A Discovery of Witches
By Deborah Harkness
Diana Bishop is from one of the most powerful witch families known to exist and she may be one of the family’s most powerful witches ever, but she goes out of her way not to practice magic. She’s become a well-known scholar in the fields of history and science, in particular the intersection of science and witchcraft, and while she might not practice magic intentionally, she’s aware of it all around her. While doing research in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, Diana recalls a manuscript — Ashmole 782 — which has been considered lost for the last 150 years. Finding it bound by a spell, she breaks it unknowingly, and once the book is open, she can’t say why but something about it is all wrong. Slightly shaken by her discovery and the magic, Diana sends the book back to the stacks bothered by its contents and the influx of witches, daemons, and vampires that have suddenly gathered in her vicinity. Unsettled by what she’s seen, Diana leaves the library and plans to forget the book and hopes that the attention from the other creatures will fade too.
Matthew Clairmont is a pioneering researcher known for his work in the genetics field. He’s also a vampire looking for a way to get his hands on the Ashmole 782 manuscript and he thinks he may have found that way through Diana. What Matthew doesn’t expect is to fall in love with her in the process of looking for the book. Diana is an enigma to him — not only does she appeal to him both intellectually and physically but he stuns even himself when he can’t walk away from her even when he should.
Diana and Matthew find themselves in an unorthodox relationship, and because of it, are being hunted by the Congregation, a group of witches, daemons, and vampires that rule the world of creatures. Diana and Matthew find themselves in danger from not just from the discovery of Ashmole 782 but also their growing relationship. Knowing Diana will never be able to defend herself without knowledge of and control over her powers, Matthew convinces her they must go to her family for help. Safe with Diana’s family of witches they try to understand what her connection is to the manuscript and why every vampire, witch, and daemon is after it.
I love books about books and throw in witches, daemons, and vampires and it appears I become very easy to please. Harkness throws a lot into the story — witchcraft, love, vampires, daemons, secret covens, lost spell-bounds books — but she makes it all work and very smoothly at that. It works thanks to the characters. Diana and Matthew are more than just witch and vampire and it’s about more than spells and bloodlust. While I’m not always a huge fan of love stories mixed with fantasy stories, it works very well here and manages to become the story without overwhelming it.
Matthew’s history combined with Diana’s research, lend the story a fantastic scope that spans generations but the science Harkness infuses into the story grounds it so it never feels as if it goes off on a strange tangent. There are explanations for the witchcraft as well as background for the hidden lives of the creatures (witches, vampires, daemons, and humans) that make the story feel less fantastic and more realistic. Well, as close as one can get to real in a story about creatures that don’t exist.
A Discovery of Witches is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy. I for one will be waiting anxiously for the next two books in the series.