Book Review: A Discovery of Witches

Disclaimer: I don’t write these fancy long book reviews for books that I didn’t love or had a big impact on me, but this book did have an impact on me. This book was the pinnacle of untapped potential. It had a great premise, but so much was left untouched. Anyway, I’ll get to that in a moment.

Before we get started, I wanted to pose a question. Does Deborah Harkness even drink tea?

Pushing one of the mugs toward him, I fixed my eyes on the sugar. He handed it to me. I put precisely half a teaspoon of sugar and half a cup of milk into my tea. This is just how I liked it–black as tar, a hint of sugar to cut the edge off the bitterness, then enough milk to make it look less like stew.

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.

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I want to be honest up front and admit that I’m writing this review after not finishing the book. I made it just over halfway and finally decided I couldn’t take it anymore.

Now take a moment, dear reader, and reread the synopsis. I’ll wait…

Done?

Doesn’t that book sound interesting? Too bad that’s not the book I read.

The opening of the book starts with great promise. Diana is in the library and stumbles on a mysterious enchanted book. In general, I love books about books and libraries and witches. But the potentially great plot got thrown out the window and was replaced by repetitive descriptions of Diana’s clothing, Diana’s weird obsession with rowing and running, Diana’s weird way of drinking tea.

When we aren’t being told about Diana’s exercise routine, we are overwhelmed with scientific, alchemical, and historical information of questionable importance.

Part of me wonders if Deborah Harkness put so much effort into researching that she had to include every little bit of information she could.

When Matthew shows up as the brooding vampire love interest, the plot is still not the focus. We get more promises of plot: the possible extinction of witches, vampires, and daemons; the mystery surrounding Diana’s DNA; the looming threat of the Congregation. Instead, we get more descriptions of clothing, food, and now the addition of wine. We don’t even get any steamy love scenes! (At least not in the first half of the novel)

The book started to feel very much like Twilight, in a sense that we have a somewhat helpless female and a strong, overprotective and angry vampire. But what is worse, is that Diana doesn’t have to be helpless.

We are told in the beginning that Diana is the daughter of two very powerful witches and thus has a great amount of power. (Spoiler)  It is shown in her DNA for godsakes! She has every power known to man, but she refuses to use her magic. In the beginning, it seems like an interesting twist to the traditional “witch” novel, but as the “plot” thickens and Diana’s safety becomes more threatened, she still refuses to use her magic.

She’s the ultimate Mary-Sue! The audience is told that Diana holds all this power and she’s the only one who can break the spell on the mysterious enchanted manuscript, but god forbid she do anything other than allow her vampire love interest to sweep in and do everything for her. I kept waiting for her to decide to use her power to protect herself, or pretty much do anything, but no. Diana continues to be a stubborn helpless shell of a person.

Matthew the vampire is no different. He’s basically a better educated Edward Cullen. He acts as both knight-in-shining-armor and borderline abusive boyfriend. Everything he does is to protect her–he gives up on whatever he was doing with his life before he met Diana–and constantly reminds her how helpless and in need of his help she is. He’s at one point doing yoga and talking about New-Age DNA mumbo-jumbo, then he turns around and bares his teeth to show Diana how “scary” he is. I don’t buy it.

I could forgive this novel if the characters actually did anything than hang out, go to yoga class, and drink wine. The book could be half the length if Harkness took out all the superfluous stuff. Reading it, I felt like I’d been watching Diana from a security camera, seeing her every move. What would’ve been more effective, would’ve been to get to the goddamn plot!

Even the fact that a good chunk of what I read took place in a library at Oxford couldn’t save this for me. I had such high hopes for this novel, as I do enjoy witchy books, but this was just a dud.

If you like Twilight, but the protagonist doesn’t have the excuse of being a human in order to be helpless, then you’ll probably like this book. I’m sorry this became more of a rant than a review.