Review of ‘A Discovery of Witches’

Filled with witches and vampires, castles and enchanted houses, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, published by Penguin Books, is a flawed but captivating take on historical paranormal romance for adults.

Witches and Vampires Oh My!

A Discovery of Witches
A Discovery of Witches
Deborah Harkness

Diana Bishop, a 33-year-old historian and witch, has long given up magic when she unintentionally summons the mysterious alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, from the shelves of the Bodleian Library in the course of her research. Diana does not yet understand that she has uncovered something coveted by other magical beings—witches, vampires, and daemons alike— and both friend and foe are closely watching her.

One such creature watching Diana is the alluring vampire and geneticist Matthew Clairmont. At the same time, he wishes to delve into the text himself for his own research; what soon develops for Matthew is more than an interest in the manuscript. As malicious creatures watch Diana, he asserts a fierce protectiveness over her and a forbidden romance develops between the two. Together they must guard not only their relationship but also the secrets of the manuscript, most of which they still must uncover themselves.

Harkness’s stunning settings, coupled with her attention to historical detail in A Discovery of Witches elevates this tale beyond a simple supernatural romance. The romance itself is still plenty riveting, however, captured in sensual scenes and heart-pounding rescue missions. Harkness’s characters are as intriguing as her settings, and she manages to sufficiently develop even the many minor characters that fill the novel. Her ability to naturally weave in queer characters, including Diana’s Aunt Sarah and her partner, Emily, was refreshing.

Imperfect Yet Delightful

One major flaw of the novel, however, lies in Diana and Matthew’s whirlwind romance, which at times strays beyond intense and into a display of cringe-worthy power dynamics; Matthew is a foreboding character and a natural leader, but his behavior need not stray into abuse to convey this.

Another flaw of the novel is the pacing. A Discovery of Witches spends its first half on the romance’s slow-build. While it is satisfying to revel in it, Harkness leaves much of the significant plot development and information about the magical realm for the last few chapters. It feels rushed, but luckily, there is a sequel to follow.

Final Thoughts

Harkness’s novel is undoubtedly imperfect, but she writes rich fantasy well; detailed, enthralling, and romantic, for all its shortcomings, A Discovery of Witches is an intriguing and indulgent read.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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Product Details:

Pub Date: February 8, 2011Page Count: 592ppAge Range: 18 & Over
ISBN: 978-0-6700-2241-0Publisher: VikingList Price: $30.00

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Ashley Lessa
Ashley Lessa

Ashley Lessa is a freelance writer and non-profit administrator residing in southern Massachusetts. She holds a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College.

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