A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
What a thrill! I was hooked when I read “Oxford’s Bodleian Library” in the summary – it was my favorite spot in Oxford when I lived in England two years ago. A lover of archival stories, fantasies, historical fiction, and romance, this book was absolutely perfect.
The beauty of Diana’s character is that she is flawed. She is intelligent and athletic, but it’s all about drive, and a desire to avoid who she truly is: a witch. She worked hard for her multiple degrees, and her interests and curiosity motivated her to continue with her education. It’s not natural brilliance, which many authors instill into their characters. Diana is athletic, but only so that she does not succumb to panic attacks. Her adrenaline (which is really her trapped magic) builds up to the point of explosion, and Diana needs to get rid of it in a healthy way. She’s independent, and a very well-rounded character. None of this disappears when Matthew, a vampire, enters the picture.
Matthew is a fantastic character. I want to describe him as “perfect,” but that’s too cliché for a description of a vampire and he is not perfect in the slightest. Yet, what makes his character great is an excellent blend of instilled human emotion and interaction, mixed with the traditional predator responses. For example, like an animal his emotions change with the slightest scent, movement, distraction. He’s very alpha male without being a dominant, insufferable git who never listens to what others have to say. Yet his human qualities remain: he fights the thirst for blood by establishing a thirst for knowledge.
As far as the plot goes, this book could be divided into three obvious sections: Oxford is the rising plot, France is the pinnacle, and America is when commotion begins, plotting the next step ensues, and the journey into the next book begins. This All Souls trilogy is going to be brilliant. A wonderful blend of fantasy, romance, science, and history. Using DNA to explain magical creatures? How cool is that?