A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness | Book Review

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

A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness | Book ReviewA Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Series: All Souls Trilogy #1
Published by Penguin on February 8th 2011
Genres: Fiction, Occult & Supernatural, Thrillers, General, Romance
Pages: 592
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
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A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.
Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

I hate when hype gets me. Especially when I get to the point where I am so, so excited for a book that anything less than perfection is a huge let down. I am prefacing my review of A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness, with this, so that you understand where I am coming from. This is a book that I had somehow really hyped up in my head. When I got the trilogy in the mail, I was so thrilled. The covers are on point. It is about an academic witch. There are seriously plenty of points in its favor. And yet, I ended up really not loving A Discovery Of Witches.

In Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches, main character Dianna Bishop is doing some research at the library in Oxford (England) and she comes across a manuscript called Ashmole. Unfortunately, that manuscript happens to be magical and calls all manner of otherworldly creatures attention her way. Dianna is a witch and she finds herself attracted to this other professor who helped her — Matthew Clairmont. Only, Matthew is a vampire. Anyways, Dianna flies back to New York and then to Paris and just all over the place trying to figure out what the big deal surrounding the Ashmole is while also trying not to piss off the supernatural people. Oh and dealing with her major attraction for Matthew. That’s essentially the gist of what I remember from A Discovery Of Witches.

Dianna Bishop comes across as kind of an annoying main character – like I did not quite understand her for most of the book. You see, she is a witch with the potential for great power. However, like an idiot she does not cultivate or hone her magic. Her parents died in a gruesome way that she associates with magic. Thus, Dianna is kind of defenseless when it comes to these supernatural creatures. I do not know why that bothered me to the point that it did, but COME ON Dianna, why wouldn’t you hone magic if you have it? Like, to me, that is like ignoring your Hogwarts letter. Not cool at all. On the other hand, I did like how academic and into research and studying she was.

I will give A Discovery Of Witches credit for a romance that takes adult turns. Granted, this is a book aimed at adults, I just appreciate that every once in awhile. Okay, so the love interest Matthew Clairmont is a reclusive scientist vampire who turns heads. He finds himself very attracted to Dianna and she, him. The two are at odds and feel animosity toward each other at first. However, this gives way to an understanding. Then their romance becomes of the forbidden nature because vampires and witches are totally not allowed to hook up. ALSO! The Ashmole manuscript contains just a little bit more about this.

One thing that made me a bit softer toward this book and perhaps resulted in a higher rating was that when Dianna flew back to New York, to her childhood home, it is like 15 minutes from where I live. I have a soft spot for depictions of upstate New York in literature. Typically when it shows up, it is like the Hudson Valley and not my area of New York. This time, though, the setting was where I live. As a reader, it was fun to be all I KNOW WHERE THAT IS whenever spots familiar to me popped up in the book. Harkness does a decent job of capturing central New York. As for the Paris and Oxford setting, well, I am not an expert on whether those are real, but she does have a real flair for setting in A Discovery Of Witches.

I think that my main issue here is that the book was just so plodding. I mean, parts of A Discovery Of Witches are really slow. I am not sure why the pacing was not ideal for me. I was never really excited while reading. Nor did I feel like the stakes were all that high. Also, I was feeling kind of judgmental about Dianna and her lack of magic use. However, as much as I complain and criticize, I will be back to read the next book in the series, at least. I have hopes that I will like it more.

Other reviews of A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness:

The Broke And The Bookish - All I can say is if you enjoy some fantasy, some adult love, and amazing writing… just go buy this book.

Bookarahma - This is a pretty immersive novel

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. I’ve been meaning to start this one, but every time I open it on my Kindle, I read 2 or 3 pages and stop. I think I’m like 12 or so pages in right now. I’ll read it real soon since I heard that the trilogy gets better with each book. Great review!

  2. Don’t bother with the other books… if you can barely stand the first one, the second doesn’t get much better. It’s kind of sad because the plot is rather interesting. But she gets caught up in writing about Dianna and Matthew. I actually hit a point in the second book where I just couldn’t do it anymore and quit. And I rarely give up on a book when I’ve invested that much time already in it! 🙂

  3. I enjoyed this book, but I agree that it dragged in parts. I see this a lot when people with heavy research backgrounds write fiction. Unfortunately, it ends up making the book feel slow, although I did enjoy the description of the library at Oxford.

  4. I read ADOW a few years ago and REALLY enjoyed it. Loved it, actually. But I thought it was a standalone when I started until I quickly realized that it all couldn’t be wrapped up in the 40 pages I had left haha. I really enjoyed the second book as well so I hope you like it more! There are some great characters and new settings. I love Diana’s aunts, and Matthew. But I stalled with the finale. I read half and haven’t been interested in going back so far. Sometimes her writing style reads as a bit condescending to me, like it’s trying too hard.