Friday, 21 September 2012

Review : A Discovery of Witches


This week I completed reading A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness, Professor of History at USC. Being a historian myself, I was keen to see how she approached writing a work of fiction, quite a different exercise from academic treatises and research papers. Interestingly enough, some of the world's best-loved books have been written by university professors. For example, JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis who gave us The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Both sublime pieces of work.
So, here we have another academic with a taste for the supernatural - witches, daemons and, my favourite, vampires!

The story concerns the discovery of a lost manuscript in the Ashmolean, known as Ashmole 782, by reluctant witch, Diana Bishop. Descended from a infamous magical family, Diana is loath to practise witchcraft, preferring rather to accomplish success in her academic career on her own merits. Like the author, Diana Bishop is a history professor at a well known American university on sabbatical in Oxford. While there she meets yummy Matthew Clairmont, the proverbial tall, dark and delicious - with fangs! - professor of neuroscience who is himself interested in finding the lost manuscript.

He and Diana meet and and the attraction is mutual. Unfortunately, the non-human world of which they are a part, forbid fraternisation between the races - witches, daemons and vampires. Yet, in spite of it, they band together to locate Ashmole 782, a medieval book on alchemy, which supposedly contains information regarding the future survival of their kind. They soon realise other more powerful individuals in their world are also after the same manuscript and they see Diana as the key to obtaining it.
To know what happens, you just have to read it.

The story drew me in straight away. Not only because I liked the characters of Diana and Matthew, their struggle to overcome their own personal demons, while fighting their growing respect and eventual love for each other, but for its magic. The book is full of 'witchy' activities - magical houses that instantly create extra rooms when visitors arrive, walls which crack open revealing hidden secrets, spells and enchanted objects.
It's like Harry Potter for grown ups!

Can't wait to read the next book in the All Souls Trilogy. The only problem is, once I start reading I won't be able to put it down, and there goes my own writing.
Oh well, C'est la vie!

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