It’s the story of Diana Bishop, a young scholar at Oxford who is a descendant of the Salem witches. When she accidentally unlocks an enchanted manuscript, she is compelled to embrace the magic in her blood and enters a forbidden romance with charming 1,500-year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont.
I’m going to review the first installment, “A Discovery of Witches,” of Deborah Harkness’ historical fantasy trilogy that sold over 3.5M copies around the world.
Where to begin… When I first read this book, I was very excited because of all the hype I heard around it. Again, as I’ve said many times before, I’m not the biggest vampire story lover. I think all the angles have been done and overdone.
Since Harry Potter surfaced, I believe all the witch angles have been done and overdone, but not as much as vampires and werewolves. Thankfully, in Harkness’s first book, there aren’t any shape-changing wet dogs.
First off, I commend Ms. Harkness on her historical writing. Her research into many areas approached in her books is done well. I do think, she went a bit overboard with all the different avenues she introduced in this first book: Alchemy, Greek Goddesses, DNA, Lineages, etc., etc. I can only hope that she will elaborate on their uses as the series progresses.
Her Protagonist was unfortunately annoying. I understand the use of character arcs and how the character must develop as the story progresses, and as an author I hope this is what Ms. Harkness is attempting to achieve. Diana is just not written well, her character arc is sporadic and misleading at best but she is also conflicted, contradictive, whiney and hard to follow.
I don’t like books that show a woman in this day and age as submissive and willing to take abuse, especially one who unrealistically likes it. Again, I hope this is part of the character arc that Ms. Harkness is trying to show. Throughout the beginning of the book, Diana is willing to endure Matthew’s abusive, controlling and aggressive behavior because of love. Seriously? My first thought was that he was brain-washing this solid, independent woman. As the book progresses along, her demeanor seems to change a bit as her abilities begin to surface and solidify, but with him, she’s still submissive. However, being “married” because he said they were, doing what he says because he commands it… if the storyline is about discovering witches, I would think by the end of the book, Diana would have spoken up and made a point of being strong enough to deal with such a bore.
Yes, there is a Twilight similarity here and there, again in an annoying fashion, but I think if Ms. Harkness wanted her novel to be more of a success she wouldn’t have introduced so many sub-plots in the first book; it made following the storyline hard to do at times. What she calls “secrets” in the story usually resulted in yet another sub-plot coming to light. I cringed every time I read this.
Vampires who drink wine, love nuts and berries, architecture and do yoga… I suppose for the Lagosi crowd, this would seem ridiculous; but, for the Twilight crowd, with all the quirks about the Cullins, perhaps, this isn’t so far fetched. The continuous sniffing thing and the results of knowing everything about Diana because of the sniffing thing… okay, it was just plain too much.
It’s an interesting approach to use a DNA connection to the creation of Daemens, Witches and Vampires. And how it was introduced was done well. I’m still not sure why Diana is supposed to be this super witch. The reason seemed drawn out and I wished the author had elaborated on this a bit more.
Drawing out Diana’s whininess and “I’m not a witch!” argument was overdone. The moment where she finally grows a spine leaves me wanting for more. It just wasn’t climatic enough. I also wish that her use of witch fire was explained more.
The relationship between Matthew and Diana is not the worse I’ve read about over the years, but it is somewhat perplexing in that she is submissive to his wishes, what about hers? They seem to be constantly denied. I get that the author is trying to create this macho guy who’s in charge and protective and guards her as vampires seem to do in this story version, but he comes across more pompous and arrogant and self-serving than intriguing and sexy. Diana is portrayed in the beginning as a no nonsense kind of girl who is straight-minded, academically inclined and doesn’t like men looking down on her because of her sex, yet with Matthew, she’s just that. This puts me off her character.
The idea of something cold in bed lying next to her is ridiculous. The last thing anyone wants when they’re toasty warm is to have something cool snuggle next to them. I guess the author failed here in making this relationship convincing and character development. I’m worried how these weaknesses and contradictions are going to damage the next book in the series. A strong Protagonist, one that the reader falls in love with is necessary for any story to succeed. The Secondary character’s job must help the Protagonist reach his/her goals and the part they play must compliment the Protagonist in some way. Sure Matthew does this in other aspects of their interactions, but not very well in the actual relationship the author is trying to write them into. This weakness gives the reader an unrealistic feel for the storyline which may damage their desire to finish the series.
The complete idealizing the ‘undead’ is hard to swallow in any given story, but add a warm-blooded being who is suppose to love this dead fleshed creature is hard to understand. The author’s job in this case, should have included a very creative section that explained why this attraction began out of fear and wariness. Instead of passing over their first meeting so quickly, there should have been a stronger lead-in, followed by a lot more of an explanation. If sworn enemies, love at first glance just doesn’t cut it.
Trying to humanize Matthew by making him love wine and yoga… Then turn around and discuss his ‘sniffing’ and keen sense of hearing, makes him sound like an animal. He can’t be both–or can he? Perhaps, with a bit more about the vampires in this story prior to their meeting might have helped.
He’s still undead and the results of the images formed by these additives just makes the character comical and ridiculous. I hope when it comes time to read the second book of the series, Matthew’s character is strengthened and made believable. Frankly (spoiler), when Diana gives Matthew her blood almost killing her, and she asks Miriam to change her into a vampire, I found that the most believable part of their relationship. I was disappointed when this didn’t happen, but rather, she received an IV and rest and that saved her???
My biggest pet peeve: Sorry Deborah, but she was his wife because he said so… UGH! Explain yourself please!
I followed everything else the author was trying to convey with little difficulty, but since the relationship that bothers me the most happens to be between the Protagonist and Secondary Character, I fear for the rest of the series. Fingers crossed that my next review will show this weakness in the storyline has not continued into books two and three.
There’s an abundance of characters introduced in the first book and then the others, many of them are within the last two chapters of the first book. I found this tedious in trying to sort my way through them all. Here’s a list I found online that I tweaked and hopefully, it may be helpful. I just wish the author had included this list or something like it at the back of her books:
There are also a slew of appearing ghosts in the Bishop house and a cat that add an element of comedic relief or warnings that Diana seems to be able to talk to. Not to mention a house that seems to be alive and can create rooms and hide things until they’re needed. If I missed any minor characters, I apologize. They didn’t seem significant enough for me to recall them at the making of this list. Also, I’m certain there are a few spoilers that pertain to the other books in the series, and I’m sorry for those reveals, but I had to in order to put this list together.
- A historian of alchemy,
- Teaches at Yale University,
- Her alma maters include Bates College and New College, Oxford,
- She prefers tea to coffee, prepared just a certain way,
- Her favorite food is pizza,
- She loves to row,
- She is the daughter of Rebecca and Stephen,
- According to Matthew de Claimont, she is his wife even though they didn’t have a traditional ceremony,
- She also happens to be a witch, and a weaver,
- She controls witch water,
- She controls witch fire,
- She loves Matthew and is willing to die for him.
- She is wanted by the Knox to control and use to get his hands on the manuscript,
- She is a killer and protector,
- She uses yoga to control anxiety,
- She is attacked often.
- Also known as Matthew de Clermont and Matthew Roydon,
- Matthew is the son of Ysabeau de Clermont
- He is husband to Diana Bishop,
- He is a doctor,
- He is a geneticist,
- He loves wine, berries, nuts, and hunting,
- He is a vampire,
- He is a self-proclaimed and accused killer,
- He bares secrets,
- He is cool to the touch,
- He is pasty pale,
- He is a Fellow of All Souls College at Oxford University,
- He’s a brainiac,
- He works in his lab,
- He used to be a carpenter,
- He used to be a mason,
- He’s connected to the Templars,
- He’s built many dwellings,
- He’s bossy, arrogant, big, dark, has a nasty temper and likes fragile women,
- He’s had many lovers,
- He’s been married and had a son before Diana,
- He is strange,
- He enjoys reading books written by old friends
- He collects wine.
- Australian daemon,
- Fashion designer,
- Congregation member
- The ‘vampire king’ of Elizabethan London
- Young witch that Diana and Matthew adopt in 1591 (spoiler).
- Matthew Clairmont’s brother,
- He doesn’t like Matthew much,
- He is the head of the de Claimont house,
- He is formidable,
- He was the favorite son of Philippe de Clermont,
- He helps to save Diana from a witch,
- He is a wiz with finances
- Matthew Clairmont’s son
- Matthew’s wife in the sixth century
- He married her before he was made a vampire.
- She gave him a son, Lucas
- She died from a plague.
- Ancestor of Diana Bishop
- She was hanged in Salem in 1692
- English poet, playwright,
- Also a member of the School of Night,
- Marlowe is a daemon,
- Matthew’s best friends in 1590-1591.
- Professor at Yale
- Diana’s friend.
- Gallowglass’s friend in 1591
- Venetian vampire,
- Feared member of the Congregation,
- Wants to get his hands on Diana.
- Brings first warning to De Clermonts.
- English alchemist,
- Lived inPrague in 1591.
- Queen of England,
- Monarch during Diana and Matthew’s time in England
- Partner of Sarah Bishop,
- Can foresee things,
- Is a witch.
- Husband of Verin de Clermont
- Son of Hugh de Clermont
Gerbert of Aurillac
- Former pope,
- Wants to get his hands on Diana,
- Created Juliette and ‘broke’ her,
- Neighbor of the de Clermonts,
- Congregation member
- Ordered to watch Diana,
- First to tell Diana who killed her parents,
- Is a witch
- Classicist from Bryn Mawr,
- Was in league with Peter Knox
- Delivers a picture and pays for it.
- The leader of Diana’s London coven
- A weaver, like Diana.
- Matthew’s best friend
- Former fellow of All Souls
- Financial genius,
- Lives in a secluded chalet.
- Matthew goes to his home to hunt.
- Earl of Northumberland,
- An English aristocrat,
- Matthew’s friend in 1590-1591,
- Henry Percy is not yet known as ‘the Wizard Earl’ when Diana meets him,
- Percy is a man with a formidable education,
- He has an impeccable lineage, and a generous heart.
- Orphan that Diana and Matthew adopted in London in 1591
- Rabbi in Prague, 1591
Louisa de Clermont
- Daughter of Ysabeau de Clermont,
- Strong and outspoken,
- Dies by the hand of a witch.
- Daughter of Sophie and Nathaniel Wilson
- Matthew Clairmont’s son.
- A physician and scientist.
- Loves berries,
- Faithful to Matthew.
- Companion and maid to Ysabeau de Clermont
- Friend to Diana.
- Countess of Pembroke,
- English poet and alchemist,
- Friend of Diana in 1590-1591
- Matthew’s scientific colleague in Oxford,
- Helps protect Diana,
- Works in the lab.
- Son of Agatha Wilson,
- Marcus’s friend.
- Member of the Congregation
- Wants to get his hands on the manuscript,
- Wants to control Diana,
- Strong wizard.
Philippe de Clermont
- Husband of Ysabeau de Clermont,
- Former head of the de Clermonts
- Died at the hands of witches (spoiler)
- Employee of Sotheby’s,
- Romantically involved with Marcus Whitmore. (spoiler)
- Diana Bishop’s mother. Married to Stephen Proctor.
- Very powerful witch,
- Died in Africa (spoiler)
- Spellbound Diana (spoiler)
- Could see into the future.
- Rebecca’s sister,
- Aunt to Diana Bishop,
- Partner of Emily Mather,
- Can heal wounds,
- Great castor.
- Finnish witch,
- Captured Diana Bishop,
- Tries to get Diana to fly, (spoiler)
- Drops Diana in pit,
- Works with Knox,
- Congregation member,
- Hurts Diana.
- Librarian at the Bodleian Library, Oxford
- Nathaniel Wilson’s wife,
- Mother to Margaret Wilson (witch),
- Married a Daemon.
- Diana Bishop’s father,
- A weaver, like his daughter,
- Strong wizard,
- Killed in Africa (spoiler).
- An English mathematician
- Matthew’s friend in 1590-1591,
- He’s a member of a group of radicals and free-thinkers, the School of Night.
- Like Marlowe, he is a daemon.
- Harriot is interested in mysteries of nature–especially those found in mathematics and the stars.
- A latte-loving daemon
- Has mis-matched eyes
- Hangs around in the Bodleian Library.
Verin de Clermont
- Daughter of Philippe de Clermont
- Wife to Ernst Neumann
- English mariner,
- Member of the School of Night,
- Matthew’s close friend in 1590-1591,
- A poet, historian, and adventurer,
- Raleigh was one of the most admired–and envied–men of his time.
Ysabeau de Clermont
- Mother to Matthew Clairmont,
- Wife to Philippe de Clermont.
With all said, I enjoyed the cover of this book. I picked the large paperback to read and enjoyed flipping its pages into the wee hours of the morning. This book IS worth a read and despite a couple of bad character flaws, I am confident that the author has improved upon this with the next two books… we’ll see:
I give this book: