Monday, August 29, 2011

A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches
Deborah Harkness
All Souls Trilogy #1

Diana Bishop has used magic four times in the past year, and one of those shouldn't count because she didn't have another choice. Ever since her parents died when she was seven, Diana has tried, despite being from a witch family, to be as normal as possible. She became a professor of history, and (except for a few desparate occasions) cut magic out of her life. Until she comes across an alchemy text that's a little more than your average book. Suddenly she's surrounded by witches, vampires, and daemons, all of whom want to get their hands on it. One vampire in particular gets Diana's attention - the stunning Matthew Clairmont, whose protection may be the only thing that allows Diana to survive the sometimes sinister presence of other creatures, who may want more than the book after all.

I'm not really sure why this book is so popular. It's not bad, it's just that I've read a lot of books in the same genre that are much better. Of the three groups of "creatures" (vampires, witches, and daemons) the most unique are the daemons, whose great intelligence and creativity border on insanity. However, the daemons are the least featured in the novel, and most of the rest of the setting is nothing new. The combination of magic, history, and science was interesting to read, particularly the genetic aspect of creature origins and the story of the Knights of Lazarus. I found the references to the Salem witch trials a little iffier, but hey, artistic license.

What bothered me the most about this book was the plot itself. About a quarter of the way through, it became clear that A Discovery of Witches is primarily a romance novel, to the detriment of the rest of the plot. At first the other creatures are after the book, then it's Matthew and Diana's relationship that's a problem, then their enemies want Diana's powers. There's no one danger that binds the story, making the plot seem a little disjointed.

Even the romance struck me as off, somehow. Maybe it's because they got together so quickly (and yet not?), maybe because Diana's protests over Matthew's protectiveness never seem to amount to anything, but their relationship did not have that crucial rightness that happens in the best love stories. I just didn't get that feeling. (Sorry, that's the best I can do for tangible description.)

I did enjoy this book, and I'll probably read the sequel when it comes out. (Oh yeah, there's a sequel. Not a big deal, but it would have been nice to know.) I did like the characters, and the plot, while unfocused, was enough to keep me engaged. However, I don't think it deserves the glowing reputation it has. If you want a great urban fantasy, I'll be happy to recommend some, but this just isn't one of them.

Characters: 3 cupcakes
Plot: 2 cupcakes
Style: 4 cupcakes
Overall: 3 cupcakes

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