A Discovery of Witches
by Deborah Harkness
Headline Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780755374021
Date: 08 February 2011 List Price £14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
A lead title from Headline this month is this, Deborah Harkness's A Discovery of Witches, a title being published here simultaneously with the US edition coming from Viking. The press release for the novel tells us that it was a hard fought title at the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair, with five major publishers fighting over it, tooth and nail. It tells us further that it has sold into thirty-three foreign language markets, which is impressive going by even the most stringent standards. All this though is met with a raised eyebrow when one also considers the premise of this book - a woman finds an ancient alchemical text in the Bodleian Library and magic intrudes into her life, bringing her into contact with witches (she is one herself but has striven to hide it), daemons, and vampires, a charismatic example of which she ends up falling for.
Sounds okay, as these things go, but as a long time reader of genre, this set-up in no way sounds to me like it might be reinventing the wheel. Rather, it sounds like a pretty standard plot for any number of romantic urban fantasy novels, though it seems that Harkness tells her particular tale with some considerable elegance. I'm delighted that Headline - an imprint that doesn't have a great deal of genre output - is publishing this, but guys - take a look a round! - this isn't something we've not seen before, no matter how well it's been done.
"When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it's an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she's kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana's discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels... "