Book Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

8667848Title: A Discovery of Witches

Author: Deborah Harkness

Genre: Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 0.5 stars

Purchase: Amazon, B&N

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.

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. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

A Discovery of Witches did absolutely nothing for me. The book starts out so promising, but as soon as the romance enters the picture, the book turns from potentially intriguing to downright boring, bland and some kind of twisted Twilight rip-off that probably started out as fanfiction.

Diana Bishop, our main character, is a scholar with an impressive IQ and the ability to summon a manuscript the entire paranormal world wants, but nobody has seen around in years. When she needs the manuscript for her research and asks it from the library, the manuscript, a book talking about alchemy, appears. Instantly this makes her the target of the Stalker Army, or, in other words, an entire army of demons, vampires and witches who want nothing more than to get their hands on the manuscript. Problem? When Diana asks for it again, the manuscript appears as lost as it has been for the last three centuries. Diana is the descendent of a powerful line of witches, but she’s been hiding her witch abilities ever since her parents were murdered, so the last thing she wants is the Stalker Army at her back – and who blames her?

But then Matthew Clairmont walks in, an enigmatic and supposedly charming, aristocratic vampire who’s been around for the last thousand-or-so years and for some reason unknown to mankind, thinks Diana is the most amazing woman he’s ever laid eyes upon.  I’m willing to understand his point at the start of the book, because Diana was pretty cool in a nerdy, scholarly way, but as soon as Diana and Matthew meet, her personality goes entirely downhill. Diana isn’t fond of Matthew’s attention at first, mostly because she doesn’t want to communicate with vampires. But then she begins falling for him. Even if he’s a stalker of the sort that makes Twilight-Edward seem like a harmless kid.

Matthew breaks into Diana’s apartment and follows her everywhere, all in the name of protecting her. Right, I’m sure all stalkers in the world would agree they’re just “protecting” the person they’re stalking. The worst part is that Diana, who was clever, intelligent and down-to-earth at the start of the book, quickly turns into a mumbling, agreeing, head over heels in love, older version of Bella. All the more annoying is this change because Diana was a likeable character at the start. She had personality. In walks Matthew, gone is personality.

Matthew is extremely controlling. He starts to decide every aspect of Diana’s life. Even worse than that, he binds her to a huge commitment without her knowledge. But she’s okay with that. He’s acting all powerful and bossy, and she’s fine with that. At least in the Twilight books there was a logical reason behind this – Bella, who was human, was a much easier target than Edward. But here Diana has powers of her own, quite impressive powers to say the least. If she unleashes them, there’s no foe who could stand against her. Yet instead of using the powers she inherited, she turns to Matthew for help. Every single time. Like she has no mind of her own. She becomes the epitome of a damsel in distress.

The plot isn’t really that spectacular either. Diana summons the manuscript – pretty cool – and the entire supernatural population wants it, although have of them have no idea why. A war is about to start between the supernatural races, all because of this manuscript. That’s a nice idea, but it never develops into a full plot because as soon as Matthew and Diana fall in love, their romance becomes the plot, and everything else is pushed to the side.

Also? The entire book seems to span about a week. So Diana falls head over heels with Matthew in a week, they move to his castle, and they’re willing to risk their life for each other. Yeah. I’m totally buying that story.

Compared to this, Twilight should’ve won an award.

Diana is the most annoying character in history. She quickly becomes a total Mary Sue, with every possible witch power you can think of, making the Charmed witches look like amateurs. Yet she constantly screams for help and waits for Matthew to come rescue her. She has no more mind of her own, everything he does is all right for her, even if he’s a controlling freak.

Matthew isn’t a love interest – he’s a psychopathic stalker. He makes every decision involving Diana without her consent, controls her in every possible way, and keeps secrets from her to protect her. He’s obnoxious and annoying, hangs on to ancient beliefs and constantly wants to be an alpha male.

Then there’s the sheer length of this “gem”. The book is a whopping 600 pages, and about 200 or more of these could’ve been easily chopped. Nothing happens for dozens of pages except boring, supposedly romantic conversation that completely falls flat. A lot of stuff feels repetitive. Diana sleeps, drinks herbal tea, waits for Matthew to return, sleeps again, and repeat. There’s also a lot of wine drinking, begging for sex (yes, Diana really begs Matthew for sex at some point) and a lot of sitting around and doing nothing. Nothing really happens until at the end, and then the action is over in a heartbeat.

There were only two things slightly redeeming about this book. One was the academic setting. The libraries and academic buildings were very well described, and I could imagine myself walking there. Two, was the house of Diana’s aunt. The house almost had its own personality. It could add rooms whenever more guests arrived, kept out the bad guys, and changed by will. Pretty darn awesome.

Unfortunately, that’s the only thing remotely awesome about this book.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone, unless you feel like Twilight didn’t give you enough reasons to pull your hair out.


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