Monday, March 26, 2012
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
When A Discovery of Witches was published a year ago, it spent some time on the bestsellers list. This of course prompted me to put a hold on the book and it went to the top of my "to be read" list. At a daunting 579 pages, A Discovery of Witches slowly began to fall to the bottom of that list. However, as the first book in the All Souls Trilogy I decided that I needed to read book one before book two, Shadow of the Night, comes out this July.
Diana Bishop is a witch. She comes from a long line of witches on both sides of her family. Her mother, Rebecca, was descended from Bridget Bishop who was hung July 10, 1692 in Salem. Her father, Stephen, was descended from Elizabeth Proctor, another accused witch in Salem. In 1986, when Diana was 7, her parents went to Africa and never came back. Diana was raised by her aunt Sarah. Sarah and Diana are the last of the Bishop line but after Diana's parents die she decides she does not want to be a witch and makes and effort to suppress her magic.
Diana is a brilliant scholar and has published several books on alchemy. Her studies take her to Oxford where she spends her time in the library examining one ancient text after another. Diana's life changes when she requests a manuscript written by a man named Elias Ashmole. Simply known as Ashmole 782, Diana knows there is something magical about the manuscript the minute she touches it. In fact the book refuses to open until she lays her palm on the cover to introduce herself to the book. Diana discovers that there are three pages missing from the book and that there seems to be additional text moving underneath the regular text. Frightened by the power she feels in Ashmole 782, Diana returns it to the library archives. By opening Ashmole 782, Diana has now attracted the attention of the other "creatures" in the library and beyond. There are four races in the world, humans, witches, vampires and daemons. As a rule the four races do not mix and the humans pretend to not know the other three exist. Witches hate vampires, vampires hate witches and they both look down upon daemons.
The day after opening Ashmole 782 Diana meets Matthew Clairmont, a 1500 year old vampire who has been looking for Ashmole 782 for over 100 years. Even though vampires and witches don't mix, Matthew decides to help Diana out by protecting her from all the attention she is getting from the other creatures. It seems that Diana is the only one to see or touch the book since it went missing from the library in the 1850s. Unfortunately when Diana decides to call Ashmole 782 up again it is again listed as missing. Now Diana's life is in danger from the creatures who want to know what kind of magic she possesses that allowed her to call and open the book. Each race believes that the Ashmole 782 holds some secret that is essential to the survival of their race and each race believes that Ashmole 782 belongs to them. Among other things, Matthew is a doctor and has been studying the origins of each race through their DNA. He believes Ashmole 782 holds the key to the origins of each creature. What ensues is a lot of talk about history, alchemy and DNA sequencing. Diana and her magic seem to be the key to discovering the origins of all the creatures. Over the course of the book it becomes clear that Diana needs to embrace her considerable magic because ignoring her power only puts her in more danger. Her relationship with Matthew sets off a sequence of events that could start a war between the creatures and drastic steps must be taken to protect Diana until she can learn to control her power.
Despite bogging down the story with the discussions of history, DNA , alchemy and quoting a few too many ancient texts, Harkness creates an intriguing story that made me want to know what happens next to Matthew and Diana. Do they discover the secrets contained in Ashmole 782? Does Diana learn to control her magic and why is she so important? Do Matthew and Diana succeed in stopping the war between the creatures? There is a lot (and I mean a lot) of background information in this book. It makes sense that there are so many unanswered questions when you remember that there are two more books to come. With the second book out in a few months, I'm glad I waited until now to read book one. If you are a fan of magic, mystery and history, A Discovery of Witches is the book for you.
~ Amy, Adult Services