Rant, Review

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (2011)

All Souls Trilogy, Book 1

Heat Factor: Heavy petting occurs, but I’m not convinced it’s sexy

Character Chemistry: Nah

Plot: Paranormal romance meets The DaVinci Code meets magic coming of age novel where a witch learns to control her powers

Overall: I finished this only through sheer stubbornness

Here’s the story. I heard about this book last fall, when the TV show started. It sounded intriguing, because I love nerdy nerds doing academic things, especially if they’re in the humanities (Possession by A.S. Byatt is definitely in my top ten). Plus there’s some paranormal romance! So I requested it from the library, and then waited months and months for it to be my turn. And then I started reading it, and was like: “Well. Hmm. Ok. Maybe it just starts awkwardly and then gets better.”

Reader: it did not. If anything, it got more annoying, but I had invested so much time into the darn thing that I kept going. 

The basic plot is that Diana is a witch (it’s a genetic thing, witches are actually slightly separate species from humans), but she suppresses her magic and just goes about being a historian. She studies the history of science, with a special focus on alchemy. While doing some research at the Bodleian in Oxford, she gets out a book on alchemy, as one does. 

Sweetest. Library. Ever.

But this book has been lost for years, and a bunch of other creatures want it, including one vampire named Matthew. Plus some daemons, and some mean witches. But really, we care about Matthew here. 

Diana and Matthew start hanging out, even though witches and vampires DO NOT hang out. And then they start to try to figure out what’s going on together. Something about the genetics of magic creatures? And then they get attacked and travel around and fall in love. There is no resolution to any of the mystery, by the way, so if you want that, you’ll have to read all three books. If a story is gripping, this is not a deal-breaker for me, but man. This book was a slog, so I guess the mystery will remain mysterious. 

There are two main things that made this book terrible: the copious details, and the romance. 

Now, I know you guys are all here for the romance, so I’ll start there. It sucked. And not in a sexy, vampire, erotic blood-sucking way. No, in a completely boring, this love story is not believable on any planet kind of way. I’m not even annoyed about all the normal tropey vampire stuff that Matthew does – things like struggling to control his bloodlust and being extremely controlling – because I’m too annoyed about them not having any believable chemistry whatsoever. They are terrible at communicating. Matthew is constantly keeping secrets from Diana, usually involving information that is sort of crucial for her to know. Every time Matthew touches Diana, or even looks at her, she feels an icy chill. Diana is totally cool with one passionate(ish) kiss meaning that they are mated for life – ie married – even though she’s a tenured professor at Yale who up until now had been independent and resourceful because life would be boring without Matthew and his temper tantrums. None of this is sexy. (Nor are the actual sexytimes, none of which involve intercourse. The only scene we actually see involves Matthew giving an extensive history lesson – to a historian – about bundling. Ugggggghhhh.) 

Since Diana and Matthew are not having sex, or even believable intimacy, what are they doing? Glad you asked, because I can tell you in great detail! They are going to yoga. They are eating together – vampires eat raw meat and nuts and berries, when blood is in short supply, in case you were wondering. (Diana figured this out by studying the diet of wolves, and… ok. Whatever.) They drink a shit ton of wine, and discuss what it smells like. Every. Single. Time. Diana drinks a lot of tea with a tiny bit of sugar and a lot of milk. (Yes, she mentions how she takes her tea enough times that I remembered it without going back and checking.) They pack clothing and get dressed in lots of grey and black and navy. Matthew’s clothes are always impeccable. Diana’s wardrobe is mostly stretchy black pants, which she pairs with navy sweaters because she wants the fashion police to get her if the supernatural police don’t. And finally – they push the hair out of Diana’s eyes. Her hair, by the way, is unruly like straw, and also the color of straw, but also has in it all the colors of the rainbow, like red and black. And it’s always in her face. Bitch, get a bobby pin!

Buy Now: Amazon

5 thoughts on “Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (2011)”

      1. Nah – since I thought this book was so weak it’s not high on my TBR list. Maybe I’ll give her another shot someday…


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