Friday, August 24, 2012

A Discovery of Witches

Witches, vampires and daemons...oh MY!  Historian Dr. Diana Bishop is determined to live her life as an ordinary human and not as one of the famous Bishop witches, descended fromBridget Bishop, the first witch burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.  Unfortunately, magic seems to find her anyway while at Oxford's Bodleian Library.  

Diana opens a manuscript which was believed to be lost, since its last sighting was over one hundred years ago.  She feels magic in the manuscript, but ignores it and sends it back, thinking that she is sending away the magic that lurks within the pages.  

"Even at a safe distance, this manuscript was challenging me - threatening the walls I'd erected to separate my career as a scholar from my birthright as the last of the Bishop witches."

Only, it's too late.  She has attracted the attention of all the creatures in Oxford, and beyond, including the attention of Matthew Clairmont, who happens to be a geneticist and a vampire.  Matthew is a very old vampire with a long history and a small, interesting family. Enter the vampire, his family, their history, and a love of wines.

Let me talk about Diana a bit.  She is a historian, which is highly convenient considering how old Matthew Clairmont is.  Even though she has her weaknesses, and has blocked out her powers her whole life, she's tough, and I like that.  One of the wonderful things about Diana's profession is her love of libraries and books, which Harkness puts into words for her readers:

"The smell of the library always lifted my spirits - that peculiar combination of old stone, dust, woodworm, and paper made properly from rags."

This was only one sentence among a hundred describing the sights, sounds, and smells of the various libraries that Diana visits throughout the book.  I don't want to ruin any of the plot by telling you any more.

Now you still may be asking, Vampire love story?  Really?  Yes, really.  Deborah Harkness creeps very close to the line where style and substance meets cheesy cliche, but she does not cross it.  The author saves us from the nausea and keeps A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES from turning into a gooey mess.

This book has been described as the "grown up's" Twilight.  Let me be clear about one thing - there is nothing profane about it..  Instead, there are complex discussions of historical people and places, strategy and logic, as well as genetics and biochemistry.  And yet, somehow, it is not at all boring, I promise. 
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. Alas, there's a bit of bloat to the book. In a particularly saggy patch, Diana and Matthew loll around a French castle, checking e-mail and tracing each other's collarbones. 

But just when I began to wonder whether A Discovery of Witches was nerdy-cute rather than truly magical, the plot accelerated. As the mysteries started to unravel, the pages turned faster. If you're a fan of the paranormal love story, but could do without the teenage angst, you will not be disappointed by A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES. 

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