Title: A Discovery of Witches
Series: All Souls Trilogy #1
Author: Deborah Harkness
Discovery of witches for me was a confusing book. It elegantly blended the worlds of science, academia and magic but then provides a long drawn out lukewarm romance plot. It is both a successful page turner and just too damn long! I was conflicted on what to rate it.
We follow Dr. Diana Bishop on her sabbatical to Oxford University to study the ancient collection of alchemical texts. Diana is also a descendent of a long lineage of witches that she has gone to lengths to avoid. So, when one of her study texts shows signs of magical properties. She finds herself unwillingly drawn back to the world of witches, demons and vampires. Her guide to this world is Matthew Clairmont, a vampire geneticist (thats a statement I never through i would write) who starts off using Diana due to further his own interests in the manuscript. However, feelings develop between the pair as they try to unlock the manuscripts secrets, breaking a fragile detente between their two races and plunging them into more trouble than they realise.
At first Diana is awesome. Finally some awesome Lady PhD rep! She was career driven. I was annoyed that she fell into the naturally gifted prodigy trope instead of the working your ass off, hard grafters that most of my fellow PhD colleagues were, myself included. Even so I loved Diana in the first 100 pages, until the romance plot enters. Believe it or not academics are just regular people who are able to maintain normal human interpersonal relationships. Unfortunately, Diana turns from independent academic to following Matthew around like a lost puppy. depending on him for everything and loosing all that made him a strong character. So disappointing.
Matthew was both interesting and frustrating. He is charming and his longevity lends its self to some interesting backstories being told through out the book. However, we are also told he is a fearsome and powerful vampire not to be trifled with yet all evidence is to the country. Instead, we get the hip health buff, wine connoisseur and expert in Yoga, all of which dulls the danger considerably. One particular Yoga based flirting scene more cheesy and cringe worthy than threatening. I felt he actually read more like a werewolf at times. He often talked of a protective pack instinct and times even growled, which was overall just confusing.
The most interesting characters were most defiantly the minor ones most of which are only briefly mentioned in the book. For example the sassy grandma ghost than enters the book in its last 200 pages definitely holds her own. Most of them are left somewhat underdeveloped despite some of them having their entire life stories told within the first few pages of meeting them.
This book is just too damn long especially since nothing substantial really happens. It is a simplistic romance plot, not that there is anything wrong with that, which just trickles to an ending setting up the next in the series without any real substance. The nearly 700 pages are mostly padding and description. While, some of these were the most enjoyable parts of the book they also just made it drag and detracted from their being any form of plot.
I have to talk about the science! For those that don’t know i have a PhD in evolutionary biology and I currently work in a department studying mtDNA so when I encountered discussion of both these elements of science I got worried. Nothing puts me off a book faster than badly researched science. A discovery of witches was a present surprise. The science is mostly accurate, if you discount the fantasy elements.
The saving grace in this book is entirely the setting. It is obvious that Harkness knows both Oxford University and the Bodleian Library very very well. They are described to the most minute detail that really does convey the mystical and magical properites that seem to radiate around these ancient buildings. The description of all of Matthews houses from his countryside mansion, All Souls staff apartment, Scottish hunting lodge and French chateau are very atmospheric and unique that really do make this story about magic. The Bishop’s family home with the mind of its own just cements the great world building elements further.
Therefore I was torn, I loved the science filled magical world. I want to visit all the locations within this world again, but I just don’t love the characters we get to navigate it with. Therefore, the sequel goes on the maybe list. If I find it in my local library with nothing else pressing on my TBR I may pick it up but I am not actively seeking out to continue.