A Discovery of Witches (Review) – Gloriously detailed

Confession: My sister pestered me for months to watch the series of the same name, which she has watched time and time again, and still does, because that’s how much she loves it. Since she doesn’t fall into series much, I promised that I would.

So during the Christmas holidays, I took the time to watch A Discovery of Witches or, rather, to binge it. Two seasons, two days, one day per season. I seriously got into it, as a paranormal lover does, especially when said paranormal lover is a History buff.

But that was not enough. For my sister, of course, but for me, too. She pestered me to get and read the books, and I caved. Again, because my sister does not get into books much, and rarely for books that I would read. That is how, at the start of January, I started reading the first book.

I don’t regret it one bit, no matter how interspersed my reading has been!

What the story is about

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A Discovery of Witches

Series: All Souls Trilogy, book 1

Author: Deborah Harkness

Publisher: Penguin Books

Date published: 8 February, 2011

Pages: 594

Synopsis (from the publisher):

In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and a descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, deep in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont.

A piece of advice

Before jumping into the thick of the review, a piece of advice: if you wish to watch the series, and read the books, and haven’t done either, start with the series.

That’s what I did and I honestly am glad I did it that way because otherwise, I would’ve ranted and cursed. Not because the series isn’t good. Heck, it’s all sorts of amazing, with a great cast and an awesome plot.

However, like every book adaptation, the producers have to cut into the details in order to fit the story into the allotted number of episodes ordered by the network, which means that a lot of things inevitably end up missing in the show.

Consequently, I enjoyed the show more because I did not view it with the book in my memory.

The same goes with the book: I enjoyed it more after watching the show, if only for the visual of the various locations. Did I picture the cast members in my head when reading? Only for a few characters and you’ll see why if you take that route. Don’t badger me: I will not tell you which characters because, as I said, the whole cast of the show is brilliant.

Hurray for the details!

Deborah Harkness is a historian. A real one. As in PhD. And it shows, much to my pleasure! The way she navigates her extensive knowledge and research and weaves it into the plot is nothing short of brilliant. You get into the story with Diana Bishop’s eyes, as most of the book is written in the first person, and you become the witch who refuses to acknowledge her power and transfers it into her passion for her subject: medieval History and the history of alchemy.

This part of the plot is one that might also curb some pre-conceived notions about the subject, which goes beyond the occult, although Ashmole 782 is the occult basis of the series and where the whole paranormal side of it begins. However, the research also delves into science through its history. In the book, thanks to Diana, of course, but also of Matthew Clairmont, a vampire who does science research of his own for specific purposes that I will not divulge (because if I did, it would become spoilers).

Through Diana and Matthew, the reader is thrown into a web of philosophy, experimental science, and history of all kinds (military, religious, and more). At times, it might seem overwhelming in the details given by the author, but everything serves a bigger purpose and is all well placed and perfectly woven into the story.

The details are not only historical and scientific, but also in the descriptions of the various locations and characters, which makes us really live Diana’s story and quest.

Don’t stop at the romance

Of course, the All Souls Trilogy is also the love story between Diana Bishop, a witch, and Matthew Clairmont, a vampire. Fated, star-crossed lovers, but also two people who are not allowed to be together, according to creature laws.

However, stopping at only this aspect of the story would be wrong, because the book is much more than their love story. Yes, a lot of the succession of events happen because of their forbidden love, but there is a succession of events that bring the readers into the political side of the creature world (creatures being witches, vampires, and daemons), quests for power and more leverage, all because Diana found that manuscript, which many creatures would love to get their hands onto, for their own reasons. Or onto the witch who found it, and only partly because of the vampire she fell in love with.

Then, there is this whole family vibe, with Diana and her aunts (Sarah and Emily), as well as with Matthew and his own extensive clan (his mother, his siblings, his children), the former incredibly loving and caring, the latter alternating between deep love and feuds, on top of being duty driven.

As I said: much more than romance.

A gripping story

All the above-mentioned elements combine to make a big book, yes, but one that is gripping from start to finish, with characters so life-like that you can’t help but love, or hate, them in their own worth, masterfully penned by Deborah Harkness.

My verdict

Intrigue, a forbidden love story, paranormal, science, history. What’s there not to love in what, 11 years ago, became Deborah Harkness’s debut novel? Nothing, that’s what! So thanks to my sister for the recommendation! (Yes, I went with a recommendation of my own to share the love, and bought her the first Charley Davidson book.)

A detailed five stars!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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