When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires.
Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist.
Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…
Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Genre: Paranormal romance
So I really couldn’t help filling this review with spoilers, there’s just so much I want to say about it! Warning: this review is one of my longest yet.
I went into this thinking it was going to be awesome, a hands down five star read, and the beginning very much looked like that! But… then Matthew arrives on the scene. I’m not one of those people to judge others liking or reading any kind of book whatsoever (I also loved Twilight when I was younger too) but even the best books can hide dark issues that really need to be talked about.
Add to that the fact I know a few people who’ve been in an abusive relationship and how damaging it can be to think that some of this behaviour is okay or to take on blame yourself in these situations, and I hope people can understand why I needed to talk about it in this book.
Okay… let’s start.
I’m used to guys in YA being a bit possessive, a bit overprotective, a bit creepy sure. This was a completely new level! He starts off warily okay, so I’ll give my impressions as it progressed below:
Diana says she’s ‘done something wrong’ or ‘said something wrong’ when all she’s done is ask a question, or sometimes she doesn’t even know what she’s done to make Matthew mad. This veers on victim blaming in emotionally abusive relationships so I am not a fan of this…
I feel like it could have been fixed easily by replacing it with something more along the lines of ‘I’d clearly touched a nerve there’ or ‘he reacted viscerally to what I’d thought was an innocent question’ or honestly anything further away from ‘oh no, it’s my fault he’s mad.’ *rolls eyes as hard as I can*
Okay later he PHYSICALLY RESTRAINS her when she doesn’t want him to, and she thinks of things she’s learned in a SELF DEFENCE CLASS in order to escape from him. He again says that she knew how possessive and protective vampires were and puts it on her, just barely apologising later. (he doesn’t actually say he was sorry, so i’m not really counting it.)
Not to mention the number of times he doesn’t want her to ride a horse or go outside or do anything by herself without him constantly there to ‘protect’ her. He threatens her also, saying things like ‘if you’d have jumped that fence we would have gone back to the house instantly’ like she’s a child he has to tell off. And annoyingly these things are reinforced by the one time she goes outside unsupervised she almost immediately gets kidnapped and attacked. AND his constant saving her even though I seriously think she could have held her own in many more fights than she did.
I described this book to my sister as ‘an adult twilight, but darker, and with witches.’ To be honest, I didn’t realise how right I was until I got past half of the book. It was a good thing towards the beginning of the book: a Twilight where the main character is intelligent, wary and actually powerful herself, but then the Edward-times-a-million level main character kind of marred it for me.
But it did hit quite a few of the same things as Twilight did: Vampire drawn to human because she’s special (adrenaline blood making her super attractive), him constantly saying she should be afraid of him or he’s dangerous, taking her out for a meal and them dancing around the whole vampire topic, him wanting to take it slow in the bedroom and waiting for marriage, her getting kidnapped and him coming to save her, etc. I actually paused a couple of times thinking about which had come first and whether Stephenie Meyer had read this book before writing hers…
Another thing: Characters keeping SO MANY secrets from each other!
This is usually ‘to protect them’ or just because ‘i don’t tell someone else’s tales’ which is so watery as a reason to hide things and further the plot. Matthew then doesn’t have a leg to stand on when Diana holds things back from him to ‘protect’ him (or usually so he doesn’t get scarily mad which is another bad sign), but she still manages to feel guilty about this.
Okay, even though it might not look like it, I did actually really enjoy this book and found it fun to read (minus the occasional throwing it and screaming at it) so there were actually things to like about it!
A couple of characters I adored were Sarah and Em, Diana’s aunt and her partner. They were an adorable couple, acting so much like so many couples I knew that they felt so real and like parents I’d be happy to have. A book always gets some points from me for LGBTQ+ rep, but especially when that representation is real and lovely and shows how many awesome and varied people there are out there. Em always reigning in Sarah was so sweet and made me chuckle to myself quite a lot.
Talking of Sarah and Em, their house was absolutely awesome! It was practically a character in its own right; with expanding rooms and a sort of consciousness that knew what people needed at any particular time, including extra rooms for guests about to arrive. I can’t remember if this was because of all the ghosts in it or just a side effect of being around so much magic over the years, but it added a little bit of unpredictability to the story and gave a nice sense of magical realism in an otherwise purely paranormal book.
I also loved – being quite a science nerd myself – the science and history that weaved through the whole plot. Alchemy turned up a LOT and genetics and history and even medicine. (I’ve now seen time travel precautions for the first time ever in a book!)
The use of innoculations for hundreds of years old diseases was a nice touch too (though I did wonder if it was a modern strain or if they’d managed to preserve a super old strain of the bacteria for the vaccine so Diana would be safe so far back in the past) because usually people forget that even a cold could have killed us if it was a thousand years ago and our modern bodies weren’t used to anything like it.
Talking of time travel: I absolutely didn’t see that coming and it was a really nice touch for the book! I mean, I wasn’t sure if their future bodies go back and take the place of their past bodies, or if they jump to the past and their past doubles are still there also because it didn’t quite feel explained enough to me, but it was still something really fun to see. I look forward to more time travel stuff in the second book!
So yeah, that was about a page each of good and bad stuff, a fairly even mix! Hence the 3.5 star review. I’ve already ordered the second book so clearly I’m happy to keep reading this series, I just hope some of the toxic relationship side of things gets dealt with in an appropriate way.
Did anyone else have such a Jekyll and Hyde feeling about this book also?