Mary A.

Review: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1)

Released December 27, 2011;
592 pages

Author: Deborah Harkness

Overview from Barnes and Noble Website:

Deborah Harkness’s sparkling debut, A Discovery of Witches, has brought her into the spotlight and galvanized fans around the world. In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and a descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, deep in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont.

Harkness has created a universe to rival those of Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova, and she adds a scholar’s depth to this riveting tale of magic and suspense. The story continues in book two, Shadow of Night, and concludes with The Book of Life.

Personal Review

I will admit, I watched the show before I read the book. Now, I am not sure if that influenced my review in any way, but I can say that I may not have bothered watching the show if this book was my first introduction to the story.

Through many other blogs and reviews, one central criticism I have read about this book is that it can sometimes read as textbook rather than a fantasy book. And to this, I must agree. For a book that has witches, vampires, and daemons and rivalries and angry history between the three groups (and add humans to the list), there is an awful lot of time spent on such mundane things. I honestly can’t tell you a lot of the in-depth descriptions because if I didn’t learn these things while I was paying to go to school, I sure as heck am not going to learn it now when I am waiting for the next actual plot line to begin in this book.

Give me a pair of scissors and 20 minutes and I can trim the fat out of this book (yes, that is a Chonky reference). Where the show did better is in regards to the Congregation (a committee that consists of representatives from the three paranormal groups). Because the book focused on the viewpoint of the main character, Diana (and at times, Matthew), the reader misses out on what else is happening in the story. This is an issue with all first person narratives, but it works in many books and is not a bad way to write. Where it fails in this book is that we are stuck sitting with Diana as she studies her way to victory. The show was able to splice in scenes of outside events to spice up an episode and allow for different viewpoints and scenery.

Another part where the story fell a bit flat would be the two main characters. Both Diana and Matthew act more like hormonal, stubborn teenagers than they do rational thinking adults. Diana is a scholar who is viewed as a calm, thoughtful individual. But, often times she is just stubborn for the sake of being stubborn as if continually arguing with others is the only characteristic writers can come up with to make a strong, female character.

And Matthew is the same possessive vampire trope that has been trotted along all vampire genres. Can we stop as a society having these “romantic” stories with vampires include breaking into people’s homes and watching the love interest sleep?! Why is this a thing? I get it, they are “drawn” to these other characters. But, that is no excuse! It also doesn’t help that Matthew was not quite the dynamic lead that could help carry this series and he acted just as childish and stubborn (sure, Matthew Goode is nice and I can watch him regardless of the dialogue).

The romance between the two main characters fell flat as well and for such a long book, the transition between two opposing species to ride-or-die lovers was quite jarring. Can’t we add a few more pages of the actual budding romance instead of paranormal yoga?

I am vacillating between whether or not I want to continue in the book series or just stick with the show. There is a part of my brain that won’t let me quit a book series (no matter how difficult), but never say never.

My advice, this would be one of the few times I would suggest watching the show and not reading the book. I think you actually get more from the story and the characters through the show (no matter how campy it may be).

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