Book Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (2011)

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1)
by Deborah Harkness

‘I saw the logic that they used, and the death of a thousand cuts as experimental scientists slowly chipped away at the belief that the world was an inexplicably powerful, magical place. Ultimately they failed, though. The magic never really went away. It waited, quietly, for people to return to it when they found the science wanting.’

TEA! WINE! BOOKS! MAGIC!

This book is basically an ode to all the things a historian loves: archival research in old libraries with numerous texts and tomes, historical tangents, philosophical debates, and an investigation into the inexplicable and wondrous. I’m also fairly certain I’ve never encountered two characters who love the history of wine and tea more than Diana and Matthew. Bless their hearts.

A Discovery of Witches is the first in a trilogy that follows the fantastical adventures of Diana Bishop, a professor/witch who is spending her summer in Oxford for research on alchemical texts. But it’s in the archives that she stumbles upon something: a book that everyone in the magical world wants to get their hands on. Diana, though a witch, wants nothing to do with magic and pretends not to notice the book or its magical ~allure. That is, until a vampire named Matthew Clairmont catches her notice.

Matthew, along with an entire library of magical onlookers (i.e. magical stalkers), all want the book. For some reason, though, only Diana has ever been able to access it. This discovery leads to a spiral of events that put Diana in danger as various vampires and witches try to get the book. Few of the book’s seekers care about Diana’s wellbeing, leaving her with only Matthew and her aunts to help. Her aunts, Sarah and Emily, were wonderful! Very motherly. They’re both witches themselves and I love their scenes. I also loved Matthew’s relationships with his family: especially Marcus, his son and Ysabeau, his mum. The story eventually leads the main couple from England to France and then to the United States, so there’s a good bit of setting changes. The library scenes were probably my favourite, though!

This is a vampire tale quite different from Buffy or Vampire Diaries. I was reminded a bit of Twilight at the start, but not because the storylines are the same (they’re not) or because Diana is similar to Bella (she isn’t), or because the vampires are similar (they’re totally, totally, totally different), but rather because Matthew reminded me a bit of Edward at the start. That sort of quiet, reserved, chivalrous type who lurks in the shadows. That changed pretty quickly, though. Matthew is much, much darker than Edward. His history is long and brutal and he makes no attempts at hiding it. There are some seriously interesting events in history that he’s been party to. This is a book that lauds history, so you do get a lot of historical moments re-imagined through the lens of vampires and witches, which was seriously cool. Diana and Matthew are the epitome of researching academics, which I adore ♡ Their chemistry is also unreal.

I’m definitely curious about book two, Shadow of Night, especially given that ending! OH MY GOSH.

Has anyone else read this trilogy? Or seen the show?