This book sucked me in (pun intended) from the first chapter when Diana, a contemporary scholar of alchemy, fights against her instincts as a witch when she comes face to face with a spellbound manuscript in the Bodleian Library, and had me riveted for nearly every page afterwards. There are a few themes that helped embed me in the story: witches, mystery, rare books, Oxford, history, a conflicted female lead character, vampires, romance, a complex mythology, unexpected plot twists and changes of setting, intriguing supporting characters, great details that brought the world to life, alchemy, academia, fantasy, I could go on…
A Discovery of Witches stands out from similar titles due in part to the tireless research of the author. Harkness, a professor of history, does a marvelous job of enriching the story with developed characters, a fascinating mythology that frames the action, and an intriguing chemistry between the two lead characters, Diana Bishop, a witch who is in complete denial of her powers and Matthew Clairmont, a vampire whose backstory is more concerned with his enduring 1500 years of history, than any standard blood sucker cliches. Ironically, it wasn’t the vampire-witch romance that sparked my interest in this book; Diana and Matthew are both flawed, and it is their humanness that drew me in as a reader, in spite of their supernatural abilities.
There’s a term our grandmother uses (sparingly) to explain a near perfect thing: sharp. This book exudes sharpness in every pore. That’s not to say that it is entirely without shortcomings. While I greatly appreciated the balancing act that the author uses to build tension, there were a few too many extended yoga, crew, and horse back riding scenes. Nevertheless, Harkness is a master weaver, constantly interchanging varying threads on her giant loom. I don’t want to give too much away, but as a huge fan of books that combine historical fiction and fantasy, I can hardly wait for the next installment in this series.