I have been in a slump, but I'd like for you all to meet the book that busted it. Why, yes! It's A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness!
I've had this one on my wishlist since it started taking over the blogosphere, but I put it off because I was bound and determined to start the year with as many Tournament of Books books as possible. But after I started this new gig and the brain fog kicked in, I just needed something, anything, to GET ME READING.
Blurb from Publishers Weekly: In Harkness's lively debut, witches, vampires, and demons outnumber humans at Oxford's Bodleian Library, where witch and Yale historian Diana Bishop discovers an enchanted manuscript, attracting the attention of 1,500-year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont. The orphaned daughter of two powerful witches, Bishop prefers intellect, but relies on magic when her discovery of a palimpsest documenting the origin of supernatural species releases an assortment of undead who threaten, stalk, and harass her. Against all occult social propriety, Bishop turns for protection to tall, dark, bloodsucking man-about-town Clairmont. Their research raises questions of evolution and extinction among the living dead, and their romance awakens centuries-old enmities.
I have no idea how to review this book, but I'm pressing on. It was wonderful and it was horrible all at the same time. Let's break it down.
The historical is SUPER fabulous. Matthew Clairmont is 1,500 years old, so he has SEEN SOME HISTORY and befriended (or pissed off) just about every big historical name one could think of. In many ways his lifestyle in the contemporary landscape is a throwback to the old world with shades of his past coloring his and Diana's everyday interaction. This is one of those books that made me feel as if I was picked up and set down in another life, another time. I was also a big fan of the Oxford setting, where Claire and Matthew work. The academic side of the novel was also ridonkulously fulfilling. And kind of romantic in its own way.
On another front, the Matthew/Diana romance is fun but also supremely annoying. I have found over the years that books appealing to my sense of romance can help kick start my reading when things are slowing down. Such was the case here. Matthew is dreamy in that knightly sort of way, willing to tear the throat out of anyone or anything in his path to save his special lady friend. On the flip side of that, there's a distinct case of Twilight syndrome involved. He's always in charge, always giving orders, always telling her to take a nap or drink some tea or calm down or suck it up. Blahhhrrrgggg! She's an OXFORD ACADEMIC! Most of the female academics I know are the sharpest, most straightforward, silver tongued, hard-headed women I know. And I admire them for it. Diana was too darn spineless for my taste. Overall, her willingness to keep secrets, avoid Matthew's secrets, and flake out dampened the overall effect for me.
The world building was impressive in the beginning. I really liked gaining knowledge of the vampire/witch/daemon trifecta of disaster. Talk about volatile otherworldly race relations. As the book progressed and got more complicated in its world building it became almost ineffectively confusing. I think there were plot holes, but I'd have to go back and read it again to make sure. Or maybe I was just skimming to see if Diana and Matthew would get down with the sexytimes already. *ahem*
I realize you're probably confused. I said I liked this book. It's book crack. Those were my very words on Twitter. And indeed, both are true. It had some big issues that bugged me AFTER I closed the book. While I was in the book, I was totally invested in finding out what would happen next. Afterward I wanted to slap Diana and Matthew both. Really hard.
Will I read the second? Absolutely. I have to find out what happens and how some of the issues in this first installment shake out.
Have you read it? What did you think? Have you had a bookish encounter like this one--you were totally rapt but wanted to roll your eyes at everyone after you closed the book?
Note: this book will count toward my personal Chunkster Challenge since it weighs in at 587 virtual pages.
Pub. Date: February 2011
Source: Purchased the e-book