A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery Of Witches

Muffled voices chattered in my ear, intruding on the familiar hush of the room.

“Did you hear that?” I looked around, puzzled by the strange sounds.

“What?” Sean replied, looking up from the manuscript.

Traces of gilt shone along its edges and caught my eye. But those faded touches of gold could not account for a faint, iridescent shimmer that seemed to be escaping from between the pages. I blinked.

“Nothing.” I hastily drew the manuscript toward me, my skin prickling when it made contact with the leather. Sean’s fingers were still holding the call slip, and now it slid easily out of the binding’s grasp. I hoisted the volumes into my arms and tucked them under my chin, assailed by a whiff of the uncanny that drove away the library’s familiar smell of pencil shavings and floor wax.

“Diana? Are you okay?” Sean asked with a concerned frown.

“Fine. Just a bit tired,” I replied, lowering the books away from my nose.

Diana Bishop is the last in a long line of American witches, but although wild magic flows around her she was never able to master the simplest spells — and now she tends to ignore that part of her family history as far as possible. As an academic she specialises in the history of alchemy, so she has plenty of opportunity to study the arcane and the magical from a safe and impersonal distance. Then she accidentally calls up a bewitched manuscript from the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian library, and as her two worlds collide, it’s no longer possible for her to deny her powers or her heritage.

Gorgeous vampire Matthew appears in Oxford at about the same time, and despite the historical animosity between their species, the two are drawn to one another. We’ve often remarked on the shortage of older heroines in fantasy, but Diana is a grown woman with a successful career. It’s refreshing to read a grown-up romance in which both parties have a good amount of life experience (several lives’ worth, in Matthew’s case) and know exactly what they want; of course, that doesn’t mean they’ll always get it, and if Diana and Matthew are to be together they will have a number of hurdles to cross first. Vampires and witches aren’t supposed to associate with one another, by an ancient agreement, and even something as simple as going about town together draws unwanted attention from all quarters. And that’s before they meet one another’s families.

What I really loved about this book was the detail of the settings, and of the characters’ backgrounds which took them far beyond stereotypical witches and vampires. Matthew, for example, is a much-lauded geneticist under his present identity — and his expertise is central to the developing storyline. Similarly, Diana is defined by her skills as a historian, and her choices are steered by this scholarly grounding as she delves into the mysteries of Ashmole 782. Together, combining their complementary academic skills with their supernatural abilities, they make an incredible investigative team.

A Discovery of Witches is the first of three books in the All Souls Trilogy, all of which are now available.

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