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A Discovery of Witches: A Novel (edition 2011)

by Deborah E. Harkness

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4,942467927 (3.77)312
Member:rachelfoster
Title:A Discovery of Witches: A Novel
Authors:Deborah E. Harkness
Info:Viking Adult (2011), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 592 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:favorites

Work details

A Discovery of Witches: A Novel by Deborah Harkness

  1. 192
    The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (clamairy)
    clamairy: Similar themes of magic and academia.
  2. 203
    Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Anonymous user, SunnySD)
    Anonymous user: Both are epic fantasy novels...time travel, mystery, unlikely love interests.
  3. 131
    The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (bnbookgirl)
  4. 10
    The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones (debbiereads)
  5. 21
    Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell (SunnySD)
    SunnySD: Scholarly heroines, mysterious goings on, and much time spent in libraries...
  6. 00
    A Hidden Fire by Elizabeth Hunter (Friederike.Geissler)
  7. 00
    Overseas by Beatriz Williams (rlb0616)
    rlb0616: No witches or vampires, but it does have time travel. Also, there are many similarities between the two male leads.
  8. 01
    City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte (thenothing)
    thenothing: alchemy, time travel, romance, mystery
  9. 57
    The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (bookwyrmm)
  10. 04
    Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott (Mumugrrl)
    Mumugrrl: Not the same kind of feel as A Discovery of Witches, but it does involve Oxford, alchemy and the ghost of Isaac Newton.
  11. 1317
    Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (happyhinsons)
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» See also 312 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 452 (next | show all)
A Discovery of Witches has been on my radar since shortly after it came out. I'd seen glowing reviews and heard great things from friends, so I figured I should give it a shot. I received this book for Christmas last year, and finally got a chance to pick it up about a week ago. Honestly, I'm not really sure what I think.

Here are the basics:

Our main character, Diana Bishop, is a historian and non-practicing witch descended from the famous Bridget Bishop (of Salem Witch Trials fame). Not wanting to be accused of getting ahead by using her magic, Diana refuses to use it for anything aside from necessities. When the book begins, Diana is at Oxford, researching alchemy for her next project. She puts in a request for the well-known Ashmole 782, and given her credentials, it's readily provided to her. Suddenly, it seems that every supernatural creature in all of Europe has flocked to the library to watch what happens, because little did Diana know, but Ashmole 782 has been something of a mystery for hundreds of years. This super-special, super-enchanted manuscript has baffled even the most powerful witches, but Diana opens it by simply laying her hands on it. She knows there's something special about it, but given the fact that she's denying her magical heritage, she just gets what she needs and sends it back to the stacks. That's when all hell breaks loose and she requires the assistance of a very old, very mysterious, very handsome vampire to keep her safe.

I'm not going to lie. I really struggled through the first half of this book. At one point, I made it about five pages before falling asleep. In the middle of the day. (That is not something I do, ever.) The first half of the book is dedicated to ridiculous, painstaking, overly-detailed descriptions of what Diana is reading, what Matthew is drinking, and what everything smells like. It's like Harkness hadn't quite found her plot yet, but wanted to keep filling pages while she thought about it. The pacing does improve about halfway in, but not enough to compensate for the first half. With the improved pacing comes a fairly predictable plot:

• Diana and Matthew passionately kiss. Diana wants to sleep with Matthew, but he turns her down.
• Diana is put in harm's way. Can Matthew save her? (Of course he can.)
• Diana and Matthew passionately kiss. Diana wants to sleep with Matthew, but he turns her down.
• Diana is put in harm's way. Matthew can't save her this time, but can she save herself? (Obviously, there's two more books.)
• Diana and Matthew passionately kiss. Diana wants to sleep with Matthew, but he turns her down.
• Diana is put in harm's way. Can she figure out how to use her magic in order to save herself?
• Diana and Matthew passionately kiss. Diana wants to sleep with Matthew, but he turns her down.

I took issue with a few things in the book that made it really hard to like the main characters:

• Matthew thinks it's perfectly fine to break into Diana's rooms himself -- before he even knows her. But he flies into a rage when he finds out that someone else did the same.
• Matthew convinces Diana to flee to France with him because of the supposed danger she's in at Oxford. But once they're there, he abandons her (probably because he loves her so much, or something) and she literally cries enough to fill a room with water.
What am I even supposed to think about this marriage nonsense? Diana and Matthew kiss in front of Matthew's vampire mother, then declare their love for each other. (This is after they've known each other for approximately two weeks.) "Just so you know, we're married now," Matthew says. "Oh, okay," says Diana, as she begins referring to his children as her own. WHAT? THAT'S NOT HOW MARRIAGE HAPPENS, GUYS.

This book is basically just Twilight for adults, and I really wish someone would have told me that before I started, because this is not what I signed up for.

A Discovery of Witches is much too long, and much too detailed. A decent editor could have cut out at least 100 pages of unnecessary descriptions and backstories. A good editor could have probably taken this book down to half its length.

I'm not sure whether I'll pick up the next two books in the series. Harkness seems to think that by having Matthew repeatedly say, "You don't need to know about this right now, I'll tell you later," I'll be compelled to keep reading. Honestly, I don't think it's worth the effort. I was frustrated with the slow-moving plot and pages upon pages of unnecessary description. I wasn't impressed by A Discovery of Witches, but it's also not the worst book I've ever read.

I'll give it a generous two and a half stars for drawing me in at the very end.

[see all my reviews at the bibliophagist] ( )
  Sara.Newhouse | Feb 11, 2016 |
I think Amazon Kindle recommended this book for me. I really hadn't read anything on it, just asked the library for a copy. I didn't hold high hopes for it, I mean 'adult Twilight'? Really? I haven't read any of the Twilight books and won't. This though was a lovely surprise. Many have commented about how long and tedious the descriptions of smells and stuff are, but are not really reading an understanding that's how a vampire works. It's also ultimately what helps Diana work too when needed.

I seem to be gobbling up books. This one was 579 pages and I think I inhaled it in a couple of days. Yes, one of those also involved having breathing issues that kept me up long into the night. I have the second book on request, but I'm 167 on the list, so it may be awhile before I get to read about Diana's and Matthew's trip into the past. ( )
  pnwbookgirl | Feb 7, 2016 |
I enjoyed this book. It varied from musty research in library stacks, to developing Diana and Matthew's relationship and then into the history of the creatures. Not quite what I expected but I enjoyed the range of the story and look forward to reading the next installment.
  Laurochka | Feb 6, 2016 |
Really really liked this! Once I had checked it out, I didn't want to start it because it's the first in a trilogy and the next isn't out til next year. But I read one page and said, "goddammit, I have to read this book!". It really did catch me from the first page.

Very well written and researched for the genre. It's a book that you could give to your snobbier (say, classic reading only) book friends and they would probably enjoy it - yet it's still totally accessible and has good pacing. All the characters are well developed; the supporting cast is excellent (always a big point for me).

Diana is an American historian doing research at Oxford - oh yeah, she's also a witch that's forsaken her powers. She happens upon a long lost manuscript and catches the attention of all the creatures (vampires, daemons, and other witches) in the area - including Matthew Clairmont, a fellow academic, and (of course) uber-hot vampire. Mysteries, pending war, time travel...really great stuff. Oh and some romance. :)

Very much looking forward to the sequel! ( )
  chessakat | Feb 5, 2016 |
I really liked this book for the most part and I found much of the background story with the plot to be fascinating, but I did think it was entirely too long and that all of the subtext with history and science lessons really slowed the plot down. I kept hoping that more things would actually happen and thinking that cutting out a lot of the extra information would have made for a more enjoyable (if less informative) read. I can't wait for the next one. ( )
  lovelypenny | Feb 4, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 452 (next | show all)
"With books about fictional witches, it’s all too easy to fall back on tongue-in-cheek descriptors like “enchanting” or “spellbinding,” but both adjectives aptly describe the superbly entertaining saga Harkness has crafted. This is a riveting tale full of romance and danger that will have you on the edge of your seat, yet its chief strength lies in the wonderfully rich and ingenious mythology underlying the story. Entwining strands of science and history, Harkness creates a fresh explanation for how such creatures could arise that is so credible, you’ll have to keep reminding yourself this is fiction."
 
As will be obvious by now, this is a very silly novel. Characters and relationships are stereotyped. The historical background is a total pudding. The prose is terrible. And yet, the ideas have just enough suction, somehow, to present an undemanding reader with some nice frissons. I liked, for example, the way Diana tries to sublimate her magic powers in running and rowing and doing yoga – at a mixed vampire-witch-daemonic yoga class, participants struggle not to levitate during their vinyasas. And I liked the way Matthew and Diana smell to each other like Jo Malone candles: Diana is "horehound, frankincense, lady's mantle", Matthew is "cinnamon and clove".
 
"a thoroughly grown-up novel packed with gorgeous historical detail...Harkness writes with thrilling gusto about the magical world. Whether she's describing a yoga class for witches, daemons, and vampires or Diana's benignly haunted house, it's a treat to suspend disbelief. ... As the mysteries started to unravel, the pages turned faster, almost as if on their own. By the most satisfying end, Harkness had made me a believer.
 
"a romantic, erudite, and suspenseful first novel by Deborah Harkness. The first in a planned trilogy, it sets up blood drinkers and spell weavers as enemies for eternity in a feud as old as the Crusades; the duo confront social disapproval and intolerance as they elude evildoers and puzzle out enigmas throughout history. ...Harkness attends to every scholarly and emotional detail with whimsy, sensuality, and humor.
 
The protagonist is a witch. Her beau is a vampire. If you accept the argument that we’ve seen entirely too many of both kinds of characters in contemporary fiction, then you’re not alone. Yet, though Harkness seems to be arriving very late to a party that one hopes will soon break up, her debut novel has its merits; she writes well, for one thing, and, as a historian at the University of Southern California, she has a scholarly bent that plays out effectively here.
added by Shortride | editKirkus Reviews (Dec 15, 2010)
 

» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Harkness, Deborahprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bützow, HeleneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Belanger, FrancescaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goretsky, TalCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ikeda, JenniferNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
It begins with absence and desire.
It begins with blood and fear.
It begins with a discovery of witches.
Dedication
For Lexie and Jake, and their bright futures.
First words
The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable.
Quotations
The King just sits there, moving one square at time. The queen can move so freely. I suppose I'd rather lose the game than forfeit her freedom.
´Normal`is a bedtime story - a fable - that humans tell themselves to feel better when faced with overwhelming evidence that most of what's happening around them is not ´normal`at all.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

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.

Haiku summary
Witches, vampires
And daemons all want to read
Book on alchemy.
(passion4reading)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0670022411, Hardcover)

Amazon Best of the Month, February 2011: It all begins with a lost manuscript, a reluctant witch, and 1,500-year-old vampire. Dr. Diana Bishop has a really good reason for refusing to do magic: she is a direct descendant of the first woman executed in the Salem Witch Trials, and her parents cautioned her be discreet about her talents before they were murdered, presumably for having "too much power." So it is purely by accident that Diana unlocks an enchanted long-lost manuscript (a book that all manner of supernatural creatures believe to hold the story of all origins and the secret of immortality) at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and finds herself in a race to prevent an interspecies war. A sparkling debut written by a historian and self-proclaimed oenophile, A Discovery of Witches is heady mix of history and magic, mythology and love (cue the aforementioned vampire!), making for a luxurious, intoxicating, one-sitting read. --Daphne Durham

Ten More Books for Readers of A Discovery of Witches

Interested in learning more about magic and science?

I may have written a novel, but I’m still a history professor! Here are some reading suggestions for those of you whose curiosity has been stirred up by the story of Diana Bishop, Matthew Clairmont, and the hunt for the missing alchemical manuscript Ashmole 782. All of the titles here are non-fiction, and inspired some aspect of A Discovery of Witches.

Elias Ashmole, Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum: Don’t be put off by the Latin title. This is a collection of English alchemical texts that were gathered by Elias Ashmole. The missing alchemical manuscript that Diana finds in the Bodleian library is not among them, alas, but if you are interested in the subject this is a fascinating glimpse into the mysterious texts that she studies as a historian.

Janet Browne, Darwin’s Origin of Species: Books That Changed the World: Browne is not only a great scholar, but a superb writer. A highly-regarded biographer of Darwin, here she turns her talents to writing a “biography” of his most famous book—and one of Matthew Clairmont’s favorites, as well.

Owen Davies, Grimoires: A History of Magic Books. If you are interested in the history of magic and witchcraft, Davies’ description of the development of magical spellbooks will provide insights into how ideas about magic, science, and nature developed over the centuries.

Carol Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. Diana Bishop is descended from a long line of witches. You will find out more about some of those witches—the Bishops and the Proctors—while reading this classic interpretation of what happened in Salem in 1692.

Robert Kehew, Ezra Pound, and W. D. Snodgrass, Lark in the Morning: The Verses of the Troubadours. Matthew is a very old vampire, who has slightly old-fashioned views on love and romance. You might be surprised at the love poetry of his early life, and come away with a whole new appreciation for “old-fashioned.”

Bruce Moran’s Distilling Knowledge: Alchemy, Chemistry, and the Scientific Revolution. This marvelous book is not only deeply learned but extremely readable. Touched with Moran’s sense of humor and his compassion for his subject’s tireless efforts to understand the natural world, you will come away from this book with a new appreciation for the alchemists.

Alexander Roob, Alchemy and Mysticism. Diana Bishop is an expert on the enigmatic imagery that is used in alchemical texts. Many are included in Roob’s book, along with other illustrations from mystical and magical traditions.

Lyndal Roper, Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany. This scholarly book was important to me as I wrote A Discovery of Witches because it helped me understand how the belief in witches influenced the imagination. Many of the notions we have about witchcraft today have their roots in these terrifying fantasies.

James Sharpe, Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in Early Modern England. Sharpe’s book is an ideal starting point if you are interested in the history of witchcraft beyond Salem or Germany. One of his most controversial arguments focuses on the role that women played as accusers—not just as victims—in the witchcraft trials.

Bryan Sykes, The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry. I was fascinated by the combination of history, genealogy, and science in Sykes’s work. The book provides an introduction to the study of genetics, and to the legacies that are carried from generation to generation among the population.

--Deborah Harkness

(Photo of Deborah Harkness © Marion Ettlinger)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:41 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Witch and Yale historian Diana Bishop discovers an enchanted manuscript, attracting the attention of 1,500-year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont. The orphaned daughter of two powerful witches, Bishop prefers intellect, but relies on magic when her discovery of a palimpsest documenting the origin of supernatural species releases an assortment of undead who threaten, stalk, and harass her.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 11 descriptions

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