A Discovery of Witches: A Novel (All Souls Trilogy)

by Deborah E. Harkness

Hardcover, 2011

Status

Available

Series

Publication

Viking (2011), Edition: 1st, 592 pages

Description

Witch and Yale historian Diana Bishop discovers an enchanted manuscript, attracting the attention of 1,500-year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont. The orphaned daughter of two powerful witches, Bishop prefers intellect, but relies on magic when her discovery of a palimpsest documenting the origin of supernatural species releases an assortment of undead who threaten, stalk, and harass her.

Media reviews

"With books about fictional witches, it’s all too easy to fall back on tongue-in-cheek descriptors like “enchanting” or “spellbinding,” but both adjectives aptly describe the superbly entertaining saga Harkness has crafted. This is a riveting tale full of romance and danger that will have you on the edge of your seat, yet its chief strength lies in the wonderfully rich and ingenious mythology underlying the story. Entwining strands of science and history, Harkness creates a fresh explanation for how such creatures could arise that is so credible, you’ll have to keep reminding yourself this is fiction."
9 more
As will be obvious by now, this is a very silly novel. Characters and relationships are stereotyped. The historical background is a total pudding. The prose is terrible. And yet, the ideas have just enough suction, somehow, to present an undemanding reader with some nice frissons. I liked, for example, the way Diana tries to sublimate her magic powers in running and rowing and doing yoga – at a mixed vampire-witch-daemonic yoga class, participants struggle not to levitate during their vinyasas. And I liked the way Matthew and Diana smell to each other like Jo Malone candles: Diana is "horehound, frankincense, lady's mantle", Matthew is "cinnamon and clove".
"a thoroughly grown-up novel packed with gorgeous historical detail...Harkness writes with thrilling gusto about the magical world. Whether she's describing a yoga class for witches, daemons, and vampires or Diana's benignly haunted house, it's a treat to suspend disbelief. ... As the mysteries started to unravel, the pages turned faster, almost as if on their own. By the most satisfying end, Harkness had made me a believer.
"a romantic, erudite, and suspenseful first novel by Deborah Harkness. The first in a planned trilogy, it sets up blood drinkers and spell weavers as enemies for eternity in a feud as old as the Crusades; the duo confront social disapproval and intolerance as they elude evildoers and puzzle out enigmas throughout history. ...Harkness attends to every scholarly and emotional detail with whimsy, sensuality, and humor.
The protagonist is a witch. Her beau is a vampire. If you accept the argument that we’ve seen entirely too many of both kinds of characters in contemporary fiction, then you’re not alone. Yet, though Harkness seems to be arriving very late to a party that one hopes will soon break up, her debut novel has its merits; she writes well, for one thing, and, as a historian at the University of Southern California, she has a scholarly bent that plays out effectively here.
Publisher's Weekly
“In Harkness’s lively debut, witches, vampires, and demons outnumber humans at Oxford’s Bodleian Library…a crowded universe where normal and paranormal creatures observe a tenuous peace. “Magic is desire made real,” Bishop says after both her desire and magical prowess exceed her expectations. Harkness brings this world to vibrant life…”
It's a bit over the top, but witch-and-vampire novel should launch a good series... It's probably unfair to compare A Discovery of Witches, the debut novel from Deborah Harkness, to the Twilight saga and its imitators, but it's a difficult comparison to avoid. It's probably best, then, to get that out of the way at the top. Yes, A Discovery of Witches is a novel featuring a romance with a preternaturally old, attractive and compelling vampire. Thankfully, this one doesn't sparkle. Yes, it is yet another novel in which a supposedly capable young woman is reduced to swooning ineptitude as her relationship with said vampire deepens.... If she can rein in some of the fulsomeness, Harkness might just be on to a winner.
"A Discovery of Witches" — like another recent Viking title, last year's "Angelology" — is a debut novel with a big supernatural canvas and a decidedly feminine point of view..Can I just say how difficult it is for a guy to read this stuff? Why do vamps always have the look and fashion sense of a GQ model? Is there no such thing as a homely vampire?..The book's pace is leisurely — often a little too leisurely ....A professor of history at USC, Harkness creates an entertaining world in her first novel...
While fervently hoping for The Historian meets The Golden Compass, what I got was Twilight meets The Da Vinci Code, via Harlequin Romance. That, alas, is the problem with A Discovery of Witches – it’s a romance trying to masquerade as something more erudite. ...The sexual politics of the book are often appalling, but almost as offensive is the writing. This sentence, for example, should not have been allowed in any novel, ever: “Matthew laughed, and the sound was as deep and smoky as his eyes.” What makes it even more frustrating is that Harkness is an engaging writer on subjects that clearly interest her, like history. But when it comes down to character relationships, the novel is filled with the most irritating tropes of romance fiction...Despite its many problems, A Discovery of Witches is sure to become a massive bestseller, and will be clutched fervently to many a heaving bosom. Alas, the whole thing has worn me out, and I must now retire to my fainting couch with a cold compress and a vial of smelling salts. (Because, you know, that’s what women today are like.)
Library Journal
[starred review] "Diana Bishop is a history scholar—and a witch in denial of her powers. Researching the early beginnings of scientific study in Oxford's Bodleian Library, she unwittingly discovers an ancient tome of alchemy and finds herself attracting a great deal of unwanted attention from a startling array of daemons, witches, and other supernatural beings. Among them is the brilliant (and attractive) vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. Set in our contemporary world with a magical twist, this sparkling debut by a history professor features a large cast of fascinating characters, and readers will find themselves invested in Diana's success at unlocking the secrets of the manuscript. ... Harkness is an author to watch.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bigorangemichael
The old adage of you should never judge a book by its cover comes to mind when I think about A Discovery of Witches. Or maybe that should be amended to read never judge a book by its marketing campaign.

While the marketing campaign would have you believe this is a new, unique entry into the fantasy world, the reality is that the novel is nothing more than a badly plotted vampire romance with huge hints of Mary Sue thrown in for good measure.

The sad part is that it starts out so well. Diana Bishop is the last descendant of the Bishop family of witches who were at the center of the Salem witch trials. Her parents were two powerful witches (who were killed) and while Diana has denied her heritage, she still can't help but user her powers from time to time. She tries to limit herself only to important things like fixing the washing machine to keep her apartment from flooding. But when she stumbles across an ancient text in her scholarly studies that is brimming with power, Diana suddenly becomes even more on the radar of the supernatural community than ever before.

In Deborah Harkness' universe, the supernatural includes witches, vampires and daemons. Before you know it, Diana's life is crawling with people taking an interest in the book and her. One in particular is Matthew, who also happens to be a vampire. At first, Diana is irritated by his apparent interest in her and spurns his advances. But, as I said before, this is a cleverly disguised vampire romance, so it's not long before she's taking an interest in the vampire man. It probably doesn't help that her aunt who raised her and her partner (who is also a witch) strongly disapprove of Matthew. Matthew also smells like cloves, something Diana dwells on lot over the course of the story.

It's at this point the book begins to derail completely. The early hook of a powerful supernatural entity denying her powers and heritage all while stumbling across a powerful ancient text quickly gets lost in a book that gives into every bad Mary Sue tendency. Long passages of the book are spent on meals that are shared by Diana and Matthew as well as their mutual love of wine. (There hasn't been this much emphasis placed on wines in a novel since Sideways.) I suppose it shouldn't come as a huge surprise since reading the author's bio, I find she's a wine critic for a blog.

If you can plow through all of that (and believe me, you'll have to plow), then we get into Matthew taking Diana to supernatural yoga not once but multiple times in the story, Diana's love of crew and how great it feels to be out on the water and her lamenting on her lack of wardrobe. I often joke that the biggest factor that keeps me from fully embracing Tolkein is his excess in world-building, seemingly describing every leaf of every tree on the journey to Mordor. In the case of Witches, it's almost as if Harkness is trying to create the world by showing us every last single detail of every single day Diana experiences. Instead of feeling like the story is building a fully realized world, the final product comes off as seemingly wish fulfillment and the author barely disguising herself as the main protagonist. It also leads to large chunks of the middle of the book being less than compelling and entertaining. The sad part is that Harkness hides a few revelations in the middle chunk of the book so you can't really skip that section.

And then there's the romance with Matthew. This storyline borrows heavily from the Twilight saga. And no, I don't mean that as a compliment. As I've said before, long sections of the story dwell on Matthew's smelling like cloves. The story tries to have Diana resist Matthew in the first pages, but its telegraphed very early these two will fall hopelessly in love. Diana's declarations of love ring false as the story progresses. I'm guessing she just swore off romance in her life until the right vampire came along.

If you're a fan of vampire romance, you may eat this up with a spoon. However, the other excesses of the story are so great that I had a hard time overlooking them as well. It all adds up to one of the more profoundly disappointing books I've read in a long, long time. And this is the start of a trilogy of novels. Here's one reader who won't be back for more.
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LibraryThing member eljabo
Thank goodness I'm finally finished with this book! It's taken me nearly two weeks to trudge my way through it.

The only reason I kept reading was that I thought something eventually would have to happen. And something finally did at about page 400. And even then, what happened was lame.

I've never read such a long book with so little plot. The main character went to yoga, ate a lot of meals, drank a lot of wine, rowed, went to the library and made out with a vampire. That's about it. There were pages and pages dedicated to the flavors and smells of wine and various food items.

I guess this book is a set-up for the other two books in the series. I think this is going to be the rare trilogy I don't actually finish.
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LibraryThing member wjohnston
I wanted to like this book but ended up being disappointed with it. I found Harkness's writing style way too distracting. She could benefit from a couple of Elmore Leonard's Rules of Writing: "Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue," and "Never use an adverb to modify the verb 'said.'" When Matthew the vampire 'purred' a line, I almost threw the book across the room. And then he did it again a couple hundred pages later. (If vampires are the predators she wants us to think they are, I doubt they do a lot of purring.)

There is an overabundance of detail. (Leonard's rules, again: avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Don't go into great detail describing places or things.) I am all in favor of using small details to set the scene, but at some point the level of detail in this book gets to be too much. (One example: it felt like every time Diana got dressed, we were treated to a description of the outfit.)

I felt similarly about Justin Cronin's "The Passage," another genre book attempting to look mainstream, and another first book in a proposed trilogy. That was also a monster tome that felt bloated.

A good editor could trim some of the fat and turn this into a decent 300- to 400-page book. As for me, I suspect I will skip the sequels and wait for the movie.
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Twilight with alchemy. In fact I gave it 1 1/2 stars only because of the information about alchemy and the look at which powers belong to which creature. Diana, who supposedly has a PhD in history acts like a petulant 15 year old for most of the book. Why oh why would a woman write this sort of sexist clap trap? Mathew, the ancient vampire, is always in charge and speaks in commands instead of statements. He tells Diane when she is hungry, tired (a lot if the time), in danger or not paying attention. He threatens anyone who approaches his woman in the guise of protecting her. Diana evidently thinks under his control is exactly where she belongs. She rejects her own family in favor of his, feels at home more at his house than hers and even threatens her own aunts when she thinks they aren't offering him the proper respect. Plus, of course, just like Bella, she is continually begging him for sex which, for her own good, he withholds. 759 pages later the book shows itself to be just the prelude to whatever adventure Harness thinks we want to go on. Nothing would make me want to venture into the rest of the series.… (more)
LibraryThing member MlleEhreen
A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES is bad. Trainwreck bad, the kind of awful you can't look away from. The narrator is the most flagrant Mary Sue I've run across in a loooooong time. First we find out that she's a tenured professor at Yale at the age of 35. Anyone who knows anything about getting tenure is probably already laughing, but if the process is unfamiliar that's kind of like saying she achieved world peace or found Atlantis. Really, really unlikely.

But it's not enough that she's the wunderkind scholar of her generation. No, she's also the greatest witch of her generation. Her mother and father were two of the most powerful witches in their day, and now Mary Sue...er...that is, Diana gets to be as powerful as they were combined.

She's also a star athlete, super hot, and, oh yeah, she's got mysterious otherworldly eyes that are like five different colors! Her hair too!

A superwoman like Diana ought to be up for some pretty major challenges - it would take something pretty epic to give her a run for her money - which is why it's so very, very strange that NOTHING HAPPENS. I mean, NOTHING. The "plot" (and I use that term verrrrry loosely) gets rolling when Diana calls an enchanted manuscript up from the bowels of the Bodlean Library in Oxford: Ashmole 782. She's trying to deny her magical heritage, so even though she can tell the book is more than it seems she just takes a peek and sends it back.

It turns out that supernatural creatures of all sorts have been trying to get their hands on Ashmole 782 for more than a hundred years. They can't call it up, they can't open it - the enchantment is too powerful, it defeats everyone but Diana. So now all these scheming supernatural creatures start scheming after Diana, hoping to use her in order to gain access to this book.

So what happens next? Well, let's see. She goes rowing. She takes a run. She goes out to breakfast. She has lunch. She goes to yoga class. I don't mean that she thinks to herself, "I'll go out for a run," but before her run is over, something dramatic happens to further the plot. Oh no. When she goes for a run, she clocks her miles and gets home without incident. Same with the rowing and the yoga and the lunch.

So back to the main plot. She calls the book and opens it within the first couple of chapters. She doesn't try to look at it again until about 25% of the way through the book. Does anything dramatic happen between the beginning and the 25% mark? Well...she has a couple of tense conversations, does that count? And she meets her boyfriend.

Speaking of the boyfriend, Matthew...well, don't get your hopes up for an exciting romance. Here is a quote, totally in context, where the narrator gushes about how great her relationship with Matthew is: "This was so different from books and movies, where love was made into something tense and difficult." She is NOT KIDDING. There is NO tension. They meet, they're soulmates, the end.

Once Matthew takes over, all Diana ever seems to do is sleep and eat. There is one passage that made me laugh out loud. Matthew has been away accomplishing things and he's due home, so Diana is "determined to be waiting when he pulled up." OK! Now we've got some courage and strength on display! She's determined to be waiting! The very next sentence begins, "First I waited in the salon on a sofa by the fire..." and the next couple of pages describe all the other ways she waited. Nothing interrupts her, nothing distracts her. She really spends the afternoon waiting, and we're really expected to read about it.

I could go on and on. A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES is like a pinata, in a way, I just want to keep bashing at it. There's just SO MUCH to dislike. Like, imagine all the "spoilers" I'm not spoiling in my review (hint: there aren't many, because NOTHING HAPPENS).
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LibraryThing member stephxsu
Um, wow. This is a Twilight-esque romance that deludes itself into thinking it is a great work of historical fantasy literature. The "magical book and magical creatures" element is a mere flimsy front to Diana and Matthew's dull-as-cardboard-yet-still-somehow-a-whirlwind romance. Because reading about taking yoga classes together, what they cook for one another, and the rare wines they share with one another really adds to the characterization and plot, peoples. I read 200 pages and then stopped, because I could see where this series was going, and I felt no need to continue on with that train.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookworm12
Dear "A Discovery of Witches,"

When I heard you were “Twilight for adults” I was skeptical and a bit hesitant to pick you up. Then you were available as a Kindle library loan and I thought what the heck.

When I started reading you, you reminded me more of The Historian than Twilight and I thought the Oxford setting and academia references were interesting. But then you had a vampire who sparkled and a yoga class for “creatures” and I was became wary. Really, the vampire is going to get mad if someone asks what he likes to eat for dinner when they are cooking for him? I think that’s a pretty valid question, even if he has been answering it for centuries.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading parts of you, but I do wish you had avoided some of the Edward/Bella clichés. I don’t care if the vampire can’t get over some woman’s smell and I get that a vampire’s skin is going to feel cool against the “hot skin of a warm blood.” Also, it’s actually a bit creepy (not sexy) to have him hunting/stalking her, even if he is “falling” for her.

Look, it’s not you, it’s me. I’m just a bit sick of the vampire thing to be honest. I don’t want to read the word chiseled to describe another gorgeous vampire. I don’t want two paragraphs on how someone smells like cloves… in every single chapter.

I really did like some of your supporting characters. You had some great sassy women (I’m looking at you Sarah) and I loved how the house became a character in its own right. But frankly, it wasn’t enough to make me really like you. There were too many repetitive plots and when I reached the end and realized I had just read 600 pages not knowing you weren’t going to resolve ANYTHING I was more than miffed. If you want to have a sequel, that’s fine, just give me some sort of heads up next time.

Sincerely,
Burned out on vampires in the Midwest
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LibraryThing member stefferoo
Let's just say that the only thing saving this book from a 1 star review from me is my tendency to round up when I give half stars, because this would probably be a 1.5 from me. I don't recall the last time I felt so annoyed over reading a novel, but towards the end of this book I had lost all desire to continue and the only thing motivating me to finish was the idea of writing this review and venting my frustrations.

The novel started off well enough. Diana Bishop, the main character and narrator, stumbles upon a mysterious manuscript at the Bodleian Library at Oxford. I was instantly intrigued and wanted to know more about where this ancient book came from and how it would play into the rest of the story. It got me fired up and ready for a paranormal mystery/thriller. Then in walks Matthew Clairmont, vampire and love interest, and the novel switches track. At this point, the book becomes a full-blown paranormal romance -- which is fine, I might add; I don't tend to read paranormal romances, but I have nothing against the genre and I'm flexible enough to enjoy reading just about anything as long as it's got a good story. All I ask is that the author choose a path and stick to it.

My brain, however, was just thoroughly yanked in too many directions while reading this book. Like I said, after preparing myself for a good mystery, I had to quickly switch gears and get into the mood for a paranormal romance instead. But just as quickly, the book introduces other mystery elements, such as the unexplained circumstances of Diana's parents deaths when she was a child, as well as the brutal vampire-related murders in the news. After grabbing the reader, however, both these points were hardly developed.

At times I wanted to yell at this book and tell it to make up its mind; it suffers from having way too many ideas and plot lines crammed within its pages. The paranormal mystery/thriller fan will likely be bored to tears by the lack of story progress as the novel trudges through the relationship between Diana and Matthew. Likewise, the paranormal romance fan will probably feel bogged down by the pages and pages of Dan Brown-esque history and science background information injected haphazardly into the story. And both camps are going to be frustrated by the long stretches in this novel where the characters do absolutely nothing of importance, except take long aimless walks, drink copious amounts of tea and wine, or do yoga.

As for the characters, I admit I failed to connect with either Diana or Matthew, both of whom I found very bland. Diana, a young independent scholar, had the potential to be a very interesting heroine, but seemingly devolves before my eyes the moment Matthew comes into the picture. For all the talk she spouts about being brave and being able to take care of herself, she has the backbone of a plate of jello. It was also a very sad moment when I recognized her for the Mary Sue she is -- traits like being brilliant beyond belief and achieving tenure at Yale in her 30s, as well as potentially being the most powerful witch that ever lived by possessing every single magical ability.

And don't even get me started about Matthew. Listen, I'm all for chivalry. I love a strong, confident man you can depend on to love you and care for you. However, I also recognize a problem when a character like Matthew is constantly doing things like a) ordering/snapping/growling at Diana and everyone around him to do exactly as he says, b) spying/stalking Diana and keeping secrets from her, c) not allowing Diana to go anywhere without his permission, resorting to steering her by the small of her back/grabbing her elbow/throwing her over his shoulder when she refuses to listen, and d) flying off the handle whenever he doesn't get his way. The list goes on and on.

Look, there's a huge difference between when a man is being caring and when he is being controlling. Guess which category Matthew falls into. What a turn off. I have to say I grew out of that "I *heart* bad boys" phase even before I hit high school, and certainly nothing about Matthew sets my heart a-flutter. There's also a myriad little things that bug me about him -- the fact he's supposed to be this scary brooding vampire, but he does yoga (nothing wrong with a man who does yoga, but it doesn't help the image that the author's obviously trying for) and here and there he's also described as being "shy". Like Diana, Matthew's character is also way too idealized for my tastes. For one, he seems to have been acquainted with every single famous person in history that ever lived. Oh, and he can also tell by smell when Diana will have her next period. That's just creepy.

And speaking of history, I guess some of what's talked about in the book is interesting. I can't say the same for the "science", though. Granted, my educational background in biology wasn't focused on DNA or genetics, but even a basic understanding of those topics had me giggling incredulously in my chair as I read the author's take on chromosomes and genome mapping to explain the differences between human and creatures, and witches' powers. So like, there would be a gene for controlling elements. A gene for flying. A gene for timewalking/time traveling. And so on. Like, what is this, the X-Men? Don't get me wrong, I love the X-Men, but the comics never marketed themselves as "intellectual" reading.

Still, I think what disappoints me most is the fact that this could have been a very good book. I confess, it's probably a big part of why I was so frustrated, given how the novel's synopsis pulled me in right away as well as the hype surrounding this title. Like I said, there are some great ideas in here, which in my opinion just weren't handled properly. The novel would probably have benefited greatly from a more rigorous editing process; maybe the focus could have been tightened up, ideas spread out more over the series, and the length of the book cut down, etc.

Despite all the that I've written here, I can't say for certain right now I won't pick up the next book in the trilogy when it comes out. I don't give up on series very easily, and like to give things another chance whenever I can. Also, there are admittedly many mysterious elements that this first installment introduced that I would love to see answered or continued, not to mention the infuriating cliffhanger the author left us with. Still, it'll probably be low priority on my to-read list.
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LibraryThing member nicx27
Diana Bishop comes from a long line of witches. She is doing research at the Bodleian Library in Oxford when one of the books that she calls up from the archives changes her entire life. She then meets Matthew Clairmont, a vampire (witches and vampires shouldn't really mix) and she finds herself under attack and scrutiny from witches, vampires and daemons, as they all try to find out what is in the book that she called up.

This is a very large book (almost 600 pages) and I think it could have done with being cut down by probably a third. It's such a slow read and did feel a bit like wading through mud at times. However, I do think Deborah Harkness is a good writer, but she's known for her non-fiction and this, her first work of fiction, felt a bit like she was finding her feet writing about feelings and emotions, rather than just fact.

I understand that this is the first in a series, and it was definitely left a bit up in the air, but I don't think I will read any of the other books. It's a good idea for a story, and taps into the current vampire trend with a more grown up feel to it, but I'm afraid I found myself getting rather bored with it all. I see that I'm in the minority so wouldn't say to anybody that they shouldn't give it a go if they think they will enjoy it, but just be prepared for a fairly drawn out read.
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LibraryThing member ReadingWithMartinis
I read and heard so many good things about this book that I was absolutely salivating at the prospect of getting my hands on a copy. Imagine my delight when I walked into my local library and a copy was sitting on the shelf. I scooped it up and hurried home to devour it.

Unfortunately, A Discovery of Witches ended up being one of those books that did not live up to the hype. Not even in the least. I will give Deborah Harkness credit for the only thing I can say I enjoyed about this novel: the atmosphere. Harkness created a highly atmospheric novel that was very rich in detail and setting. I truly enjoyed reading about the different places: the old libraries, the ancient manors, etc. Harkness crafted this portion of the novel very well.

What I did not like was pretty much everything else. I found the characters to be just terrible. Extremes in the characters are really what ruined them for me. Diana Bishop goes from simpering academic (which I did not like) to over-the-top, all sources of magic in the whole wide world uber-witch. The novel starts off with Diana refusing to acknowledge her witchcraft heritage and powers. Then, her acceptance is thrown into hyper-drive and not only is she an accepting witch, she had every super power known to mankind and a few that have never before been seen. It was way too much. I am highly accepting of magical worlds. Magical worlds make up the bulk of what I read. But when a character goes from a simple, magical creature, to being so over-the-top powerful that is borders on ridiculous, well, you’ve lost me. This is a prime example of why I stopped reading Laurell K. Hamilton’s Meredith Gentry series. I do not enjoy conflated characters.

Matthew Clairmont was just meh. He’s a vampire, he falls in love with Diana, blah blah blah. I didn’t find him engaging or interesting. He was overly macho, which I find repulsive in characters. I get that he is an ancient vampire and maybe he has some older sensibilities, but again, those sensibilities were overblown and made me dislike him.

The plot was interesting at first. However, once the plot shifted focus from the magical document to the romance between Diana and Matthew, I couldn’t have cared less. Add into that my extreme displeasure with the uber-nature of everything about Diana and Matthew, and it’s not shocking why I disliked this novel. Also, this book could have been about 200 pages shorter and still told the same story. Characters were not the only things inflated by Harkness.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. I absolutely will not be reading any of the other books in this series. I am very glad I got this book from the library and didn’t spend a dime on it. If you feel you must read it, I urge you to check it out from the library or pick up a used copy.
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LibraryThing member suetu
The Montagues and the Capulets. The Jets and the Sharks. The witches and the vampires? Yes, it's Romeo and Juliet all over again in Deborah Harkness's lukewarm debut.

Harkness has invented a world with four types of humanoid "creatures." As the main character states, "Witches aren't the only creatures sharing the world with humans, however. There are also daemons--creative, artistic creatures who walk a tightrope between madness and genius. `Rock stars and serial killers' was how my aunt described these strange, perplexing beings. And there are vampires, ancient and beautiful, who feed on blood and will charm you utterly if they don't kill you first." These more exotic creatures live amongst us, and mostly they just skate through life trying not to attract attention. In fact, other than painfully repetitious admonitions to not attract their attention, the humans really aren't a part of this tale at all.

Witches, it seems, have a natural affinity for the humanities, whereas vampires are drawn to math and science. Our two protagonists are true to their natures. Our Juliet stand-in is Dr. Diana Bishop, scion of one of the most powerful and respected witch families. She's a tenured Yale professor, a historian of science and alchemy, spending a year at Oxford. She is also a witch who has made a nearly life-long practice of stifling her magic, although she cheats on very rare occasions when convenience trumps long habit.

It is a witnessed act of illicit magic that provides the required meet-cute for our star-crossed lovers. Our Romeo is Dr. Matthew Clairmont: tall, dark, handsome, vampire, scientist. (Not to mix my literary metaphors, but he is a veritable Mr. Darcy of a vampire, and when the film is made I insist that Colin Firth is cast.) Matthew, along with a host of other creatures, has his eyes glued to Diana Bishop because she has managed to do what no one has done for hundreds of years. Without realizing the significance, she has called up a most powerfully enchanted and widely desired manuscript, which she just as blithely returns to the library's stacks. Now there's all kinds of interest in both the manuscript and Diana, and there is danger in the air--though that may be due to the constant proximity of this vampire.

One thing Harkness does get right in the first half of the novel is an intriguing mood of fear and eroticism. I found it compelling, and it kept me turning the pages. And turning the pages. And turning the pages. After a while, this book began to seem interminable. At one point near the end, Matthew says to Diana, "At first I was sure this was about the manuscript. Then I supposed it was all about you. Now I'll be damned if I can figure what it's about."

Um, Matthew, let me help you out. It's about race relations and a plea for tolerance. It's about alternate lifestyles and marriage equality and a plea for acceptance. These are issues about which I care deeply, yet I still found Harkness's message unsubtle and banal. Her use of language is quotidian at best. Her romance fizzles somewhere along the way. Once our lovers get together they're far less interesting. I find her magical landscape to be utterly lacking in... magic.

Still, the novel was plodding it way towards a three-star review. I'm a generous rater, and there were aspects of the story that interested me, such as the dynamics of Matthew's vampire family. As the stakes of the novel grew and headed towards an inevitable confrontation, I found myself wondering how Harkness could possibly wrap things up in the remaining pages. It never occurred to me that she wouldn't.

That's right, folks. I dragged my little eyes through 600 pointlessly drawn out pages only to discover that this book has absolutely no resolution! It ends on a cliff-hanger! I struggled through this mess to get to an end that never came. And THAT is unforgivable. God knows how many volumes Ms. Harkness has planned, but I doubt I'll give her any more of my precious reading time.
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LibraryThing member mtrumbo
The book had a lot of promise at the beginning but then started to get bogged down and, dare I say, almost Twilight-esque (weaker female lead character). I am bummed because I had high hopes for it.
LibraryThing member CurrerBell
I gave up on this thing about a third of the way through. Thirty-something damsel/witch in distress encounters overwhelmingly compelling vampire (male, of course, and some fifteen centuries old). Close to six hundred pages; it's not even approaching any kind of real narrative thread after a couple hundred; it's a complete hodgepodge of purple prose; and I've gotten tired of reading about oyster-and-champagne dinners (the wine's sometimes a couple hundred years old) and the witch and the vampire tasting each other's body odors. This thing seems to have a definite following, and maybe you'll like it, but it's definitely not my cuppa.… (more)
LibraryThing member catalogthis
Finding it very difficult to give this a rating. Here's me, at various stages:* In the beginning: "Yay -- witches in an archive! Our heroine is interesting: she has moral quandaries, plus she rows, and does original academic research! And oooh, check it out. A hot vampire."* Middle: "When did this turn into a Harlequin romance? And why can't I tear my eyes away, even as they roll?"* Later middle: "Where did my interesting heroine go? Girlfriend hasn't made a decision for herself in at least a hundred pages."* Towards the end: "Wait a minute. This is all exposition. You're just setting stuff up for a sequel. You're not going to build up to any kind of climax, are you, Prof. Harkness?"Overall, a fun read, but with an aftertaste of disappointment. Characters that had great potential for complexity remained stubbornly two-dimensional. This is the first of a trilogy, and I'm betting that the author has a big plan in mind, so hopefully volumes 2 and 3 will be more... fulfilling.… (more)
LibraryThing member ReginaR
There is a lot about this book I enjoyed and (initially) liked. The literature, historical and mythological references. The attempt to incorporate science and theories of evolution in a supernatural tale. The settings all over the world; the setting in libraries and discussions of ancient texts. The lead character is a strong woman, athletic and independent. But there was so much about the book that derailed it for me from these little jewels. I feel bad in not liking this book as I know so many people love it.

This book is too long for the story being told. It should have been edited down and shortened. The descriptions of food, scent and appearances of people are just too detailed and drag on endlessly. The descriptions of clothes and in getting ready to go places really do not add anything to the story, in my opinion. I hated how the author described Diana’s (the lead’s) hair and eye color. I don’t understand how a person’s eyes can contain all colors or a person’s hair contain all colors. I likely could have ended up liking this story if it hadn’t employed one of my most hated themes. I really really really hate when male characters treat the heroine like she is a child – telling her what she needs to eat, when she needs to eat, when she should sleep, insisting on naps (blocking her exit from rooms because he believes she is too tired, warning her that an activity will be cut short if he sees her looking tired) and deciding for her what behavior is safe or not. I don’t find this level of control endearing or sweet, I think it is obnoxious. My father didn’t even do this to me when I was a teenager and I do not think there is anything romantic about a love interest doing this.

I love historical rooted stories and stories about ancient secrets and I love stories set at universities. But I really get tired of stories where the hero knew all the famous people ever and only studied at the top most elite schools. Granted, a vampire that has lived 1500 years isn’t realistic so why should I expect a more common life for him? I just get tired of this trope. There are more universities in the world outside of Harvard and Oxford, plenty of good researchers and professors work at these and it would be just as interesting to have a story set at a different school. The same could be said for an ancient being, how likely is it that he knew every single famous scholar – Machievelli, Darwin, Newton, etc.? What about the common people, what about all of the other people in history whose tales didn’t survive to be retold? I know I am getting too serious for the type of book this was, but it just missed the mark for me. It is sad that it ultimately let me down, because the first 25% started off so strongly and I was hopeful that I would end up loving this book. I won’t be reading the sequel. I do see where this book would appeal to other readers, it just wasn’t for me.
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LibraryThing member mamzel
It was impossible for me to read this book and not think on other literary couples featuring a male vampire and a human/paranormal woman. Like Bella and Edward, and Sookie and Bill, there is an overabundance of alpha male protectiveness that had me close to the point of closing the book. The manuscript that was the focus of everyone's attention was the only thing that kept me going.

Diana is a brilliant historian researching alchemy in a library that is part of Oxford University. She requests a manuscript known as Ashmole 782. She is also a witch who would prefer not to be and has tried all her life to ignore her heritage. However, she knew at once that this manuscript was seeped in magic and that somehow she has a special connection with it. Unfortunately, everyone else is immediately aware of this as well as witches, vampires, and daemons have a vested interest in knowing what is in this book that has magically remained hidden for many years.

First on the scene is a vampire named Matthew Clairmont who, like male vampires in other series, feels that he and he alone can protect her from all the nasties. Forget the fact that she runs and punts regularly and has a heritage of powerful parents. Argh!

And just like Sookie and Bella, more paranormals come out of the woodwork, for good or evil, and make her aware that she is special. I apologize that this story line, like most of the Disney princess stories, turns my stomach.

There is action that temporarily adds spark to this story that drags on for 300 pages too many. All in all, I find it reads like a set up for the next two books of the promised trilogy. I doubt I will continue this story.
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LibraryThing member Stewartry
I don't know. I just don't know. This is one of those books where a connection with the writing seems to be thisclose … but not quite made. The buildup has been excruciating; I would much have preferred even just a little more forward motion in the plot to what I have instead: an awareness of how much spandex the main character owns and the tale of every time she's gone rowing.

I get it. I do. Diana Bishop is from a very old family of witches in a world where there are, including witches, three types of "creatures", the other two being vampires and daemons. Witches are pretty much what you think and are born so, and vampires are pretty much what you think (except no fangs? Then how…?) and are made, and daemons … are weird brilliant creatures which pop up unexpectedly in otherwise completely human families, start showing signs of what they are in puberty (of course), and, if they're lucky, find out what they are before they self-destruct. Okay.

Diana, however, is different. This is not just because her parents were both very powerful witches (the term being unisex), or because she's a Bishop, a family associated with witchcraft since Salem. She's different because she blames magic for the deaths of her parents when she was very young, and as a result has determined never to use her own considerable power. Never mind that it's not something that can be punished ("My parents died because of you! Bad magic! Bad! I'll teach you!") or that can really be contained (she finds herself making exceptions or simply using it unintentionally several times a year – she keeps obsessive count). Never mind that having spurned training she has basically turned herself into a loose cannon and a danger to herself and others (powerful but untrained? Never good). Never mind that every. Single. Non-human. Around. Her. tries to tell her what she's trying to do is a Very Bad Idea, and no matter how much she protests she's not using her power (much) they won't leave her alone. She won't use magic, and that's that, darn it. Well, just this time, but never again! Well… no, really, that last time was it!

Frankly, she's driving me up a wall.

I'm all for occasional irrational behavior in fictional characters. It helps them feel more real, and which makes them interesting. Makes them human. (Ironically.) However, if the character in question is a main character (and in fact the person with whom the reader is sharing headspace), and the irrational behavior is so irrational as to actually be just stupid, that may still be realistic but it stops being interesting and becomes frustrating.

And see, it's the whole "humans vs. creatures" thing I'm not entertained by. I know; in Harry Potter it was all wizards and poor blind helpless powerless muggles, but somehow reading Rowling made the reader feel like part of the wizarding world. I doubt there are too many Potterites who haven't, even if just in the back of their minds, pondered which House they belonged in (Ravenclaw; maybe Hufflepuff) or what their patronus would look like (a beagle, or maybe a horse). You're not a muggle while you're reading Harry Potter. Here, though, I feel very ordinarily human, and it's not a good feeling. We're so stupid. (Silly? Sure it is. But however silly it may be, it isn't fun.)

It's not fair to this book that so many books written (mostly, I think) later but encountered sooner feature vampires who must learn to control their appetites around the squishy and vulnerable and delicious women they come to care about as something other than dinner – but the fact remains that there is Matthew, every sense at attention as Diana realizes she has a tiny bleeding cut. How strangely familiar.

I made it to 43%, and … honestly, as Diana learns that she's not just powerful but just about all-powerful and continues to use abilities she didn't even know she had with no harm to herself or others … I have too much else I'd rather be reading. Maybe someday I'll come back to this.
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LibraryThing member abbywilde
The heroine is claimed to be the smartest woman in Oxford and the most powerful witch in the world, yet can't manage to "learn the words" to her spells and is constantly on the verge of fainting, panicking, and/or requiring rescue at the hands of her new-age-yoga-performing-yet-still-possessive-and-old-world-y vampire boyfriend. Twilight for grown-ups starring a sycophantic mary-sue.… (more)
LibraryThing member KristySP
I suppose I could have given this book one more star. For most of my reading experience, I was feeling a three-star vibe, but by the time I got to the end: ugh. All I want is a good supernatural story, well written and well edited. But over and over again, I am disappointed. This book had potential. I enjoyed the magical worlds she created, but it was way way too long. And the romance was ridiculous, gag-worthy, and unbelievable. Where are the editors? Have publishing companies just done away with the good old fashioned book editor? Or are they so overwhelmed with work due to budget cuts that they just no longer have time to truly take on a novel? Do I have to know every little piece of food a character takes, and what kind of outfit she chooses to wear every single day? And if I read one more thing about how unruly her multi-colored hair is, or how the vampire lover "silences her with a kiss..." gag.
sigh.
I can't believe this is supposed to be a trilogy, too. The very thought makes me want to slit my wrists. This story should have been contained to about 300 pages. The end.
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LibraryThing member crochetbunnii
Another twist on the vampire romance genre. I couldn't put this book down, even though I felt there were several faults with the character development. I enjoyed how Harkness draws on her background in history to seamlessly pull in elements of the real with the unreal.

As in other recent creature novels, some long-held traditions about magical creatures are abandoned while others are retained, and plausible (as plausible as possible when discussing witches and vampires, I suppose) explanations are provided that help the reader accept the changes. This book not only relies on the vampire appeal, but also throws witches and daemons into the mix, making the otherworldly creatures seem more likely to co-exist with humans due to the precautions that are taken.

I was not a big fan of the witch, Diana Bishop or of the vampire, Matthew Clairmont. Both characters easily fell into the role of controlling vampire and submissive weak woman. I had more hopes for Diana, because in the beginning, she was a seemingly independent, intelligent woman who shrugged off her prescribed roles, both as a witch and as the damsel in distress. She was doing her own thing and not letting anyone tell her what to do, but as soon as the vampire comes into the picture, she becomes putty in his hands.

Despite my dislike of the characters, I enjoyed the concepts presented in this story and had a good time reading it. It was frustrating that this one ended in a cliffhanger and that I picked it up so soon after its release as I will have a long wait for the next title. I am hoping Diana develops a little more in the following publications.
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LibraryThing member clamairy
I'm giving it an extra half a star for all the wine references. But I'm tempted to take off that half a star because it's obvious that the book is the first in a series! BAH! How long will we have to wait?

A very engrossing read that will suck you in until your dishes pile up in the sink and your dirty clothes threaten to engulf your closet.… (more)
LibraryThing member Loyet
Very slow beginning. Starts to pick up about halfway through but it's still not good. As an academic myself, I understand that there's a big difference between academic writing and fiction writing. I just don't know if the author quite got that. The writing was distant, almost as if she was writing a chronicle, not a story. And, as is painfully common, the intelligent, powerful female lead lets herself get bossed around by a man.… (more)
LibraryThing member riverwillow
I picked up this book in my local independent bookshop not really knowing much about it but thinking it looked interesting. But this is Twilight for adults, with a bit of The Da Vinci Code thrown in for good measure, and, sadly, I'm not a fan of either book, but I'm sure that this will be a winning formula. Throughout the book I kept feeling that this could have been so much more. There was a moment half way through where she could have really shaken things up and gone off in an interesting direction, but she resisted the urge and stuck to the formula. I'm not sure if I'll read the second in the series, but then I'm curious to see what, as an academic who seems to have specialised in the Renaissance, she does with Marlowe, but sadly I fear the worst.… (more)
LibraryThing member MrsLee
So. What did I think? Well, I finished it, so that it a sign that it wasn't a terrible, unpleasant or boring read. I don't really feel a compulsion to seek out the next book in the series though. I enjoyed the author's references to ancient alchemy manuscripts, mitochondrial DNA and suchness. I was interested in the world she built. The characters have good potential.

I became very tired of reading in detail the changes of Diana's clothing. She changed her clothes at least three times a day, wore very casual clothes not unlike what I wear when I'm at home, in monochrome colors for the most part. Yeah, not interesting and tedious. Although I didn't mind her relationship with the vampire, there was way too much focus on that when I would have rather had the story move on. She loves him, he loves her. I get it already.

I've rated this at 3* because while I was interested enough to finish it, and I don't resent the time spent on it, I'm not sure I'm interested enough to pick up another long book by this author, even though the subject matter of the next book sounds interesting.
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LibraryThing member wiremonkey
Diana Bishop is a science historian who specializes in alchemical manuscripts and is in Oxford for a year doing research. She's also a witch, from a long line of witches but who does not want use her power, which turns out to be considerable. But when she calls up Ashmoll 782 and accidentally breaks the spell the manuscript was under, she attracts the attention of an ancient vampire (and chemical biologist- or something) Matthew Clairmont, not to mention some pretty nasty characters. Thus begins the first book in the All Souls trilogy.

Critique: (warning Spoilers below)
Despite Harkness being a historian of science herself, and all the many luscious references to illuminated manuscripts,wine, old artefacts and history, this book is essentially a Twilight for adults.

And I had such high hopes for it. What is it with the need to make vampires this crazy obsessed, protective, psychotic boyfriends? Why? And why do the women, who seemed to be perfectly independent and strong-willed, fall into their arms and let the vampire boyfriend boss them around? Is it ture that all a woman wants is to be take care of?

No, that can't be true. Then why is this kind of love story so freakin' popular?

This story would have been intriguing without the melodramatic love story. Like Edward in Twilight, Matthew calls the shots. He says when they are aloud to be together, when they are married and when they will consummate their marriage (and not to spoil anything, but I think he's in to delayed gratification).

It is super irritating. Not to mention the fact that all of a sudden they are married (oops another spoiler alert) and Diana at the drop of the hat begins to call the vampire Matthew sired long ago, "son." Swear words entered my head everytime she said it.

Still, if you can look past the unforgivable sappy parts, there is a fun story here. The great thing about a vampire story is that the vampire can have been in many different places in history, have talked to a whole bunch of intriguing characters. Here is where Harkness shines (that, and an almost encyclopedic descriptions of various wines, which I respect) - she is obviously a historian who loves her work.

The next book will take the loving couple to Elizabethan England so that Diana can find a witch strong enough to help her control her powers, while the rest of the clan prepare for an uncoming war, all related to the above manuscript.

And yes, I'll probably read it. Grumble, grumble.
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