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A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Review by Kat Bittner
Viking Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780670022410
Date: 08 February 2011 List Price $28.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

I have a confession to make: my attention span for full length novels is not what it used to be. Yet, from the moment I picked up Deborah Harkness' epic debut novel A Discovery of Witches to its exhilarating conclusion, I was under a powerful spell. Here is a writer who can both unveil an alternate world inhabited by witches, vampires, and daemons and say something new with these supernatural beings beyond the stereotypes of urban or historical fantasy.

In the quiet reading room of Oxford's Bodleian Library, Professor Dianna Bishop requests an ancient manuscript. Since the tragic murder of her parents (both witches), Dianna has striven to keep magic separate from her life. Sensing the power bound in the text of Ashmole 782, but wanting nothing to do with it, she treats it like a common research document. However, it is not just any alchemical manuscript, but one lost for centuries. Its reappearance awakens an underworld of vampires, witches, and daemons who will stop at nothing to uncover the secrets of their origins...and their possible end.

Right away, she meets the enigmatic geneticist Matthew Clairmont. What begins as an uncertain alliance blossoms into an old fashioned courtship, one that does not feel forced by religious convention or lacking in bouts of passion. Clairmont is the literary successor to Anne Rice's Lestat in his ability to seduce the heroine and the reader.

However, he is not the only supernatural being eager to get his hands on the manuscript. An ancient society--the Congregation--will hunt for what they believe is theirs and enforce an age-old separation of beings like Dianna and Matthew.

The author's strength is her ability to weave fantasy with history in a natural and casual way; a fleeting Tudor reference or Middle Age anecdote seems effortless, coming from a 1,500 year old vampire. Also, the insider's look into the life of a professional academic adds an intellectual twist and an unfamiliar but appealing environment for the reader.

The only caveat is that Diana Bishop exhibits a characteristic typical to fantasy heroines: she is stubborn to the point of foolishness. Even so, it is this quality that endears her to everyone in the story and drives the plot forward.

A Discovery of Witches perfectly captures the thrill and wonder of a woman who is at the beginning of her adult life, where the world expands to include romance, mystery, danger, and of course magic in all its possibilities.

Highly recommended.

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