Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review | A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

What happens when Anne Rice meets Nora Roberts meets Dan Brown. You get a star crossed love story, some neck biting in dusty libraries and a premise that everyone is going to die. I found the book at the Phuket airport and tried to resist the cheesy forbidden love plotline but succumbed to the witches and vampires context. Hey, am a sucker for the supernatural.

Witches have been given a rough time in the supernatural world. They are often portrayed as ugly, warts on face, unfashionable or comedic. Even Harry Potter, a series completely focused on Hocus Pocus, made little of witches preferring to focus on wizardry. So it is indeed refreshing to see a more 'Charmed' less 'Hermione' attitude towards these misunderstood creatures. But lets save a feminist dialogue on Harry Potter for another day and focus on Deborah Harkness's aptly titled book- A Discovery of Witches, not to be confused with the seminal work on the same subject by Matthew Hopkins even though the word play is I am sure completely intentional given Harkness's background.

Deborah wastes no time getting her teeth in as she introduces both the witch- next- door protagonist, her beguiling manuscript and her vampire lover right in chapter one.  Diana Bishop comes from a long line of witches of the Bishop family, the witchy equivalent of belonging to the Vanderbilts. She is in denial of her magical abilities when she comes across a manuscript that will answer that 64 million dollar question, "Why are we here?". The problem is everyone else wants to know this answer as well and more over they believe that this confused adrenalin junkie is the key to unlocking the secrets  of the manuscript. After that we get into familiar Twilight territory that involves falling in love with a cold hearted beast, meeting his family and professing love for an eternity while being kidnapped by naughty people, and finally discovering some chutzpha. Sound familiar? At one point Deborah veers so close to plotline imitation that I wonder if Ms Myer is out there somewhere sharpening her lawyers. But soon differences emerge primarily because of the literary bend to this novel as well as a tough as nails protagonist. No clumsy Bella here thank the Lord.

Harkness clearly knows her subject of alchemy and history and weaves some beautiful mythology and poetry that would bore teenagers but is music to adults.  This lovely literary banter would have been perfect if not steeped in Nora Roberts predictable cheesiness. At the crux of it Ms Harkness is a history professor but not a writer of fiction. She has a commendable grasp on her subject but not on pacing. I had to often skip pages to get to the point. And yes, there is a reference to the Templars. Gasp!

The scariest witch I knew growing up.
Snow White's Step Mom
As all supernatural books, this is a three part series and the next one is due in 2012. I am curious as the plotline has indeed taken an interesting jump (pun intended) and the next book should be a fascinating history lesson on the 15th century. At the moment though I find myself reaching for Harry Potter' The Sorcerers stone, as I am yet to find someone who makes magic as fun as JK Rowling. So verdict? A must read if you are a history fan and especially one that loves the moody supernatural feel of Oxford. There is some serious mythology and poetry here to sink your teeth into and its much easier to read than Anne Rice.

Caveat : It's hard to beat Anne Rice when it comes to Vampires.

Buy A Discovery Of Witches from

Buy Interview With The Vampire from

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