Friday, March 18, 2011

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

I'm just going to say it outright. This book is an intellectual Twilight. I don't mean that as an insult. That's just what I felt while I was reading it. It's a paranormal romance set in academia. Diana, the main character, is a witch who has spent her whole life trying to hide that part of her world. It catches up to her when she requests an old manuscript as part of her academic research. She can tell the book is magic and sends it back. Suddenly, the world of witches, vampires and daemons fall upon her. This book is an alchemic manuscript that has been searched for by members of all three supernatural species for hundreds of years. Matthew, a vampire who has been searching for the manuscript, believes it will help save the creatures from extinction, though his motives are definitely questionable at first. As if the recalling and subsequent sending back of the manuscript isn't enough, Diana and Matthew fall in love, angering the entire supernatural world by breaking an old treaty barring inter-species relationships.

I did love some of the supporting characters, even more than Matthew and Diana. Diana's aunts are wonderful, as is Marthe, Matthew's housekeeper. My favorite, however, would have to be Diana's family house. Yes, the house is a character in this book. I thought it was a nice and unique touch. The house is a true witch house, hiding things away for years, adding a room when visitors are expected, etc.
This book is long. I think  it could have been at least 100 pages shorter. Also, the alchemy content was hard to understand, but it isn't absolutely necessary to enjoy the book. Another thing I didn't like (to no fauly of the author) is that I had assumed that this was a stand-alone book. When there were 200 pages left for me to read, I started wondering how she was going to wrap it up by the end. At the 100 page mark, I knew there must be an upcoming sequel. I guess I just like to know ahead of time.
After I finished the book, I was skimming through the reviews on Goodreads. It seems as if this book has more extreme votes (1/2 stars or 5 stars) than many other books. People either love it or hate it. As always, there are reviews like mine that "rate" A Discovery of Witches somewhere in the middle. I do that because I can honestly see both sides. I found the book enjoyable as I was reading it. At the same time, however, I don't know if this book was memorable enough to read the sequel. I spent way too much time trying to decide what rating to give this book, especially after reading this post by Janssen on why she stopped ranking. I think from now on I'll only rank if it's an easy choice. If the number keeps changing and going up and down like this did, I'm not going to worry about it.

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