A Discovery Of Witches: Book Review

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness Published in 2011
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Published in 2011
Part one of The All Souls Trilogy

Excited, as I always am, to begin reading a new fantasy trilogy, I really wanted to like this book. And in the beginning, I really did. Diana (the protagonist) is fiercely independent, and intelligent. She has a PhD and is a respected scholar in an obscure field. She is driven and she is ambitious and she has this strong determination to succeed on her own merits, not because of her magical powers.

During her research, Diana comes across a manuscript with hidden magical potential, and suddenly there are creatures all over her previously quiet life. Vampires, Demons and other Witches are coming out of the cracks, some of whom are menacing and seem dangerous. What is so special about this manuscript that the creatures are willing to threaten her to get it?

Sounds great, right?

Well… there were a few issues.

1. Fluff
The author has this habit of wasting pages on things that have no impact on the plot. Diana  has this tendency to go off on tangents about things – yoga, wine tasting, what to cook for a vampire – that we don’t care about. We just don’t. Get back to the plot.

And by the plot, I mean the manuscript and the world of creatures and their interactions/lack of interactions, and Diana having consistent characterisation, and not…

2. The Romance Plot

Warning… here there be spoilers

The whole romance plot seemed… familiar. Really familiar. The ancient vampire falls for the mortal woman, the vampire is controlling and he keeps reminding the woman that he could hurt her, but the woman doesn’t care because he’s just so fucking wonderful and perfect and of course he doesn’t kill humans, he only kills animals, and then she gets into all kinds of trouble and needs to be rescued… a lot.

Nope, never heard that one before.

The love story in general felt like one of the author’s asides on yoga or cooking, and it felt like it was interrupting the plot. It felt forced and unnatural. I kept waiting for it to end to find out more about demons, witches and vampires, and why they keep themselves apart from one another. I wanted to know a lot more about the manuscript and the secrets it holds for all the creatures, but instead I had to read a lot about how Diana has fallen (very suddenly) in love with Matthew and lets it derail her academic career (about which she is so serious in the beginning). Seriously though! Diana is mentioned to have classes. No academic is going to run off in the week before lectures start! But Matthew insisted, and so she did…

Diana falls in love with Matthew, and apparently the massive amounts of damage that could do to anyone else – to the whole fabric of the creatures’ social order – doesn’t matter at all because he loves her too. And that’s enough to destroy the rules that must have been created for a reason – right?

(Let me just point out that when Matthew leaves for a few days, Diana goes into some kind of insane witch trance thing and nearly drowns herself… and apparently that’s not at all creepy or weird or over the top or anything.)

There are more compelling reasons to prompt Diana to keep looking for the manuscript and learn to control her powers. Vampires, demons and witches are all losing the potency and slowly going extinct. The people who are trying to get the manuscript from Diana are cruel and ruthless. They admit to murdering her parents. They can’t be allowed to gain that kind of power. So the power of the manuscript is necessary for the creatures’ survival, but it must not fall into the wrong hands.

One would think that would be enough to propel the plot.

But no. Diana falls in love with Matthew and completely excuses every time that he tells her what to do as part of a vampire’s protective nature. He doesn’t tell her what she needs to know, and she excuses it because vampires are secretive. He practically stalks her in the beginning, he breaks into her flat, but that’s fine because… fuck it.

And apparently this love is predestined and therefore that is what must drive the plot forward!

Not, you know, the fact that a lot of other people are affected by this too. No. Only Matthew and Diana and their sudden ‘marriage’ not even a month after they’ve met.

3. The Damsel
Diana has ALL THE POWERS! Of course she has ALL THE POWERS, she’s the protagonist, right?
Her powers are locked away, and only manifest when she needs them. So when she’s kidnapped and tortured, wouldn’t that be the best time for her powers to manifest and for her to come into her own as a witch? But instead, she ‘unlocks’ the power, and then seems to… forget how to do it? Relock her powers inside herself? Not be in enough need to use them? I don’t know.

This damsel in distress thing is what annoyed me most about the book. When we meet Diana in the beginning, she is independent and stubborn. She’s studying an obscure field and is very successful and refuses to use her magic to help her. She wants to make it on her own… but then Matthew arrives and she is fine with being whisked away from her career and her life and…

I liked Diana in the beginning. That Diana is the reason I kept reading. I wanted to get back to that plot, and find out more about the story at large. This book need a better editor – to remove the fluff and point out that Diana isn’t meant to be a damsel in distress. It just doesn’t suit her character. Don’t start writing her as stubborn and independent and then take that away from her.

Would I recommend this book?


No. Yes. Maybe?

Look… I’ve read worse things than  A Discovery of Witches. There are so many good things in this book, but they’re not used well. The waffling. The general uselessness of Diana. The yoga. The food. The… oh who even cares?

There are people I know who would enjoy this book, and I would recommend it directly to them, without much enthusiasm.  But as a general recommendation to the world at large? Hell no.


One thought on “A Discovery Of Witches: Book Review

  1. Finally someone who shares my opinion on this novel! I made the decision to read the second and, whilst it does get more interesting in terms of the overall plot, it’s pitfalls concerning the romance and the ‘damsel’ aspects especially are too blatant to ignore. Consequently I haven’t read the final one lol


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