Monday, March 4, 2013

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: "A Discovery of Witches" by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1)
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness; Narrated by Jennifer Ikeda
(All Souls Trilogy #1)

For Ages 18+
Paranormal Romance
Viking Penguin -- 2011
Audiobook, 24 hours and 2 minutes
Purchased from Audible

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.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable.

In terms of paranormal fiction, A Discovery of Witches is an interesting case.  It is a well-written story that seems to almost effortlessly combine urban fantasy, paranormal romance, mystery, and fantasy.  I felt like it had a slow start, but things took off at about the halfway point once the author was able to build the world enough to start in on the action.  Ms. Harkness is an academic and this is obvious in the way the details and characters are presented.  Everything is there for a reason and the way things start to come together is fascinating.  I did feel like there were moments of overwriting, but the book was still very enjoyable.

Our heroine, and main narrator, is Dr. Diana Bishop who is a historian of science, specifically alchemy.  She is on leave from Yale University and is researching in the famous Bodleian Library at Oxford.  Readers quickly learn that Diana comes from a family of witches and that, for personal reasons, she avoids using her magic for the most part.  This causes some real issues when the rest of the supernatural community sets its eyes on her and a mysterious manuscript.

I found Diana to be a little annoying at the beginning.  Her research methods were interesting to read about, but her "head in the sand" reaction to the growing supernatural threats made me a bit frustrated.  Thankfully, she calmed down by the halfway point and I was able to enjoy her snarky, intellectual commentary.  I loved how curious she was regarding the world around her, both supernatural and human.  The whole idea of a witch who doesn't want anything to do with her magic was creative and I look forward to learning more about Diana's unique abilities.

The hero is Matthew, a vampire who becomes intrigued by Diana and her powers after witnessing them in the Bodleian.  I really liked his character and how Ms. Harkness depicted him.  He is very much an alpha hero which doesn't always work for me, but I was willing to suspend my usual scruples for him.  He does have moments of being overprotective to the point of annoying, but these became rarer as the story moved along.  I loved the complexity of his past and how it is shown to affect his future.

Besides Diana and Matthew, Ms. Harkness also provides readers with a large and well-developed cast.  These characters vary from witches to humans to vampires to demons and each of them has a purpose in the story.  I love how intricate the cast is and look forward to meeting even more characters in the second book.  In terms of A Discovery of Witches, my personal favorite side characters are Isabeau (Matthew's vampire mother), Sara (Diana's powerful aunt), and Hamish (Matthew's demonic best friend).

The supernatural world of this series is fascinating and complex.  There are four species that inhabit Earth: humans, vampires, witches, and demons.  Each species has its own culture and qualities that separate it from the others.  I loved how the author developed the world for the readers.  It is explained so well that it feels like it could be real.  These four groups are slowly coming together for something big in this series and I am eagerly awaiting it.

Because I listened the audio version of this book, I also feel like I need to mention the narrator, Jennifer Ikeda.  I have never listened to any of Ikeda's narrations before, but I hope to find some in the future.  She is very impressive in her performance especially with the wide range of accents that is required with this book.  I always knew which character was speaking and the way that she subtly changed the tone helped me learn more about their personalities.  I did have a bit of difficult time when the story switched back and forth from first to third person, but I think it may have had something to do with the writing rather than the narrating. 

All in all, I found A Discovery of Witches to be an action-packed and thought-provoking paranormal adventure.  I loved the way the author developed her characters and built her supernatural world.  The writing style is very unique and I think readers will enjoy it as long as they take the time to get used to it.  I am giving a warning, though, that this book does have a small cliffhanger that is making me anxious to read book 2, Shadow of Night.

1. A Discovery of Witches
2. Shadow of Night
3. Untitled (Coming 2013)



  1. A very thoughtful review! I love these books, not least for the scholarship and complexity Harkness brings to them. While I enjoy YA fantasy, I find there is often more depth in fantasy written for adults. (Patrick Rothfuss jumps to mind.)

    Incidentally, I reviewed both A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night on my blog. If you're interested, let me know and I'll post you the links.

  2. Great review! I have quite a few friends who loved this book and your review has persuaded me to give it a go. Hopefully I can get myself a copy of it especially because I like your thoughts on the supernatural element of it.


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