Book Review: Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches

Posted May 4, 2011 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from my own shelves in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches


Deborah Harkness

urban fantasy that was published by Penguin on February 8, 2011 and has 594 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Shadow of Night, The Book of Life

The first in the All Souls Trilogy series set initially in Oxford University and the south of France.

In 2011, A Discovery of Witches won the SCIBA Award for Fiction and was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Paranormal Fantasy.

My Take

I loved this story!! It initially seduced me with its setting in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and completed the seduction with its combination of science and history. You can’t help but be fascinated with the concept of having lived for so long and gotten to meet and befriend such luminaries as Shakespeare, Marlowe, William Harvey, Newton, Gutenberg, and so many others.

It’s enthralling to watch Matthew and Diana’s interaction in Oxford, but when they escape to Sept-Tours, it becomes mesmerizing between the witchy machinations and Matthew’s library. The tension behind the truth of Diana’s parents’ demise, that of Diana’s powers, Matthew’s true intentions, Ysabeau’s hatred, Marthe’s enjoyment as she observes and teaches Diana about herbs, and both families’ reactions to Matthew and Diana’s growing involvement. There’s a wee taste of Alex Archer’s Rogue Angel series.

When Diana roams through the library at Sept-Tours and explores the many books. That hit when she realizes that this bible came directly from Gutenberg’s hands! The correspondence between Darwin and Matthew — with Matthew’s notes to Darwin on his ideas of the origin of the species! Oh man…a scholar’s wet dream come true.

The Story

Diana has come to Oxford to do some research and her inadvertent unlocking of Ashmole 782 sets off a whole string of actions: Matthew, already fascinated by her, is moved to protect; the daemons are avid to learn more of their origins; and, the witches. Well, let’s just say Diana’s instincts to avoid them are absolutely correct for they do not have her best interests at heart.

It’s one escape after another, to Sept-Tours to upper state New York to Aunt Sarah and Emily where they believe that the witches can both help protect Diana from the Congregation and heal her of the grievous wounds inflicted upon her when she was kidnapped.

For the witches are out to get Diana. Their excuse is the Ashmole 782. A folio all three species have been hunting for hundreds of years. Another excuse is Diana and Matthew’s relationship. All excuses, when the witches have been scheming over Diana and the possibility of her powers since two powerful witches married and had a child.

The Characters

Diana Bishop is the end of a long line of Bishop witches with amazingly powerful magics bound to nothing when she was very young by her mother. After losing her parents when she was seven, Diana was brought up by her Aunt Sarah and Emily in the very-much-alive Bishop homestead. [This house is sooo cool..!] Diana has earned her doctorate, has tenure, and is highly respected for the books she has already produced in her young life.

Matthew Clairmont has been a vampire since the mid-500s with an enduring fascination for science, particularly blood (big surprise!) and genetics. Highly respected by the human world for the work he has done in several seemingly unrelated fields, Matthew is also highly respected within his own world.

Hamish Osborne is a daemon specializing in finance, consulted by governments and corporations. He is also Matthew’s best friend.

Marcus and Miriam are both vampires who work with Matthew. Marcus is one of Matthew’s vampire children brought over when he was dying during the American Revolution.

Sept-Tours is…
…where Ysabeau, Matthew’s vampire mother, lives with Marthe, another vampire who cooks and keeps house for Ysabeau and Matthew. Ysabeau hates witches with a passion for what they did to her husband, Phillipe, during World War II.

The Congregation is…
…a political/police body the witches, vampires, and daemons formed hundreds of years ago when the paranormal population was a true threat to humans. One of their rules was that none of the three could be friendly…in any way, shape, or form…with the others.

The Cover and Title

Very romantically scientific with its abstract of the constellations using seals and what appears to be medals against a gorgeous royal blue background. Do check out the city skyline along the spine.

The title incorporates a collective noun, indicating a learning experience, for it’s Diana’s A Discovery of Witches that makes life so exciting.