A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness starts out in a library! The main character drinks copious amounts of tea, does yoga, is a historian, and seems to have agency! There are not only witches but vampires, too! Oh, this book seemed so perfect for me for the first 13 chapters…and then it began a slow decline towards horribleness. It wasn’t until chapter 29 that it quickly went back to being the good book I was reading when I started it. What made approximately half of the book so close to unbearable that I almost quit reading?
First off, the wine and food descriptions get to the point of being snobbish and over the top ridiculous. One of the wines the main characters drink “smelled like lemon floor polish and smoke and tasted like chalk and butterscotch.” I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I would consider tasting something that smells like floor polish, and if I somehow lost my mind and craved the taste of a cleaning product, I don’t see myself as enjoying the taste of chalk, even when combined with butterscotch. Another poor choice of words is the line “…she said in a husky voice of sand and treacle”. There comes a point when you’re trying so hard to be original in your descriptions that you should stick to the tried and true. However, she goes in the opposite direction of original description by repeatedly using the words “ice and snow(flakes)” when referring to being looked at by a vampire. After the third or fourth time she mentions this feeling, I wanted to scream “I GET IT ALREADY!”
Secondly, she makes a thinly veiled reference to Anne Rice’s Lestat character that feels too much like an “oh look at me, aren’t I smart and knowledgeable about popular vampire fiction.” On top of that, most of the plot seems like a ripoff of Twilight, to include Diana becoming a character with no agency that is seemingly helpless, naive, and oblivious. I get the impression that the author loved Twilight so much that she rewrote it with her as the main character, living out her ultimate fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that…as long as you do it well. There are no original stories; that goes double for vampire fiction, and triple for vampire romances. Which brings me to my third problem with this book…
At one time in my life, I would’ve found the vampire, Matthew, being the alpha of his “pack” irresistibly sexy. Now, I find it’s an excuse to act like a controlling and domineering creep. He treats Diana as if she’s not capable of making decisions, and comes across as a parental figure, with Diana being “Daddy’s little princess”. What’s worse is Matthew’s description, and actions, are explicitly related to wolf behavior. Please, for the love of the written word, SHOW, don’t TELL! The author also led me to believe she thinks her audience is just as stupid as Diana by frequently pointing out the obvious.
Last, but not least, the grammatically borked line “Was it humans?” At first, I felt judgmental, but then I read the line to my boyfriend to gauge his reaction. I concluded that I would be humiliated if these words left my mouth in normal conversation, and it’s completely unbelievable that an academic like Diana would talk like a 3rd grader.
I have other problems with this book, but they include spoilers. Despite half the book being despicable, the other half, especially the ending, makes me want to read the next book. So, on the off chance that you might wish to do the same, I won’t write about those parts that give away specific plot details. All said and done I think it’s a book worth reading if you’re very forgiving of its faults, but not worth buying. Borrow it from someone who already made the mistake of paying for it, or check it out from the library.