Witches, vampires, and demons, oh my! I can never resist a good paranormal romance/urban fantasy. I’ve been seeing this Deborah Harkness series absolutely everywhere, and though I had no idea what it was about, I decided I needed to buy the first book just based on the number of times I’ve seen its intriguing cover. And now that I’ve read A Discovery of Witches, I can tell you it does not disappoint. It’s got everything—a variety of supernatural creatures, a centuries old mystery, secret organizations, magic, time travel, romance… On that note, the love story here is rather Twilight-esque, so if human women swooning over hot vampires is not your thing, this book might not be for you. But A Discovery of Witches stands quite apart from your average teen vampire romance—mainly because, well, it’s not about teens.
The story reads like a YA novel, but all of the main characters are in their 30s. Instead of “new mysterious vampire boy transfers to your school and starts staring at you across the classroom,” it’s “new mysterious vampire scientist professor shows up at the university library and starts staring at you as you do your research for an upcoming conference.” The simple difference in perspective is surprisingly refreshing. Especially for someone who is slowly outgrowing the YA age bracket, but still really loves those kinds of stories…
A Discovery of Witches tells the story of Diana Bishop, the orphaned daughter of two of the strongest witches around but who hides from her own magic. All Diana wants is to be a perfectly normal scholar of historical alchemy and to have nothing to do with the supernatural world that led to her parents’ deaths. But when she calls up a strange manuscript from the bowels of Oxford’s library, she is suddenly the center of a surprising amount of supernatural attention. Most surprising of all is the vampire Matthew Clairmont, who seems to have developed an interest in Diana beyond the magical manuscript that only she can access. As their relationship develops, Diana must learn as much as she can about the world of magic she’s been avoiding since her childhood. And as new enemies begin to appear, she must learn to control the powerful magic that has been lurking inside her.
I have to give props to this author for acknowledging the Gothic roots of the modern paranormal romance genre by participating in the trope of the Gothic setting. The story contains multiple descriptions of the Gothic architecture of the Oxford Bodleian Library, where our protagonist spends most of her time. The vampire love interest’s manor house also contains bits of an older abbey, while his vampire family lives in an actual medieval castle. Gothic buildings and architecture were integral aspects of the original Gothic novel, even lending the genre its name, so I was really excited to see this trope explored in a modern context.
The pacing of the story is great, with something new happening every few pages. The plot is quite complex, interweaving a number of story lines—from an epic scale fight that has been raging for centuries between the different supernatural creatures over the possession of arcane knowledge to the intimate depictions of the developing forbidden love between a vampire and a witch. As the story builds, new mysteries, enemies, friends, and obstacles get added into the mix until you feel like you’re only just getting started when the book finally ends after 580 pages. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves paranormal romance, epic fantasy, and magical mysteries—especially if it’s been a few years since you last stepped foot in the halls of a high school.
Have you read this series? Is the second book as good as the first? No spoilers in the comments, please, but do tell me your thoughts!