Diana Bishop is from one of the most powerful witch families known to exist, and she may be one of the family’s most powerful witches ever. But she goes out of her way not to practice magic. She has become a well-known scholar in the fields of history and science, in particular the intersection of science and witchcraft. And while she might not practice magic intentionally, she’s aware of it all around her.
While doing research in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, Diana recalls a manuscript, Ashmole 782, that has been considered lost for the last 150 years. Finding it bound by a spell, she breaks it unknowingly; once the book is open, she can’t say why, but something about it is all wrong. Slightly shaken by her discovery and the magic, she sends the book back to the stacks, bothered by its contents and the influx of witches, daemons and vampires that have suddenly gathered in her vicinity. Unsettled by what she has seen, Diana leaves the library and plans to forget the book, hoping that the attention from the other creatures will fade as well.
Matthew Clairmont is a pioneering researcher known for his work in the genetics field. He is also a vampire looking for a way to get his hands on the manuscript, and he thinks he may have found that way through Diana. What Matthew doesn’t expect is to fall in love with her while looking for the book. Diana is an enigma to Matthew --- not only does she appeal to him both intellectually and physically, he stuns even himself when he can’t walk away from her even when he should.
Diana and Matthew find themselves in an unorthodox relationship, and because of it, they are being hunted by the Congregation, a group of witches, daemons and vampires that rule the world of creatures. They are in danger not just from the discovery of Ashmole 782, but also from their growing relationship. Knowing Diana will never be able to defend herself without knowledge of and control over her powers, Matthew convinces her they must go to her family for help. Safe with Diana’s family of witches, they try to understand what her connection is to the manuscript and why every vampire, witch and daemon is after it.
I love books about books. Throw in witches, daemons and vampires, and it appears I become very easy to please. Deborah Harkness throws a lot into her novel --- witchcraft, love, vampires, daemons, secret covens, lost spell-bound books --- but she makes it all work, and very smoothly at that. It works thanks to the characters. Diana and Matthew are more than just witch and vampire, and it’s about more than spells and bloodlust. While I’m not always a huge fan of love stories mixed with fantasy tales, it works very well here and manages to become the story without overwhelming it.
Matthew’s history combined with Diana’s research lend the novel a fantastic scope that spans generations, but the science Harkness infuses into the story grounds it so that it never feels as if it goes off on a strange tangent. There are explanations for the witchcraft as well as background for the hidden lives of the creatures (witches, vampires, daemons and humans) that make the story feel less fantastic and more realistic. Well, as close as one can get to real in a story about creatures that don’t exist.
A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES is the first book in the All Souls trilogy. I for one will be waiting anxiously for the next two volumes in the series.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on March 28, 2011