Book Review – A Discovery of Witches by Deborah E. Harkness

by Maryse on November 2, 2011 · 10 comments

in Miscellaneous

A Discovery of Witches: A Novel
This book has me confounded in regards to my stance on the whole thing. Did I like it? Love it? Sometimes both. The book is extremely descriptive. Every smell, sight and memory comes alive with consistent colorful and rich detail. But sometimes (okay, I admit… a lot) it bored me. I’d start fidgeting, and my attention would wane, and I’d be anxious to get back to the stuff that settles me into that awesome slow motion reading I love to do. You know, when the book is so good, it’s almost as if you start reading in slow motion, absorbing every detail, living every moment,heart pounding (in love or in fear). That’s when I know I’m into a book.

Me on Facebook:

Maryse: I started this one last night and I’m at 20% so far… lemme say, it’s slow and easy to put down… FOR NOW. I keep hearing that this one is AMAZING and will be one of those that we can’t stop thinking about, so even though I’ve been meh so far, I’m actually excited to get to that obsessed feeling again. After all, it’s over 500 pages long, and 20% barely touches the story at all. I can say it’s interesting, and I’m feeling intrigued. I’m anxious to feel much more for it, though.

Donna: I agree, it is kinda slow go at first, but at the end I was pleased and will read the next one. When does that come out?

In this book’s case, I found that towards the end, I honestly started reading some parts in skim mode. Trying to get past all of the intricate DNA biology lessons, the family tree explanations, the physics. Granted, they were actually well explained, and understandable if the reader took the time to slow down and read these parts to grasp all of the “elements” (whether they be magical of scientific). It all came together rather well. The thing is, after what felt like the 50th lesson on one of those subjects, I was getting antsy.

My Facebook update:

Maryse: Okay… Halfway through the book and I’m bored again. Sometimes I’m right there with them, sometimes I feel like I’m doing homework. And not the easy kind, either. The super-smart people kind. Well, at least I’ll be smarter once I’m done. That’s always good, right? Now taking a quick break… I need a break from alchemy lessons ;)

Reading it required breaks. This WAS put-downable. But I wanted to get to the good parts, so I persevered, after all, this is an extremely well-received, very popular book! I was hoping to be in for some serious fun! And that super Alpha-male vampire hero (refined, experienced, exceptionally intelligent, painfully handsome and… dangerous)…

Humans had it all wrong when it came to vampires, I reflected. To make them frightening, humans imagined vampires as bloodthirsty. But it was Matthew’s remoteness, combined with his flashes of anger and abrupt mood swings, that scared me.

…he was certainly causing a frenzy amongst the readers. I’ve been missing that frenzied feeling, lately, and I was hoping to be swept away with it all.

But something just wouldn’t let me attach myself to it, completely. I read it, but only as a reader. I didn’t get to experience it fully. I barely felt like I was living any of it, because I was too busy slowing down and learning. I felt that grasping all of the fundamental aspects of their world might make for a richer experience and might add to this “ending” that I was going to love. That, coupled with *almost* getting to the serious romance, and then being torn from it, I never fully become one with it. I started wondering if many of the ecstatic readers might have been spellbound? Maybe I just missed the magical-spell-of-enchantment boat when the book first came out, and didn’t get that added *oomph* that might have made my reading experience more magical? ;)

But despite it all, I continued. Boring or not, I was going to get to those good parts! Did I ever get there? Sort of. I mean, there were certainly a few surprises I wasn’t expecting… a few interesting reveals (one towards the end had me raising an “over-the-top” eyebrow). But I think by the time I did “get there”, I was so anxious to be done that I was more disappointed then anything. It was an interesting end, for sure, but… not what I was expecting, considering all of the excitement surrounding it.

So what’s it about? Diana Bishop (a witch, hiding from her powers, trying to live a normal “human” life as a history scholar) is doing research in a University library, and comes across a mysterious alchemy book (a manuscript entitled Ashmole 782). There seems to be a bond between her and the book, and after perusing it, taking notes, noticing that it has some “issues”, she puts it back, and continues on with her research.

But soon she begins noticing many “others” following her. Surrounding her. Various vampires, daemons, and other witches.

And one in particular approaches her first. Matthew Clairmont, a professor of biochemistry and neuroscience, and a VERY old vampire. He seems intrigued by her, but he also appears to be mostly concerned about this “book” she found. Apparently, the “others” felt her connection to it, and this book has been missing for hundreds of years. A book that could possibly contain the secrets to save, or destroy them.

“They’re following you because they believe you’ve found something lost many years ago.” he said reluctantly. “They want it back, and they think you can get it for them.”

Matthew follows her. Stalks her. Tries to talk with her. And at times, even protects her from the potentially dangerous curiosity of the others who are also stalking her. And overtime they develop a friendship of sorts.

“Vampires aren’t particularly good at friendship.” He sounded angry again.

“Look, if you want me to leave you alone – ”

“Of course not,” Matthew interrupted. “It’s just that vampire relationships are… complicated. We can be protective – possessive, even. You might not like it.”

“A little protectiveness sounds pretty good to me right now.”

My answer brought a look of raw vulnerability to Matthew’s eyes. “I’ll remind you of that when you start complaining,” he said, the rawness quickly replaced by wry amusement.

They work together to uncover the mystery that is plaguing them all and to pull each other out of their own personal despair.

As they forge on with their relationship, of course, feelings deepen (quick note: this one always remains PG – she finds other ways to describe their “affection”). They are perfect for each other. She’s a history buff, and he IS history. But some do not approve. Witches and vampires were taught that they do not mix. Like species only mate with like species. Her family, his family… and others.

A lot to contend with in this book. Their pasts, their present, their possible future. The future of their world. That is the grand scheme of things. But personally, Diana discovers some very important stuff about herself, about her magic, about her lineage…

“I don’t use magic or power or witchcraft or whatever you want to call it. It’s not who I am.” Two red patches burned on my cheeks.

“It’s who you are. It’s in your blood. It’s in your bones. You were born a witch, just as you were born to have blond hair and blue eyes.”

I’d never been able to explain to anyone my reasons for avoiding magic. Sarah and Em had never understood. Matthew wouldn’t either. My tea grew cold, and my body remained in a tight ball as I struggled to avoid his scrutiny.

“I don’t want it,” I finally said through gritted teeth, “and never asked for it.”

… and tries to uncover what her connection is with this mysterious book. And all the while that she is uncovering her own truth, she is uncovering Matthew’s. There are some pretty tense moments in this one.

I was planning on starting a new file on my computer with the title “Phrases That Sound One Way to Witches but Mean Something Else to Vampires.”

LOL!! Loved that!!

So that’s it. Overall? Good. Not great… for me. My husband on the other hand, when I was telling him about the book, (and I mean allllll about the book) he got excited and said it sounded like his kind of story! He told me that if it was a movie, he’d definitely see it. Well, he’s in luck because I think it’s been optioned for one!

Again, plenty of good moments, a couple of exciting ones, and just a few that made me feel like I might start loving this book (the romance stuff – almost perfect, but again, for some reason I wasn’t swooning). But there was toooo much of everything else (and I mean everything. Day to day living in every detail,  science, philosophy, and history lessons that make up a large portion of the story). Interesting at times, but in these copious amounts, eventually, boring.

I gave an update to my Facebook friends:

‎Maryse: “80% done with A Discovery of Witches. I’m bored again… this book is not easy to love. Sometimes stuff happens that I connect with so well, and I think – GREAT! It’s gonna be awesome now, and then, I get long moments of boredom not long after the good stuff. *sigh* I’m losing concentration again, so I think I’m going to finish it tomorrow.”

And I was glad to be finally finished. I kept thinking to myself, “I don’t think I’m going to want to read #2. I can’t go through all of this again.” But do you wanna know something weird? After about an hour thinking about the ending and the possibilities of the next book (Shadow of Night – expected release date May 15th 2012), I’m feeling compelled to read it.

*hrmph* Maybe the magic was working it’s spell on me. I feel like it’s going to be a sort of “Outlander-ish” experience. And after a little scary tidbit that “Hamish” (Matthew’s best friend) mentioned to Diana, right at the end, I’m… intrigued.

So…. who read it? Any thoughts?

3.5 stars

And those interested in the trilogy (because it will be one soon), here is the reading order guide: Deborah Harkness – All Souls Trilogy Reading Order

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam November 2, 2011 at 11:45 AM

I totally agree with you. I was really excited to read it after reading all the rave reviews and it just didn’t do it for me.

Maryse November 2, 2011 at 1:04 PM


I know, right? It’s kind of a two-fold issue:

1.) If I had not been so hyped up, expecting more than what it was, perhaps I would have liked it better…


2.) Had I not been told to persist because the book was soooo good and soooo worth it, I would have probably put it down halfway through, for sure.

patricia nesbitt November 2, 2011 at 6:01 PM

See not so sure I wanna take that leap at that price 14.99 (ebook)

Maryse November 2, 2011 at 6:24 PM

Yup… That’s what I paid. The ebook is more than the print version! *shakes head*

Becky November 3, 2011 at 11:52 AM

I hate it when I am reading a book that bores me. I find them difficult to get through, find reasons to keep putting them down (this is when laundry takes priority over reading, LOL). It is rare that I never finish a book…. but it has happened.

I know I am in the minority here, but the Twilight book did that for me. I just could not get into it, and I read 1/4 of it and said “Enough!”. I haven’t picked it up since.

*runs and hides!!*

Dara November 3, 2011 at 2:56 PM

0.O this is why you get paid the big bucks!! the price wasn’t worth the possible disappointment, and like you if i had read the first one..i would also want to read the second! I think i shall wait to see what they do with the movie…ticket prices are cheaper ;)

Kelli November 3, 2011 at 8:31 PM

WELL BUMMER…I actually got a little jump start toward about 60-70% of the way through, then it fizzled again. It could have been so much more! I like the storyline and where she is going with, but the characters could be SOOOOO MUCH MORE! And enough with the bundling, get on with it. Give us something here….

lisa December 5, 2011 at 12:27 PM

Like the rest of you, I expected so much from this book. I struggled to get through it but I did finish it. It could have been so much more, I put it down several times and picked it back up. I will probably read the second book, but it will be a pick up at the library book. Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one, thought maybe I missed something!!!

Maryse December 5, 2011 at 1:01 PM

Lisa… I know. SO MANY LOVED it!! Raving reviews of joy and bliss!! LOL! Ahhhh well, maybe the next one?

Patricia October 22, 2012 at 11:01 PM

I just finished reading Discovery of Witches and experienced some of the same initial reactions mentioned by others. It dragged at first and my mind kept wandering off-topic – too many details about research in the library that make you feel the heroine is already on a plane several stories over your head. However, I became more interested in it when Matthew appeared and I liked it when his theory about the genealogy of witches, vampires, and daemons was introduced and Diana likened it to alchemy. It is an original and clever explanation of how they differ from humans and presented an array of possibly volatile outcomes if they crossed species in reproduction, thereby setting us up for just such an occurrence in the future I would imagine. I also enjoyed D. Harkness’s weaving of history into her story – it was a pleasure to read because she was clearly deeply familiar with the material and it fit into the plot comfortably, not like details tacked on to impress us.
I liked her careful construction of Matthew’s character – I could picture him, found him appealing, and him being 1500 years old was intriguing – what a daunting lot of experience that would be in every way imaginable. He would have seen civilizations rise and fall, much less relationships with women. Diana was not instantly appealing to me as she seemed irritable much of the time in the beginning and too much revolved around her toward the end. Why do these heroines have to become so ego-centric when they meet the right guy? Pretty soon the story starts being told from the standpoint of how everyone interacts with the heroine, i.e., Matthew, Sarah, and Marcus fight over who will heal her when she’s injured, Marthe becomes her biggest fan 20 minutes after she shows up at the French castle, and every witch, vampire, and daemon is seeking her because she is basically The Key. The heroine becomes the sun and the other characters are held in separate orbits of thrall around her. I really wish this “center of attention” thing was not “the dream” – isn’t it enough of a thrill to meet and end up with the love of your life? It’s like you not only want your cake, you want the silverware, table, chairs, and the plate it was served on, too. It reminds me too much of photographs where the guy has eyes only for the girl, but the girl is looking straight into the camera in every shot. I wanted to get wrapped up in the romance, but had a hard time doing so – it just moved at too decorous a pace to be exciting or believable to me. They are so enthralled with one another, yet strangely chaste given the stage to which their relationship progresses. A little breathless abandon would have been welcome. The romance is the center of this story, in spite of all of the interesting premises that have been introduced, and Diana and Matthew need more sexual chemistry that makes us want to turn the pages faster and faster. I very much enjoyed the latter third of the book when they get to Diana’s aunts’ home – Diana’s relatives were well-drawn and the premise of a quirky and enchanted house that has a mind of its own is clever and charming.
In the end, I liked this book and will read the next one, but I never felt as drawn to the two main characters as I thought I would be. Diana and Matthew’s love story is too careful and cerebral to be a page-turner – I think a little “reckless” might be a good thing.

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