Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Discovery of Witches

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
Publisher: Penguin
Format: E-Book
ISBN-13:  9780143119685 
Source: Purchased the e-book







34 comments:

  1. I added this to my library queue ages ago but ended up removing it because I read so many bad reviews. The historical aspect seems really interesting. I'm currently reading Massie's biography of Catherine the Great, so I think you get that I'd be interested in it based on that alone. However, it doesn't look like I'll be giving it go after all. Glad you enjoyed it for the most part!

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    1. Andi - like you said, it's crack. My review was a lot like yours because as much as I loved the academia aspect, I felt it was a bit too Twilight-ish once they are a couple. Thank goodness Diana wasn't tripping all over the place for Matthew to catch her, but it was close. It bugged the hell out of me, as did some of the explanations and stuff.

      But all in all - it was a really fun read, and if I turn off my knee-jerk reactions to this stuff, I can get into it. :)

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    2. Sorry you won't be trying it, Beth. I do love a good historical, and I've been eyeing that Catherine the Great bio for a while. Good stuff.

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    3. Jenn, I think we share a brain for books. :) I'm hoping Diana will blossom a bit more in the second and third books as she comes into her "abilities." We'll see!

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  2. My sister read this and loved it. I don't think it's for me.

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    1. Other fish in the sea, Kathy. :D

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  3. I read it and really liked it. My first thought was the author - wow - what a LOT of work she must have put in researching all the historical details. I actually looked her up online, and there is a video on YouTube of her giving a tour of some of the places that mentioned in the book ... I might give the tip of my left pinky to go on a tour like that! All that said though - I think the book could have been edited more - a bit too detailed.

    And I totally agree about the romance - that's actually one of the things stopping me from rushing out and getting book 2 - I don't know if I could read an entire book about those 2.

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    1. Tanya Patrice, I totally agree. I did see that YouTube vid but haven't had a chance to sit down and watch it yet. I will, though. Totally fascinated by the historical aspect.

      I'll try book 2. I think the historical is going to be really interesting during that period, and I'm curious how Matthew and Claire will change. Given some of the foreshadowing in the first book, I know it's comin'.

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  4. I totally agree with you, Andi. Diana is such a smart person but when she started learning more about Matthew, it amazed me that she didn't freak out. But I did enjoy the book faults and all. F.Y.I. you can request book two on NetGalley. The publisher won't start approving requests for a few more weeks though.

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    1. I already requested!!! While I did have my problems with the book, I am grateful that it got me reading again. Definitely engaging even though parts of it bugged me.

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  5. I had the same problems with Diana & Matthew! Plus, all the supernatural yoga and wine tastings and bs got really, really old, and not in the fun, historical way ;-)

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    1. The wine and yoga did get a little old. I just found those bits a little clunky and weird.

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  6. Not read this one though I have certainly read quite a lot of positive reviews on this book.

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    1. Mystica, it's most definitely making the rounds in the blogosphere. I'm glad to have read it even though I had some quibbles.

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  7. This book...I was totally rapt and now I almost feel guilty saying so... But, I pre-ordered book 2, so...

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    1. Kelly, I already requested Book 2 on NetGalley! No guilt! Even though I had some issues with it, I am glad I read it. I will read the next book for sure. The story is good and engaging even if these characters are flawed. They certainly have room to grow.

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  8. What did you think of the chance of pace towards the end? It was all cosy for 90% of the book and then BAM, stuff happened! I didn't know it was a series before starting it and reading it made me mad after finishing it!

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    1. It was a definite change of pace. I liked the cozy, though all the napping and wine sipping got a little slow at times. I'll be interested to see what mix of action/cozy plays out in the 2nd book.

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  9. To answer your question: yes! That has totally happened to me! Can I remember the last book that made me feel that way? Of course not. Blargh!

    Too bad about the lead characters in this one. I think I would want to slap them, too.

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    1. Emily, it didn't strike me that I wanted to strike them until the end -- that's what's weird to me. lol But, alas, I will still read the second book. I'm hoping these behaviors evolve a bit with the characters' changing abilities and such.

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  10. Oh, book crack, so much fun! I can't think of the last book I felt this way about, but I know it's happened.

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    1. Kim, the book crack doesn't come along nearly often enough. After I finished this one, I started Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and it's even beyond book crack. Book heaven.

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  11. I was lucky enough to win a copy of this book but haven't read it yet. I admit that I am a little leery of the whole paranormal component to it and I REALLY dislike books in which the man is in power and the woman just kind of a meekly trailing girl on the side. It bothers me during the reading and really impedes my ability to enjoy the book. BUT... I will try :-)

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    1. Aarti, the paranormal component is actually tied (to some extent) with science in this book. Kind of a fun method of tying it all together in with the rational. I hope the main romantic situation doesn't bug ya too much. It was annoying for me, but I'll still check out the second book.

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  12. I had the same problems you did, especially with Diana. OMG, she starts SO SMART and just turns into a complete doofus when she falls in love. Geez louise, she annoyed me. But yes, like many such book crack type books, I couldn't put it down. And I can't wait for the next one. I just hope Harkness redeems her main female character a wee bit!

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    1. Isn't it funny how we're annoyed at the doofiness but STILL READ IT LIKE CANDY! Couldn't put it down. Will jump into the next with vigor, I feel sure.

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  13. I've been on the fence about this one, but it sounds like I would like it. As long as I can suspend my disbelief while I'm reading it, I love to go along for wild, historical rides. I'll keep it in mind somewhere in the midst of my Booker Prize longlist reading haze when I just need something fun to break up all the dreary.

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    1. It would be a good book to break up the dreary. BUT Outlander would be even better. *nudge nudge wink wink*

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  14. I ADORED this book!! It was amazing. I've heard that the second book is even better. (And yes, Diana needs to speak up and show Matthew what's up.)

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    1. Amen! She needs to harness all those powers and be a badass. That's all I'm sayin!

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  15. I loved this book, but was annoyed with Matthew's bossiness sometimes too. Lots going on in this chunkster, but it definitely held me in it's clutches for the entire ride. Very honest and wonderful review. I can't wait for the next book to come out!

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    1. Thanks, Heather! It was a good ride, and I can imagine the second book will be even better. I loved that there was a warning in this one about how Matthew would behave while...displaced. I think Diana might have to put the smack down. Can't wait!

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  16. I have to read this, it's like brain candy, isn't it, is what your review makes it sound like. I keep edging towards it, and I don't want to be disappointed after all the hype about it. I think it's time to get it from the library! Love the review, the plus and the minus about it, Andi.

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  17. Book crack? I'm in and I'm excited to learn that there is a second book coming soon.

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