A Discovery of Witches
The hype for this book has been off the charts. According to the buzz, A Discovery of Witches is Twilight for adults with action, romance, and epic clashes between magical beings. For my money, however, things move at a glacially slow pace for much of the book that, frankly, seems anemic and simply less than many far less heralded books from our disrespected genre.
The first in a trilogy, the book tells the story of Diana Bishop, an American historian studying at Oxford and descendant of a long line of powerful witches. She has spent her adult years distancing herself from her supernatural powers and focusing on her life as a scholar – albeit not a human one.
Diana is working one afternoon in Oxford’s Bodleian library and finds amongst the books she called up one she didn’t request. Ashmole 782, the text in question, is a book of alchemical illustrations that clearly has magical power of which Diana is immediately aware. She glances through it and sends the book back to the stacks.
What Diana doesn’t know is that the magical text has successfully hidden itself for hundreds of years from the witches, demons, and vampires who each want the book for their own purposes. The fact that it revealed itself to Diana suddenly makes her the object of intense and disturbing interest from a variety of supernatural beings. Soon enough, even reluctant Diana is forced to admit that she is in need of a paranormal protector and Matthew Clairmont, a 1,500-year old vampire and celebrated Oxford geneticist, appoints himself to the position.
In the author’s paranormal world, while witches, vampires, and demons avoid each other as much as possible, they share a common goal: Hiding their collective presence from human eyes. It goes without saying that sexual interaction between the paranormal species is strictly forbidden, a taboo Matthew and Diana are soon contemplating breaking.
Quite honestly, I didn’t feel the momentum everyone else seems to be talking about – maybe because I’m accustomed to romance and urban fantasy in which no punches are pulled. With long passages taking place in supernatural yoga classes (no, I’m not kidding) and leisurely stays in the French countryside, I was quite often bored. Things do pick up in the book’s final quarter, but by that time I was done with the tofu and ready for a good, meaty steak instead.
And, no, non-romance readers, I’m not talking about the lack of sex. What was missing to me was a sense of immediacy about the author’s storytelling style. I felt distant from the characters and the action and I have a feeling the author did, too. If they’re not real to you, Ms. Harkness, they’re certainly not going to be real to me.
The comparisons to Twilight are obvious, most notably in the hierarchy of the supernatural world and in the extreme degree of protectiveness that Matthew feels for Diana. No doubt, the publisher is hoping for a similar success.
If you’re reading this Web site, you’re a romance reader, so here’s my advice: Tread cautiously before dropping the big bucks necessary to get your hands on this one. A Discovery of Witches is a mainstream book for mainstream audiences. As a romance reader, there’s a very good chance you’ll want more than what you get here.