A Discovery of Witches
by Deborah Harkness
Until she wrote this book, Deborah Harkness was known for her scholarly writings on the history of science and medicine, particularly emphasizing the role of alchemy and magic in the medieval-era development of what we now know as science. Diana Bishop, the main character in A Discovery of Witches, must therefore have been based on Harkness herself. One wonders whether Diana's vampire friend Matthew (who, unlike Dracula, does very much drink wine) has anything to do with Harkness's blog Good Wine Under $20. For all you know, this might be a true story. And that would be OK, because even among love stories in which the male protagonist is a vampire, it's a much better story than Twilight.
One of the reasons for that lies in the character of Diana herself. She's not just a petulant teenaged mortal who decides she can't live without her bloodsucking boyfriend, and so lies down to die until he comes back to her. She's a natural-born witch who has been trying, albeit without 100% success, to live without magic since her parents were viciously murdered when she was a young girl. Diana divides her time between a study of ancient grimoires in Oxford's Bodleian Library and an exercise regimen designed to burn excess energy so that magic doesn't constantly fizz out of her. One day a book of alchemy finds its way into her hands, one long thought to have been lost forever. Suddenly the eyes of every witch, vampire, and demon in the neighborhood are on her.
Mind you, in Diana's world these supernatural beings are genetic offshoots of the human race. You might even know a few of them. Demons, for example, are many of the great geniuses and artistic prodigies who have at least a thin streak of madness in their personality. Vampires often use their long lifespans to acquire multiple degrees and advanced expertise in several disciplines, such as genetics, medicine, architecture, etc. Witches, like Diana's aunt and her girlfriend, tend to major in "witchcraft" (the herbs and potions kind of thing) and perhaps, at most, one or two really "magical" talents, such as flying or firestarting. But after Diana's encounter with the mysterious medieval codex that supposedly holds the secrets of all three types of creature, it gradually becomes clear that she has more than her share of talents; that she may be, in fact, crucial to the survival or extinction of all vampires, demons, and witches. And that puts her in terrible danger.
Ironically, it is a vampire named Matthew who turns out to be Diana's best hope of survival. In spite of their peoples' mutual distrust, they quickly form a bond that grows into love. But they have a lot to learn about each other, and they have a lot of dangers to go through, as such a bond between a vampire and a witch is forbidden by the Congregation that polices inter-creature relations worldwide. Some representatives of which, vampire and witch alike, will not balk even at unspeakable acts of torture and mutilation to get what they want out of Diana.
Before this story ends, Diana and Matthew form another Congregation around themselves, including equal numbers of all three branches of the creature family tree. Not one but two new lives forbidden by the interspecies accord are developing. An ancient chivalric order, begun by vampires in the era of the Christian crusades, has been reactivated. And a new story involving time travel promises to carry the "All Souls Trilogy" into even more strange, wonderful, and exciting directions. Book 2, Shadow of Night, comes out in 2012. And though the most obvious comparison based on this book will be to the Twlight series, be assured that this is a much more mature, satisfying, and intelligent adventure. I recommend the audiobook read by Jennifer Ikeda, who has a most expressive and versatile voice—not to mention a sexy one!
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 15+
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