Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

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A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness 

or: SOMEONE GET ME ON THE NEXT PLANE TO LONDON STAT!

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Synopsis: Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell. Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos.

What is more interesting than vampires and witches in Oxford? Clearly nothing. Everyone else go home, Deborah Harkness has just won at life.

I LOVED this book.

This is one of those books that sucks you in so deep you scarcely even realise you’re addicted until you look at your clock and realise its 11:30pm and you have to get up at 6:30am. This book’s pull is so tantalizingly gentle and mesmerizing that it’s almost as if Matthew is whispering suggested advice in your ear.

I’ve always wanted to study at Oxford- it’s one of those dreams you know will never happen but you wish like hell for it anyway- and Harkness brought me there, swathing me in loving prose and dense descriptive language.

Harkness has a unique writing style that reeks of the pragmatism of someone who learned to write through essays and scholarly styles. Yet while this should lead for a dry book, it doesn’t. Her writing is carefully paced and all paragraphs carefully constructed. Conversation between all characters is effortlessly natural at the same time not prone to monologues or un-realistic cues. Action happens in the same way life happens; the characters don’t know what’s going on and struggle to find their place.

And that’s what I like about Harkness’ writing; she doesn’t play the all-knowing author. There’s none of that arrogance that sometimes lingers when the author plays the ‘great puppet master’; Harkness shows a humility and respect in her writing that’s obvious from page one and made me respect her from the very beginning.

This book is incredibly detail dense. Harkness takes pains to develop the story at a grass root level, leaving in swaths of ‘pointless’ days for Diana, including the human things – like daily exercise and endless hours at work- that most authors shy away from or cut out as it doesn’t suit their grand plan. Don’t be put off, this makes everything work. You don’t resent Harkness for leaving this in; it allows the audience to become very connected to Diana, and makes the story live, breath and feel like it COULD happen.

Harkness, doesn’t present the glamour witches and vampires that we are used to. She revels in their weirdness. Witches aren’t the hobbled old granny-crone, nor are they the glam child wonder that we are suffocated with;- there rather presented as real, run of the mill people who just so happen to have a different sense of the world. Harkness’ witches are more wiccans than actual supernatural beings. And I bloody loved it.

The vampires were rude, stuck in their ways and struggled with food. I loved it.

The deamons- an interesting new addition to the mythological world from Harkness- much like the witches, felt real enough that it’s easy to imagine passing them on the street in real life.

And that’s where the power of this book lies. Harkness has created a dual world that has such strong tethers to actual life, that she seduces you into thinking that all of it, has the possibility of being true. She seduces you through witty one-liners, a complex and deeply intriguing plot that just keeps flip flopping, and very very detailed descriptions and prose.

Harkness is a world builder, and the world she built for this story is so tempting that it’s hard to tear yourself from the pages. This is a monster of a book, and upon receiving it, I was more than a little intimidated. But I barely noticed the 800 pages that I churned through in two weeks. This such an intriguing story and I was so compelled to work out the mysteries and why things worked, that I found myself at the end before I realised I had past half way.

I am more than a little desperate to find out what happens next;- the cliff hanger absolutely sucked me dry (HA. Get it?) but as I’ve been on a self imposed book buying ban (which I failed miserably) since early March, I’ve had to tough it out since finishing this book in early march. The next book- what appears to be another significant beast- I’m hopping to read in the next few months. Harkness has set up a very interesting series and I am really hoping that the next book doesn’t let me down and does this one justice.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go look at pictures of the Oxford campus and cry because I can’t attend.

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