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- The only vampire books I’ve really read have been Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice. I enjoyed the classic evil vampire and endured the nostalgic melancholy vampire, but the vampire fantasy genre really didn’t do much for me. I haven’t read Twilight, but I’ve read/heard/seen enough people talking about it to know that it isn’t a book for me. But I must confess: I saw the first two movies of the Twilight series. Spurred on mostly by my own curiosity, I sat through the two movies contemplating what was on the screen in front of me: obsessive behaviour, manipulation, and teenage angst just to name a few. I felt like the movies – I can only assume about the books – were sending some not so awesome ideas about love and life.
When a friend suggested A Discovery of Witches to me I was skeptical at best, because with reviews from The Sunday Times like: “Intelligent and off-the-wall, it will be irresistible to Twilight fans” I wasn’t convinced I was going to be excited by the book. I resisted though, bought the book, and began to read.
One of the universal themes of the book is forbidden love. It’s very much Romeo and Juliet with the two main characters coming from different families, different breeds of human, and above all there is an ancient rule that says vampires, witches, and demons aren’t allowed to love outside of their own kind. The witch, Diana, and a wait for it… Tall dark and handsome vampire, Matthew meet at a library in England where their lives change forever. The book had the potential to be sappy and lame with a main female character who was weak and very much damsel-in-distress, but Deborah Harkness managed to do something different. Thank god!
Diana and Matthew meet in a library, they are both academic researchers and what brings them together is a special book: Ashmole 782. The book is under a powerful spell and it holds the history and truth about the origins and evolution of vampires, witches, and demons (Demons, by the way, are eccentric, intelligent, and funny. Not like Satan and hell fire). Diana, who has denied her witch heritage for most of her life manages to call the book from the library and break the spell and open the book. She disregards the magical power she feels when she opens the book, returns it to the library, and without knowing reactivates the spell that kept the book hidden. This starts a change reaction of events that leads to Matthew meeting Diana and falling in love with her, and a whole bunch of really crazy witches, vampires, and demons on a witch and vampire hunt to find out the secrets of Ashmole 782 and to prevent Diana and Matthew from having their happily ever after.
Diana is a character you can relate to and understand. At the beginning of the book she deals with a lot of self-denial and confidence issues in relation to her magic and her families witch heritage, but it doesn’t hold her back. She’s not perfect, but she is self-enabling, and in the end realises what she needs to do to be the best she can be. Her life changes when she stops denying who she is, which I can say with 100% certainty is the case for everyone, not just for fictional witches.
Harkness on Diana: “Diana’s character comes from a combination of qualities I admire in others.” (A Discovery of Witches, “The Inspiration for A Discovery of Witches and the All Souls trilogy: A conversation with Deborah Harkness).
Matthew is a vampire. While Diana has human qualities even though she is a witch, Matthew’s character is more closely related to an animal. Harkness describes him as protective, verging on possessive in the book. He has a pack mentality and looks after his family first. He is often compared to a wolf; territorial and strong. He is intelligent with a love of science and is quick-tempered. Now, a lot of those character traits aren’t very desirable, and although Diana has a strange fascination with him, she calls him out when he is being manipulative or secretive. In the end they slowly learn to adjust to each other.
Now, even if you don’t enjoy vampire-witch love sagas there are some really great history lessons in this book. Deborah Harkness is a professor of history at the University of Southern California. She has written a few academic books and like her main character Diana, she is a historian of science and alchemy.
Despite the mostly great writing there was one thing in the book that made my eyes roll 360 degrees in my head and it was when Diana and Matthew get intimate. Phrases like “my legs opened like book” made me scoff loudly and I skipped over the scene. I find sex scenes in books weird and uncomfortable, especially when it’s written in first-person. I wouldn’t have conversations with that much detail with a close friend of mine, so reading them from a character in a book who you essentially befriend for the time you’re reading just seems weird and awkward.
The book ends on a pretty big cliff-hanger where Matthew and Diana are about to time-walk (go back in time) so they can find a witch strong enough to help Diana uncover her true magical potential. They also want to get away from the witches and vampires that are hunting them for Ashmole 782. Due to the ridiculousness of the cliff-hanger, I instantly went to get the second book, Shadow of Night which was released not that long ago.
Have you read the book? Are you up to the second book in the trilogy? If so, I’d love to hear what you think of it.