A Discovery of Witches: Bite and Switch?

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
So, have you noticed that Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches has been marketed as a supernatural thriller for smarty pants? The author is a history of science professor and writes a wine blog. The book involves a mysterious manuscript, which, when read by scholar Diana Bishop, unleashes her magical powers and attracts demons and vampires. The heroine is beautiful, but doesn't know it and doesn't wear makeup and jogs around in sweatpants (and I do mean jogs around—she works out all the time). Her beau is an incredibly handsome French vampire/genetic scientist who is the head of a group of supernatural knights. They fall in love and get married instantly.

Matthew Clairmont whisks her away from boring old Oxford, England to his gorgeous estate in France. It's filled with beautiful things, fabulous wines, horses to ride and more stunning vamps. Doesn't anyone fall in love with poor, ordinary vampires? Are there poor, ordinary vampires? Is it a prerequisite to get turned that you are gorgeous and powerful and commanding and will invest wisely while having adventures with people of historical significance? Or, is it that once you are turned you become all these things? I don't know.  I've only read a few books, including the recently published “The Radleys” by Matt Haig that deal with vamps as ordinary folks.

The book that Diana found turns out to be the key to the genetics of supernatural beings. How they got their powers and came to be. All supers want this information, but it turns out that only Diana can actually open the book. She doesn’t know this, of course, and she has no idea that her magic has been suppressed for her whole life.

Diana grows more and more powerful as time passes. So powerful, that she gets kidnapped and has a magical encounter that grants her more powers. Like Buffy, when she met the first slayer. Europe becomes too dangerous for her, so her vampire husband, Matthew whisks her (again with the whisking) off to America in his private jet. They return to her home where she was raised by her aunts. Their house is the best part of the book, as it is magical and adjusts to fit the people in it. It's a Hogwarts-ian “House of Requirement”. It's there that they formulate the plan that will carry the mystery of the manuscript over the course of the rest of the trilogy.

Room of Requirement in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Room of Requirement in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: At least there’s no dearth of filing cabinets

Honestly, it’s just another vampire romance and I think I’m done with those for a while, thanks. But it was sold as an academic mystery with supernatural elements! It’s like everything I like to read tied up with a bow! Magic, books, science, a puzzle to solve and a pretty, smart couple to solve it. Maybe that’s the problem. I’ve seen too many things like it. How is this more smarty pants than the, oh, hundreds of other supernatural books, movies and TV shows I have consumed? Plus, the pacing is a little off. The middle of the book could be trimmed because there’s a loooonng stretch where nothing much happens except for wine, meals and yoga (wait, I love those things, too!). And while it’s not rare for an avid reader to pick up something and not like it, it’s really painful when it’s something that you WANT to love, right? It’s like the blind date that’s great on paper that just doesn’t spark.  *Sigh* But mama always said there’s more fish in the sea.

Amy Dalton is a buyer for a large, Midwestern library system. She has written news and reviews for several book and film sites over the years.


  1. Ron Hogan

    “Honestly, it’s just another vampire romance… But it was sold as an academic mystery with supernatural elements!”

    To me, the bigger sin was that there was ZERO indication that it was supposed to be the first installment in a series, so that the pacing isn’t just “a little off,” it ends abruptly, after Diana has conveniently developed just the power she needs to properly set up the sequel.

    Meanwhile, Diana is terrified to use her powers, even though every example of witchcraft she’s seen growing up indicates that it’s about as dangerous as Bewitched, which makes the arrogance of every other witch in the world rather difficult to understand. But that’s just because… bum bum bum… nobody ever told Diana ANYTHING USEFUL about her powers! How… convenient.

    Yeah, I was not overwhelmed by this one.

  2. Jennifer R

    I like the concept of this book– I bought it for the daemons, basically– but this is a “wish I hadn’t bought it in hardback” kind of disappointment. Between the slow action and the total Mary Sue-ness…sigh. Coulda been better.

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