A Discovery of Witches: A Magical Mystery Novel
A Discovery of Witches is just like The Da Vinci Code… if you replace symbolism with science and religion with magic. Oh and the main characters are a witch and a vampire. So, not exactly like The Da Vinci Code, but that is definitely what it reminded me of after the action started. And they even go to France for a while!
Unfortunately, the action didn’t really start for 200 pages, during which I found myself yelling at the book to just GET ON WITH IT ALREADY. The author, Deborah Harkness, obviously loves her subject and knows a great deal about scientific history (and history in general) but she let her interest in those topic get a little bit away from her in the first quarter of the book. Instead of just introducing us to Diana, a very talented witch who has been trying to run from her powers since the death of her parents many years before, Harkness throws us head first into the world of Oxford University, historic documents and alchemical texts. The whole story is set in motion when Diana accidentally breaks a spell that was protecting a magical book hidden in one of Oxford’s libraries -- but because I don’t know anything about ancient research libraries I spent the next several chapters wondering why the other witches didn’t just go to the shelf and pick it up themselves.
In general, I am a fan of books featuring witches, vampires, daemons, werewolves, zombies or any combination of the above (note: they are not all in this book). My shelves are happily lined with Twilight, Harry Potter, and the Sookie Stackhouse series. But because each author imagines her creatures differently, it is VERY IMPORTANT that the books explain The Rules of Imaginary Beings right at the beginning. Are your vampires allergic to sunlight? Do they sparkle? Can they survive without drinking human blood? Do the witches go to school to learn about their powers? Do most humans know about them or do they hide their magic? And what exactly IS a daemon? Because none of those questions were very clearly outlined I found myself frustrated and impatient. Eventually most of my questions were answered, but all that uncertainty was distracting.
Once I got past those complaints, I found the story and the characters extremely entertaining. Diana is aided in her search for answers about the magic book and her parent’s death by Matthew, an ancient and powerful vampire. I loved reading about all the history he had been alive to see and actually participated in. After the story leaves the serious and quiet walls of Oxford and more characters join the cast I was truly drawn into their world. Eventually a whole team of creatures -- witches, daemons and vampires must work together despite ancient laws that forbid them from joining forces. I don't think it will give anything away to say things really come to life.
As a magical mystery novel, A Discovery of Witches is slow to deliver, but once it does it was a great read.