Review of ‘A Discovery of Witches’ by Deborah Harkness

WitchesThanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the review copy of this book.

I knew I was going to love this book as soon as I saw it described as “Twilight for grown ups”. I have not been this engrossed in the world of a novel for a long time! It definitely has a lot in common with the Twilight books but it has a lot more depth, with interesting themes of literature, history and science.

The similarities to the Twlight series include:

  • Overprotective male vampire protagonist
  • Seemingly normal, slightly whiny, female protagonist who actually has stunning abilities which could save the world
  • Loving vampire family
  • Vampire doctors
  • Questions over whether vampires can procreate
  • Lots of kissing but no sexual consummation of relationship
  • Evil authoritarian powers trying to divide the main couple and the question of whether to turn the female into a vampire in order to solve this problem

I also thought the book had a lot in common with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, with its authoritarian male love interest and intellectual middle-aged female lead. That comparison is likely to grow even stronger in the next book which appears feature time travel more heavily.

I absolutely loved the first two thirds of this book when reticent witch Diana meets ancient vampire Matthew. The love story builds slowly and beautifully. The story is told mostly from Diana’s point of view but there is the occasional chapter about Matthew written in the third person, which helps to move the story along and breaks up the repetitiveness of Diana’s thoughts.

I found the last third slightly less compelling. This may be because it’s less interesting to read about a couple who has got together and is happy, but also because there are a lot more characters in this section, so the story is less focused. Also, I did not enjoy the out-dated gender politics which come to the fore at the end of the book. It’s fine for a 1,500 year old vampire to believe that he should be in charge and single-handedly make all the decisions but it’s not OK for a 21st century woman to agree to these conditions so quickly and happily.

I also loved the settings for the first two thirds of the book. I thought academic Oxford and ancestral France were beautifully drawn and really atmospheric and also grounded in reality despite the fantastical storyline. However, the haunted Bishop house in Madison was a less convincing setting as was the plot line in this section setting up the next book, which involves time travel. I don’t think the mechanics of the time travel were explained well enough, people seem to travel back into their own bodies, yet they can still travel back to before they were born?

That said, I still have high hopes for the rest of the series. The writing in the first half of this book is masterful and the storyline is intriguing and I can’t wait to read more.


9 thoughts on “Review of ‘A Discovery of Witches’ by Deborah Harkness”

    1. Thanks, I’m going to give myself a couple of books’ break and then crack on with the next one. I needed something a little shorter and lighter after this door-stop of a book!

  1. I have been meaning to read this book for ages and still haven’t managed to get my teeth into it. Your review has inspired me to at least start and enjoy the first part of the book.
    Thank you for the blog nomination too. It takes me a while to pay those forward, but I will 🙂

  2. A friend of mine just recommended this to me today! Two recommendations for the same book in one day is like kismet – reserving it at the library now!

  3. I picked this book up when it first came out and have never looked back. I have lost track of how often I’ve read ADOW and the sequel, Shadow of Night. The third (and final) in the series comes out in two weeks, Book of Life. I truly feel that this book has so thing for everyone – if you like history, mythology, romance, the paranormal – you will find something to love here. Professor Harkness is a historian, so you can spend hours researching the names and places in these books. They all mean something. Now, if this would only be transferred to the screen and Richard Armitage cast as Matthew Clairmont, my life would be complete.

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