322 of 342 people found the following review helpful
on 2 December 2011
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.
44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on 2 March 2011
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?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 18 June 2014
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
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 1 September 2014
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!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 September 2012
This book kept popping up here and there as a recommendation and as I enjoy a bit of paranormal fiction, I eventually decided to read it. The first thing is that it's incredibly long- which is fine when you are provided with a gripping plot, so I wasn't put off.
In the beginning, I liked the idea of the studious Diana, a quite feisty and intelligent woman, spending time in the Bodleian library for her research. Lovely! I liked the idea that she was refusing to participate in a supernatural life, but the hint that she was something really special and that it wouldn't be long before she couldn't resist the pull of it any longer. The introduction of Matthew seemed promising at first and then...
Nothing happened. Nothing. A few more chapters... nope, nothing. I thought perhaps I had been mislead about it being an intelligent paranormal story and perhaps it was more of a paranormal romance, as Diana's relationship with Matthew began to be signposted. But, nope, nothing there either. She strangely starts declaring her undying love for him out of nowhere, and he starts declaring he can't live without her, but they have barely kissed, or even had a little frisson of passion, or even a bit of flirting. Very odd. No passion after the declarations either, just quite a lot of him bossing her about. They jog along, with still nothing happening in the plot, and him behaving as though he is her father rather than her lover for life. He is always wanting her to lie down or promise that she won't go anywhere or do anything, until she becomes quite an delicate, wishy washy woman; a stark contrast to the character we met at the beginning.
The writing is generally good in terms of the technicalities, but unfortunately you really do need some plot in a paranormal book, action, excitement, danger, amazing supernatural powers at work. This books has none of those features. It is dull, dull, dull. You can criticise other paranormal writers as much as you like for being trashy, but their books have all those features and that's why they are fun to read. This tried be paranormal high-brow fiction, failed miserably and bored me to tears.
Oh, I should mention that if you are a tea lover and enjoy entire paragraphs devoted to the description of making tea, choosing tea, drinking tea and so on. Ignore everything I have said, because this is the book for you :)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 March 2015
A latte-loving daemon?
A vampire who rather than needing to be 'invited in' waits for a window to be left open?
A vampire who not only doesn't turn to a pile of ashes in sunlight but who 'liked to bask in its glow'?
A vampire who along with daemons and witches, doing .... yoga?
Reading at times like a script for a spoof supernatural movie, at times it's actually quite funny. It's just a shame that this isn't intentional and for the main part the novel takes itself too seriously.
A sort of Harry Potter/Twilight/Fifty Shades Of Grey hybrid. A witch, her parents the creme-de-la creme of their kind, orphaned at childhood and brought up by other family members? A mysterious, magical book? A vampire who spends considerable time watching a woman sleep unaware that he is there? A 'love affair' that borders on the abusive? Sound familiar?
At least with Harry Potter and Twilight there is a certain honesty in that the reader knows what they are getting. Quite unlike A Discovery Of Witches which when it comes down to it is essentially just another vampire romance albeit one masquerading as a more intelligent read for 'grown-ups'.
Given to me as a present along with the second book in the series (Shadow Of Night). Alas I've been put off reading book two, an equally weighty novel, let alone buying book three (The Book Of Life).
Copyright: Tracy Terry @ Pen and Paper.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 3 September 2014
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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 28 August 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!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2015
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.