I don’t read many vampire novels anymore and I haven’t embraced the vampire romance category that’s been all the rage of late. What helped me take a chance on A Discovery of Witches is that the book opens with Diana Bishop, the main character, doing research at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. I was hooked from the first page. There IS some romance in the book, but not enough that it slows down the action or gets annoying (well, not too annoying, anyway). The romance is, in fact, not gratuitous, but is a significant factor in the slow unfolding of the world view of the non-humans that Diana is pushed in to. She doesn’t get it at first and neither will you, dear reader, but all (or some) is revealed as the story unfolds.
Without giving away too much about the plot, Diana Bishop is a witch who has for years tried to deny her powers so that she could be sure that all of her accomplishments are due to own efforts and not magic. Diana is from a family of witches: she lost her parents when she was a child and was raised by her lesbian aunt and partner. (A lesbian couple presented in a positive light was a nice surprise!) At the opening of the book Diana meets a vampire in the Bodleian, Matthew Clairmont, who has been watching her. He is, of course, hot, as the current literary convention demands, but he’s also a serious scientist. They first meet on the night Diana stumbles across a manuscript that will change her life.
The action moves from Oxford to France to New England. Clairmont has been a vampire for ages, as are some of his friends, family, and enemies, so there’s a nice smattering of historical bits and teasers. Even George Washington and the Revolutionary War make a brief appearance, which made me happy in light of also recently reading Chernow’s bio of Washington. I found it easy to embrace the world Harkness created.
Deborah Harkness is a history professor and while this is not her first book, it is her first novel, which is book one of the All Souls Trilogy. I plan on reading the second book when it comes out sometime in 2012.
Throughout this fun and often thought-provoking novel, Harkness’s obvious love for libraries, books, and scholarship shine like rays of hope that books still–and always will–matter.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness