A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (Mini-Review)


“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.”

-Synopsis from Goodreads


*spoilers ahead*

DNF at 77 pages.

I was really looking forward to this book and was so disappointed by the fact that I just could not get into it at all.

After three days of reading, I was only 77 pages in, which is unheard of for me. I’ve usually read 1.5 books in that time! There was a whopping 400+ pages to go, and I realized I simply wasn’t going to be able to get through it.

What Happened?

I really liked the first chapter of this book. Diana Bishop is introduced and I was intrigued by her background. I was a tiny bit put off by her fictional connection to Bridget Bishop, because there is so much that is unknown about the people who were involved in the Salem Witch Trials and I’m not one to gravitate towards the “what if this happened” type of stories. Still, I was interested in Diana’s family background, especially her parents, and how she came to be as successful academically as she is (Yale Professor, studying at Oxford, etc.)

One day while gathering books at the library Diana comes across a manuscript that sparks her witchy senses and although she wants to examine it more, she chooses to put it away and ignore the sensations she felt as she was touching it. That one interaction with the suspicious manuscript somehow attracted the attention of all the vampires and daemons in Oxford because they start flocking to Diana. They begin stalking her, and she worries because she’s tried so hard not to make magic a part of her life and now she can’t get away from it.

I thought this was a great beginning to the story. I expected Diana to go back to the manuscript to learn more, or at the very least call her aunt and ask her opinion on what she should do.

Instead, this very smart woman who seems self-assured and independent, apparently goes weak at the knees at the sight of Matthew Clairmont and every ounce of sense just disappears from her body. I get that Matthew, being a vampire, is going to have some sort of hold over her since she is a witch. But if Diana has spent her whole life hearing about the dangers of vampires, wouldn’t she then know to shut down his flirtations from the start and, I don’t know, just go to another library maybe? Or seek guidance or advice from her aunt? No, instead she lets herself believe that he’s protecting her and that she must engage with him because of that.

Where it Went Wrong for Me

There were three things bothering me which ultimately led to me choosing not to finish this book.

The first is the writing style of the story. The narrative was so long-winded, which I notice sometimes happens when someone writes in first person: I did this and then I turned and then I saw XYZ and then my heart beat faster and the sweat trickled down my neck and across my shoulders and blah blah blah. So many words! So much description of things that simply don’t require it. It was hard for me to not get bored halfway through each sentence and I felt the need to skip over her long-winded descriptions of her thoughts to get to the action.

The second thing was the confusing word choice. Despite reading 77 pages of this book, I could not even guess as to what year it took place in. Diana’s narration makes it sound like it’s the 1900s, but based on clothing descriptions I questioned if it was actually closer to the present day. On one page Diana (an American) refers to cars as automobiles, and on the very next page she mentions her aunt’s car which is an old Honda Civic. The back and forth of the language being used was a distraction for me.

The third thing that I knew I wasn’t going to be on board with was Matthew’s character, specifically because of his aggressive behavior. Diana agrees to go to breakfast with him (why? Who knows!) and his red flags come out. He listens in on other people’s conversations to see if they’re talking about Diana (they are, because people comment on things casually when they’re eating), he makes her sit in a certain spot at the table so he’s guarding her, and he gets jumpy in the restaurant; he clenches his jaw and fists whenever Diana brings up something personal or makes a comment that could be taken the wrong way. Matthew is described as being flirty and charming, but I saw none of that. What I saw was abusive tendencies which were going to make it incredibly difficult for me to get on board with this character.

By this point, Diana was turning into such a cliche. When Matthew offers her a ride, she acts utterly baffled that he would want to get the door for her, both when getting into his car and when entering the restaurant. She makes a big show of saying that women can get the door for themselves because they are independent. Everything I liked about her from the first chapter just seemed to go out the door with those awkward, predictable, cliche scenes.

To DNF or Not to DNF

Many people have told me that A Discovery of Witches is not only their favorite book but their favorite series. I kept asking myself, What are they seeing that I’m not?

Then I went to Goodreads and discovered that the reviews were split 50/50; readers either gave this book 5 stars or 1 star, and each reviewed was a long, detailed post as to why they gave it that rating. Since I didn’t finish the book, I won’t be rating it. But I can say I definitely fell into the latter camp.

A bummer for sure, but I’m glad I didn’t force myself to stick it out for another 400 pages, seeing as how it was a chore just to make it to 77!

3 thoughts on “A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (Mini-Review)

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