages later. What a wasted opportunity! Having finally managed to create a character who shows signs of being genuinely interesting and unusual, DH can find no better use for her than as a cardboard cutout for Diana to kill (very quickly, from several paces away, with a crossbow), thus "proving" what an astoundingly brave fighter she is.

Repetitive use of the same phrases and actions rapidly begins to annoy. Again and again, Matthew greets Diana's utterances with an indulgently raised eyebrow and a patronising chuckle at her naivete. Diana is "scooped up" and tucked into bed as regularly as a Gina Ford baby. "You've got a lot to learn about vampires!" say the vampires, over and over. Is it supposed to be a catchphrase? I could go on. Given how many friends, relatives and professional editors apparently commented on this book in draft - the acknowledgements list goes on and on - it seems odd that no one saw fit to eliminate these jarring repetitions, let alone point out the inconsistencies in the writing.

Why, oh why can't academics stick to the day job? Because this pays better, of course. As Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld cheerfully says, he sells half a dozen copies of his academic works, mostly to his mother, but his Freudian crime thrillers have sold in their millions. Despite her daft writing, Professor Harkness may really have a cunning plan. Write a vampire potboiler with some picturesque locations (Oxford, a French castle, Hallowe'en in New England), get yourself a decent agent, sell the film rights to Warner Bros and you'll never have to teach history to bored sophomores again. And who can argue with that? So, good luck to you, Professor. I might even borrow the sequel from the library.
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94 of 111 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Quite possibly the worst book I have ever read, 26 Feb 2012
By 
Dr. G. E. Grant (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I will try to begin on a positive, and with the one good thing that I was able to take away from the feat of endurance that constituted reading this novel: if this can get published, and onto the NYT Bestsellers List, then if my own career goes belly-up I can always become a novelist, because I surely could do no worse than this. This book is bad, folks. Really astonishingly, befuddlingly, car-crash bad.
Where to begin? On the cover it implies 'if you like Twilight then you'll love this'. Now no-one will pretend that the Twilight series is great literature, but it has been astonishingly successful, because it combines an enjoyable, vampire-filled escapist world with 'teenage girl wish fulfilment'. A Discovery of Witches is presumably attempting to cash in by doing much the same, but trying to substitute 'teenage girl wish fulfilment' for '30-something middle-class woman wish fulfilment'. Which leads onto a 1000 year old supposedly-dangerous, predatory vampire taking the heroine, Diana Bishop, on a date to, er....yoga. With the yoga mat he keeps in his car. Naturally our vampire hero, Matthew, is also a dab hand at horse-riding, speaking romantic French and wine-tasting. Presumably to complete the picture of an ideal vampire lover for a middle class lady he is also a member of a Book Club, but there wasn't enough space to write the meetings in. Menacing, dangerous and unpredictable? I've felt more bloodsucking menace while watching Count Von Count on Sesame Street.
In keeping with the sub-Mills and Boon romance, we are also treated to a paragraph describing what the heroine wears on every single day, irrelevant and uninteresting though this is (it's usually black leggings, fashion fans) and truly cliched attempts at making Diana seem like the average woman, with references to her 'unruly hair' and troublesome relatives.
But the major flaws run deeper than this. This is, after all, supposed to be a bit of escapism - even the author wouldn't claim that it was written with the intention of winning any literary prizes, but one of the secrets of writing a bit of escapism involving vampires, witches and daemons is that your created world must be consistent and seem at least semi-plausible, and here Harkness fails utterly. As the novel goes on more and more concepts are chucked piecemeal at this world, seemingly culled from any popular series going, from Harry Potter to Twilight. We are initially given a world in which humans co-exist with 'creatures' who remain hidden to them, but as we go on, talking ghosts, time travel, talking animals, magic with seemingly no boundaries and living inanimate objects are added to the mix so that the overriding impression is of a world made up by the author as she went along, with no internal consistency or rules whatsoever. Thus, by about 75% of the way through the reader is exasperated and any sense of belief in the world created has vanished. This is not of course helped by the characters, who themselves seem to vary in personality from one chapter to the next, and who are given creaking lines of expositional dialogue that at times actually make the reader laugh out loud with the sheer implausibility of anyone actually saying them. The central romance runs from the characters meeting to becoming lifelong soulmates without much in the way of explaining how this happens. Perhaps Harkness feels she doesn't have to.
And last, because I could write so much more but am losing the will to live, the plot. First, concepts such as 'show don't tell' and 'expounding plot points later rather than immediately' seem entirely alien concepts to Harkness. Every event is elaborated on straight away, no secrets are left for the reader to feel curious about and again the prevailing feel is of a novel written 100% on the hoof, events at the start bearing little relation to events by the conclusion. Perhaps most importantly, there is no sense of this being a stand-alone novel - it is intended to be one of a trilogy, but absolutely no resolution to the 43 chapters of successive almost random-feeling events is achieved by the end. In fact feel free to stop reading at any point, as you will achieve as much resolution as you will at the designated end, and will give yourself free time to do things other than read this appalling drivel. In summary: I regret the time wasted reading this sorry excuse of a book, and would implore anyone who does not actively enjoy masochism to look elsewhere. Anywhere.
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94 of 111 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly good, 1 Feb 2011
By 
Simon Tavener - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Discovery of Witches (Hardcover)
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I have to admit that this book surprised me. I selected it because of the Oxford connection - it is always interesting to see how authors interpret the place where I live. It was an additional surprise to see that the central character had rooms in my old college (the ironically named New College - founded in 1379!)

I haven't attempted to read a vampire-related tale since I tried the Lestat novels of Anne Rice - and I found this a much more enjoyable piece of writing. There is a flow to the narrative which does prove engaging from the very first page. Given that it is not a short book, finding a way to keep the reader hooked throghout is quite an achievement for a debut novelist.

Dianna is a strong central figure - neatly drawn and not at all weak and compliant as she could easily have been made. She is well matched by the suave Matthew. There is an instant spark to their relationship - which is well sustained and not in a predictable way.

As is essential with novels in this particular genre, Harkness is very precise about the way she creates a world where vampires, witches and daemons are able to exist seemlessly with mere mortals - everything is remarkably plausible and coherent.

After all this praise, why not the full five stars? It comes down to the Oxford setting. It is probably my own detailed knowledge of the city that makes all the excessive detail given over to evoking the city feel more like a travel guide than something more real. There are a few factual slips that slightly undermine the setting. It is clear that the author does know Oxford but not, perhaps, as well as she might think. A minor flaw - but given the way Oxford is such a popular setting for a wide range of books, it is one that would have benefitted from the attentions of an editor who could have help Harkenss refine this element slightly. Readers who are not as closely connected to the city will probably not notice any of this!

I must admit that I would be tempted to read any further books that follow from this strong debut.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A superb start to a new supernatural series, 10 May 2013
By 
Rowena Hoseason "Hooligween" (Kernow, Great Britain) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Discovery of Witches (Hardcover)
Fans of the Twilight series and Anne Rice's vampiric creations need look no further for their next `must read'. A new author has joined the fray and she brings with her a richly textured sense of historical perspective and a fresh new world of fabulous creatures.
'A Discovery of Witches' is set in modern times and features an adult ensemble (indeed, many of the main characters are several centuries old. They certainly don't behave like teenagers...) of credible individuals. The world's population is divided into four types; normal humans, vicious vampires, creative (sometimes eccentric) daemons, and powerful witches. The heroine Diana is a born witch but her powers have been hidden for years since the death of her parents. This is the story of what happens when her powers start to surface, and how her choices will affect the delicate balance of power among the other creatures.
At the moment they all live in the shadows, but a liaison between a witch and a vampire is forbidden. When Diana falls for an eminent scientist, Matthew, who happens to be a far more than a run of the mill vampire, then the action kicks off. A war seems inevitable - and Diana, who possesses unheard of abilities, doesn't know how to wield her natural talents. She's in desperate danger, and her own kind most definitely aren't to be trusted...

This isn't a perfect book, but it's a rip-snorting start to what promises to be a gripping series. It's wonderful when a 'serious' scholar lets imagination combine with years of research and expertise. The result is a world which I had no trouble believing in, enhanced by details from French, British and American history. The scene is set in Oxford but the pace really picks up when the couple flee to France, and then move again to the States.
The author has created some engaging characters (especially Matthew's vampire mother, Ysabeau), and develops some fascinating themes from the supernatural world. I won't spoil it for you, but witchwater and witchfire play a significant part - plus the revelation that powerful witches can travel to strange places becomes key to the plot development.
'A Discovery Of Witches' is also littered with references from real history and other supernatural fiction, so keen readers will recognise people and places from all sorts of lore, especially where the edges become blurred. You'll be entertained by how many historial personalities turn out to be vamps, witches or daemons (even a pope!). Harkness skillfully weaves in details from the Salem witches, Crusades, and olde England to add to the depth of her universe.
The Vampire Lestat also gets a tip of that hat and, truly, if I had to compare this book to one other series then I would say it shares many similarities with Anne Rice's universe - but `A Discovery...' is a unique creation with its own identity. The haunted family house; the combination of modern DNA technology, old alchemy and the goddess of ancient lore; the eating habits of these vampires: all are new and intriguing details which give credibility to the concept of this world.
Deborah Harkness writes with an easy style, not overly flowery but with plenty of detailed description. In fact, the first half of this volume is probably too well described; the `first half' could've done with being edited down until it was the `first third'. We need to understand the normal life of the heroine, an adult historian researching her next paper, but the initial pace was pretty slow and I found the start of her courtship with Matthew to be almost painfully gradual. But the payoff later in the novel is worth the earlier slog, especially as soon as we meet Ysabeau and start to hear the revelations about Diana and Matthew's secrets.

Diana is an academic, not a teenage kick-ass heroine with big boots and blazing guns. Her vampire amour is a gentleman warrior, not a fanged maniac on an erotic rampage. This book dwells as much upon hidden mystical manuscripts as it does upon the violence inplicit in a witch-vampire relationship. So if you're a cut-to-the-chase kind of person, or prefer your sex scenes to be explicit and hardcore (I have in mind a typical Anita Blake book here!) then you may find `A Discovery...' to be a little leisurely and tame for your tastes.
But if you enjoy side-stepping reality into a compelling world of other creatures, some of whom belong in the shadows, then you'll be rewarded by putting the effort into this book. And although it is plainly the first in a series, it has enough conflict and resolution to make this first instalment extremely satisfying. I also enjoyed reading a vampire / supernatural adventure which reflected the lives of experienced adults.
It's a winner. Can't wait for the next episode.

8/10
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Discovery of Witches, 31 Aug 2012
This review is from: A Discovery of Witches (Hardcover)
I really want to enjoy this book as the write up reviews when it came out were good.
I just didnt get it!!
Plot was weak, characters were really silly, not an adult book at all.
I was very disappointed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars bored, 19 Aug 2012
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This review is from: A Discovery of Witches (Kindle Edition)
I bought this because I like supernatural vampires and witches. It has taken me four weeks to get to 27% on the kindle and this is because i paid for it or I would have given up long ago. All it seems to be is heroine sitting in library, boating on a river and going for dinner with a vampire who can't eat, and a whitch who doesn#t want to be a witch. It is so slow I can't remember the big plot about the book of all tales, want to know what happens if the deamons vampires and witches find out the true meaning of life, but sadly I don't care.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A book with amazing potential, but full of disappointment ..., 14 Aug 2012
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This review is from: A Discovery of Witches (Kindle Edition)
I really, really wanted to enjoy this book but alas, as I turned the final page I was left with only disappointment. From previous reviews, I was given the impression that although the book was hard-going, it was all worth it because the ending was amazing. I disagree. It was so frustrating. Throughout the entire book the only impression I got was that the author was desperate to show off their amazing writing skills, at the expense of a plotline. The author explains everything mundane event in excruciating detail, so that we know exactly what the main character has for EVERY meal in the whole book in more detail than we ever need to know. But when something interesting actually happens, it's over in a few pages! I was fully disappointed and frustrated with this book and so wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
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A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
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