I recently joined a few virtual book clubs, and one of them was for booktokers in Ohio. For this month, we voted to read A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (published by Viking). This had been on my “want to read” shelf for a while, so I was so excited to read it!
Deborah Harkness is a history professor and American scholar who ended up writing a bestselling series with the All Souls series. The series also made it to television on AMC Plus, Sundance Now, and Shudder. (unfortunately, I have none of those streaming services).
A Discovery of Witches is the first book in an adult dark-academia fantasy series, published first in 2011. The book is thick, at 581 pages, and it took me considerable time to read (about two weeks). A Discovery of Witches follows the story of a reluctant witch, Diana Bishop, who accidentally breaks the spell on a long-ago hidden manuscript, bringing the attention of mysterious vampire Matthew Bishop, as well as a variety of other witches, daemons, and vampires–not all of them well-meaning.
Despite a lot of the negative reviews of this book, I loved it. I found it full of suspense and sustenance. There are the tropes of hidden powers, forbidden relationships, magical wars, and a slow burn romance. A VERY SLOW BURN. This is not the book for you if you want spice, but if you just love love in all its forms–even abstinent ones–you might like this.
I also thought there was great worldbuilding. Deborah built a whole history and lore for each of the creatures: witch, vampire, daemon. They each have prejudices about the other and rules to follow and I found it very believable and complex.
The character development was good, albeit slow. I suppose in a trilogy with each book being over five-hundred pages, you don’t want characters to immediately find their strength or love or mercy. However, I do wish they could have found themselves a bit faster than the pace of this novel.
But, speaking of characters, we get some great sapphic representation in Diana’s aunts, which I appreciated.
I can see why some people may not like the book. At times it can get stuffy, bogged down with information of both the historical and scientific kinds. But given that the characters are scholars and that this is written by a scholar, I felt that this made sense.
It also ends on a cliffhanger, but the good news is the next book is already out, so you don’t have to wait!
Overall, I’ve rated this book four stars. Some other books this reminded me of were The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and Wicked by Gregory MaGuire.
Trigger Warnings: death of parents, gore, torture, violence.
Check out the trailer for the tv series here!