Thursday, 6 September 2018

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Publication Date: December 27th 2011 (this edition)
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 579 pages

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. 

I'd put off reading this book for an awfully long time, and now I'm not entirely certain why. Perhaps it had become muddled with other books around the same time? Regardless, I'd steadfastly refused to pick it up, all the while not actually having any idea of what it was about... Genius. However then the trailer for the TV adaptation appeared, and on watching that I realised that I might have been a little bit hasty on my refusal to give this book a go and I should probably pick it up after all.

And I'm really glad I did. The book was incredibly engrossing, and once I'd started reading I found it very difficult to put down. There were a few issues, that did raise some red flags for me (stalkerish protective machoism wrapped up as being a good thing, as well as a few consent issues) and those did colour my feelings for the book, but the rest of the story was so well written and engaging that by the end I could kind of forgive those earlier problems. Mostly. Well, honestly if I think too hard about it then I start to feel a little bit squicky and problematic, which is never a good feeling for a book. But when I think back on the book those aren't what sticks out for me. What I think about is the engaging characters, the vivid and fascinating settings as the story moves around the globe, the curious story that gradually unfurls and wraps you up in it until you feel as though you are with Diana as she tries to navigate this crazy upside down mess she's fallen into.

It starts as a small story, one that feels safe and warm and filled with bright curiosity, and then slowly expands, illuminating the layers and sub plots that tangle in around our heroine and show us how far reaching this story will ultimately be. I devoured it. And then I found the audiobook and listened to that too. 

Honestly I did feel slight Twilight undertones, but they were quickly swept away with a genuinely fascinating story, one that evolves to become its own complex beast by the end of the book, leaving me breathless to find out what happens in the second book.

It's not a challenging read, despite its size it's quick and curious and light, although there are darker undertones waiting to surface. It was supernatural comfort food, with a bit more depth to it than I initially feared I would find. And now I cannot wait to see how the story translates to the screen in the adaptation airing on September 14th.

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