on Feb. 2011
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Also in this series: Shadow of Night, The Book of Life
A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.
Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.
I’m sure some reviewers will be tempted to describe A Discovery of Witches as “Twilight for adults”, but that would be a great disservice to a fascinating and challenging novel. In her first work of fiction, scholar and author Deborah E. Harkness serves up a heady brew of alchemy, academia, science, rare books, medieval chivalric orders, wine, wolf pack behavior, and above all the magical, dangerous, and seductive world of creatures: witches, vampires, and daemons, relations between whom are forbidden by covenant and policed by the sinister Congregation. Woven into the mix are underlying themes of fear and desire, individual freedom, and the relationship of predator and prey.
When Diana Bishop, a reluctant witch with a powerful talent, accidentally calls up a bespelled and long-hidden manuscript while researching in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, she attracts the interest not only of witches but of vampires and daemons—and the protection of vampire Matthew Clairmont. As Diana’s relationship with Clairmont deepens from reluctant protectee to friend to lover, the questions multiply. Why is Diana’s power locked away? What is in the manuscript—and is it the manuscript or Diana who is the true focus of so much nonhuman interest and desire? With everyone, including Matthew, keeping (or revealing) secrets, whom can Diana trust?
Reminding me at times of Jennifer Lee Carrell’s Shakespearean puzzle-thriller Interred With Their Bones (but even better), Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches is a scholarly fantasy-lover’s delight: erudite, well-crafted, and enthralling. Be forewarned, however, that it is the first in a trilogy, and ends on something of a cliff-hanger. The sequel is not due out until sometime in 2012, and there will be a further wait for book number three, so if you’re not the patient sort, you may prefer to defer reading until all three books are out.
Update: Both the second and third books are now out. Click their titles at the top of this post to read my reviews.