She is witch royalty. He is a fifteen hundred year old vampire. Meet Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont, the protagonists of Deborah Harkness’s debut novel A Discovery of Witches.
Diana Bishop is a witch whose family can trace their lineage to Bridget Bishop, infamous witch of the Salem Witch Trials. For years she has denied and buried her natural witchy abilities while others have long believed her to be a prodigy. She is an historian of science studying alchemical manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian library when she encounters a manuscript that has been enchanted by a spell, Ashmole 782. The discovery of the Ashmole manuscript brings a horde of creatures (the world is made up of four creatures – Witches, Vampires, Daemons and Humans) into Diana’s life and into the Bodleian, among them the vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont.
Mystery surrounds the Ashmole manuscript and there are varying ideas on what is contained within the enchanted book. One thing is clear, the creatures want the manuscript and they believe Diana is the link to it. Matthew becomes her protector of sorts while also wanting possession of Ashmole 782 for his research.
Diana and Matthew are thrust into a complex adventure as they try to unearth Ashmole 782’s secrets, break through the social barriers forbidding inter-creature relationships and fall in love.
Let me start by saying I had mixed feelings when I read this and I still do. While I am inclined to recommend this book, and I already have to a few people, parts of this book bother me.
I found the premise original - a witch historian studying alchemical texts meets vampire geneticist intent on discovering secrets of text for lifelong research. My difficulties with the book lie in plausibility and similarities I found to the Twilight novels. As a reader, I’m willing to believe a lot, but it is the author’s responsibility to make me believe, and I have a hard time buying some of what is being fed.
Diana is a witch by birth, essentially witch royalty, as her family can trace their heritage to Salem. Matthew is a fifteen hundred year old vampire. By nature and law, these creatures should not interact. While Matthew is more mature (natural for his age) and willing to overlook natural prejudices, Diana has been taught all of her life vampires are evil. While I don’t agree with the overt creature preconceptions and I am happy Diana overcomes them, I feel like there was no doubt at all on Diana’s part, no real hesitancy to trust this vampire and go against all she has grown up being taught. Before I knew it, she was madly in love. (Hello Bella!)
While I was reading, I kept thinking there were so many similarities to Twilight (the almost at first sight love, the sappiness, the forbidden love, Matthew as the stoic vampire not quite lover) and at times it annoyed me and at others I was willing to accept it. I feel like it was a cross between Twilight for the over the top love story and The Historian by Elisabeth Kostova for the research and journey to uncover ancient secrets aspect.
Yet, for all of my annoyance (which wasn’t all that much), I really did enjoy it. The book moved along steadily, I liked the characters and the quirks (the Bishop house) and I thought the secondary characters were believable and well written. Also, I’m a sucker for a love story, throw in a hunky vampire and even though it has overtones of other works, in the end, it still sucked me in.