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A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness

01/05/2011. Contributed by Sarah Bruch

Buy A Discovery Of Witches (The All Souls Trilogy book 1) in the USA - or Buy A Discovery Of Witches (The All Souls Trilogy book 1) in the UK

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A Discovery Of Witches (The All Souls Trilogy book 1) by Deborah Harkness. pub: Headline. 594 page enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-75537-403-8 pub: Headline. 594 page hardback. Price: GBP14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7553-7402-1).

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Diana Bishop is the daughter of two powerful witches. Unfortunately, she doesn’t want to have anything to do with her paranormal heritage. This probably has a great deal to do with the fact that both her parents were killed, possibly for their craft. Her aunt, Sarah Bishop, along with many of the book’s other characters try desperately to get her to use the powers she so clearly has within her, but she’s having none of it. That is until she accidentally discovers a highly powerful text within the shelves of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. From this moment on she is pursued by the witches, daemons and vampires she has spent her life trying to avoid, amongst them, the suave vampire, Matthew Clairmont.

This is Deborah Harkness’ first fiction novel and it promises not to be the last. Previously, Harkness has written non-fiction around the subjects of alchemy ‘John Dee’s Conversations With Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, And The End Of Nature’, wine on her blog and Elizabethan London, ‘The Jewel House: Elizabethan London And The Scientific Revolution’. As you get further into this first work of fiction, it’s obvious she has used her previous research into these areas to enhance this story. I did find it odd when I read such detailed descriptions of the wine the vampires tend to drink, until I had read Harkness’ website. Now I understand she has a great passion for wine. Everything apart from Elizabethan London has been used within this first book, maybe this could be a clue as to a theme in the next book?

Harkness certainly likes her descriptive passages, she describes almost everything going on around the characters in great detail. This makes a lot of this novel either something you will enjoy or something you find excessive. In my case, I enjoyed almost every minute of it. I have to admit there were parts of the novel that did drag because of the description. The only other author I can think of who uses this much description would be Anne Rice, if you’re a fan of one I can assume you’ll be a fan of the other. I’m not sure whether some more ruthless cutting of these descriptive passages could have produced a shorter, more enjoyable and less intimidating novel.

This novel does take a really long time to get going, but there are some highly enjoyable sections of fast-paced action in between the sections describing yoga in detail. It’s a book to be savoured, not a quick rush through, something to enjoy over a few days. Harkness has obviously put a lot of work into creating both the actual world of Oxford, France, etc and the paranormal world of her imagination. I liked the glimpses into the way the paranormal entities in her world have organised themselves, learning it all slowly in a kind of drip-feed throughout the novel. Sometimes I did feel as though I could do with a bit more history during certain sections, but eventually in the gradual nature of this book things are revealed. Each character seemed to take their own moment to tell their history, from the vast history of the vampires to the many generations of the witches. Even Diana’s childhood home has a definite character with several humorous moments involved. The only characters that aren’t really described in terms of history are the daemons, maybe there will be more about them in later books.

One thing that I found upset my enjoyment of this book is the use of American words in parts of the book meant to be from the UK, for example, ‘Fall’ appeared in a newspaper article supposedly in an English newspaper. This is something that should have been picked up and removed from this otherwise very well-researched novel. There were also some really weird descriptions used for some of the characters, I think at one point Diana described a character’s hair as having the colour and texture of honey. Colour I can understand, texture sounds a little odd to me. Maybe Harkness was trying to describe the flow of the hair, rather than the texture, if so this is a little clunky.

I sometimes found that Diana could be very weak at although she is constantly being told she is being brave and a lioness. Often when faced with a dire situation, she seems to retreat into her own world and wait for someone to rescue her. Hopefully, as the novels progress, she’ll become a stronger person as she learns to control her powers more.

I enjoyed the fact that this is an urban fantasy but the characters are not teen-agers, nor do they behave as such. It seems to be trying to bridge the gap between the current urban fantasy romances and something a little more grown-up without being full of sex. The love story between Diana and Matthew the vampire is a very traditional tale, no random sex scenes here.

Warning: there is a massive great cliff-hanger at the end of this book. If you’re not one for this type of ending, I would maybe wait until the next book is published. I personally cannot wait to get hold of the next book and hopefully many more in the future.

Sarah Bruch

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