Monday 25 June 2012

Some thoughts about A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

This is going to be a very short opinion piece, rather than a review, because I am beyond all kinds of knackered right now. I know that isn’t an excuse (although to be fair, I’ve suddenly developed a huge baby bump from who knows where and have a small person attacking me pretty much 16 hours a day, plus working full time at a job that requires me to stand for 8 hours), but I just finished the sequel to A Discovery of Witches today, and I really want to talk about that, so really the writing of this review was to pave the way for that one, which will be epic, because there is even more science and history and geeky academic stuff I love in the second book...  

Disclosure: I didn’t want to read A Discovery of Witches for ages because it sounded like it was going to be like Twilight. It isn’t. And that is all I am going to say about that series of teen vampire books from now on.

Basic synopsis of A Discovery of Witches, in case there’s anybody left out there who hasn’t read it yet, is thus:
Diana Bishop, a young scholar of alchemy, and also a witch, accidentally calls up an enchanted manuscript in Oxford’s Bodeleian Library. She’s been trying to avoid using her magic and so she sends the book back to the stacks and thinks no more of it, until a host of strange creatures begin to appear in Oxford, headed by the vampire Matthew Clairmont...

Initially (by which I mean within the first two pages) I was a bit jarred by A Discovery of Witches’ casual assumption that the reader will believe in the existence of witches, daemons, and vampires. There is no ‘you’re a wizard, Harry’ moment here. Diana Bishop is a witch from day one, she just doesn’t want to be. One of the most important things about novels of this kind is how successfully they manage to suspend your disbelief, and speaking as a person who tends to roll my eyes at the merest hint of anything even a little cliché, reading a book which initially seems like it’s subscribing to the above mentioned vampire mania, this book did that incredibly well. I got absorbed despite myself, and by a couple of chapters in I wasn’t finding anything at all to roll my eyes at.

The biggest thing about A Discovery of Witches is that it is really well written. The plot is well thought-out and it’s very pacy. Also it helps that they mention food a lot. I like books which mention food, and I love the fact that it’s about vampirism and witchcraft but talks about them in a totally scientific way. Deborah Harkness grounds her magic in reality, which is what made it so great for me. The world of vampires, daemons and witches is one which is pretty much as believable as the world of Harry Potter is to me (and I do secretly still think Hogwarts exists...), and I don’t think I’ve said that about a novel like this since then...

Please forgive the total crapness of this post. I felt the need to say something about this amazing book, but I'm not the most coherent at the moment. The next one will be better, I promise!

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