Diana Bishop is a witch, though after frightening experiences with magic and the premature death of her parents, she has sworn off the use of her power, determining to live completely as a human being. Picking the most innocuous course of study available to her, Diana becomes a respected historian whose specialty is the study of old alchemical texts. While preparing to present a paper at a prestigious conference, Diana travels to Oxford and the Bodleian Library where a brush with the old alchemical text, Ashmole 782, introduces her to ancient (though sexy!) vampire Matthew Clairmont, and puts her in a world of trouble as the creatures who are after the book to discover its true meaning to witches, vampires and demons close in upon her.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is one of those books that I won’t say much about because it is really an experience book. You have to curl up with it yourself and just let the story unfold for you. You’ll have questions, you’ll get some answers, you’ll love what characters are doing, you’ll think that they should have made different choices. It’s great. The book itself will make it physically easy for you to do so as it is a hefty tome, and practically forces you to sit and give it your undivided attention. The reading of it is also a very sensory experience – Harkness is a wonderfully evocative writer, and I easily accepted the world she created. In the savory sentences and creamy pages, I got lost in her version of Oxford where vampires, witches and demons inhabit the world, only slightly shielded from human notice.
A good chunk of the beginning takes place at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, which is the most happening library in the world, what with all that research, and witches, demons and sexy vampires running around. I loved it. Her characterization of the leads is deep and held my attention throughout. One of the things that always concerns me with vampires is that they are so old, and this is scarcely ever adequately addressed in plots. I was pleased to see that the long life that Matthew and other vampires have experienced shapes their individual personalities as well as their behavior as a group. The age issue isn’t glossed over. Neither is Diana slowly beginning to explore her powers as a witch, nor the consequences that come with denying who you are. A lot of this book is about dealing with things that are hidden – creatures that are openly hidden in human society, hidden fears which have to be uncovered and faced, and hidden feelings that have to be acknowledged and explored for survival.
If you are a lover of history and wine, old books and libraries, vampires and witches, and engaging love stories woven alongside intricate plots, then this is probably the book for you. Though A Discovery of Witches is also the first in a planned trilogy (drat! 2012 for the next book), it ends in a way that makes you hunger for the next book, but with also with a feeling of satiety about what was already read. Highly recommended.