Tuesday, September 17, 2013

CBR V Review #38: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy 1) by Deborah Harkness

I'd been waiting to read this book FOREVER (cue The Sandlot references).  I've had friends recommending this book to me since it came out, and I sat on my waiting list at the library for months and months before finally getting to read it.  I'm glad that I did, although I don't know that it ranks with my top fantasy series just yet - we'll see how the sequels pull things together.

This book tells the story of a witch named Diana Bishop and her involvement with...a book.  Betcha thought I was going to say with a man, right? Well, that's a factor, too, especially as that man is a vampire.  However, the most important relationship in this book (and possibly this series - time will tell) is between Diana and an alchemical text she summons from Oxford's Bodleian Library, despite its having been hidden for generations.  Her ability to access the book summons all sorts of unwanted mystical attention - you see, Diana may *be* a witch, but she certainly tries not to live like one.  Ever since the deaths of her parents in her childhood, she's been fighting against her natural inclinations towards magic, trying to deny that part of her.  Our true natures always will out, though, and hers is helped along by an unlikely alliance with Matthew Clairmont, and very interesting and unique vampire.

If the phrase "witch in love with a vampire" turned you off, guess what?  I hated Twilight, too, and this is nothing like that. For one, Harkness has a beautiful command of the English language.  For another, these are very three dimensional characters.  There are moments that irk - sometimes Matthew's aggressive alpha male-ness gets old, and there are times where Diana embodies what's wrong with Aaron Sorkin's female characters on The Newsroom.  However, there's enough alongside that to compensate.  I will say that this book drags a little in the middle.  I hit a point somewhere that I thought was an ending, only to glance down and realize I was barely halfway through the book.  There is a LOT of material here, and the pacing doesn't pick up till much later in the game. However, when it does, it *really* does.  I think my favorite element of the book was the mixing of the three magical races - witches, vampires and daemons (here, not represented in a traditional, evil, Buffy will battle them way, but as really scattered, incredibly brilliant, often intensely creative people).  There are so many prejudices between the groups, which mirror our traditional stories about them, and they must be overcome in order for there to be unity.

I'm definitely looking forward to picking up the next volume, especially because there is a change of setting that I am just crazy about (won't spoil it here).  Well worth the read for all you fantasy enthusiasts out there!

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