Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

As I've grown in the craft of writing, I've become pickier about the books I read--as I'm sure many of you have become. If the book doesn't hook me in 50pgs--I put it down. In my capacity of Co-Coordinator of the Crested Butte Writers Conference, I'm always looking for interesting authors--preferably bestsellers who are good speakers who aren't so crazy popular and busy that they command exorbitant amounts of money to attend events.

In reading my Costco magazine, I came across this Buyer's Choice Pick--A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. A genre book. Hmm. I'm now curious. In my experience, most "book picks" seem to gravitate towards either literary efforts or suspense/thrillers. This is a contemporary fantasy with strong romantic elements--ala Twilight series only with older main characters and different "creatures". Witches, vampires, and daemons. It's a NYT bestseller. It's a trilogy. Since the Harry Potter and Twilight phenomenons had dominated the book and movie charts, I'd heard it rumored that vampires and wizards (witches) had run their course. Hmm.

Further research tells me it's Deborah's first fiction book--I try not to hate her, but succumb to the temptation to give the story a more critical read. She's sold the movie rights--and instead of stalling in pre-production hell, the movie preliminaries seem to be moving right along nicely. It looks like the movie could get made within this next decade. The main character is a scholar who enjoys researching historical documents. It is wrapped up in history and alchemy.

I don't like history much and had to look up alchemy in the dictionary. It's "the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter--particularly with attempts to covert metals into gold or to find a universal elixir." If you didn't know that, then you've learned a new word today. Somehow it's wrapped up in the quest for immortality.

What's so special about this book? This LONG book. At 561 trade-paperback pages, it's a long manuscript--another thing that should have made this a tough sell. This picky writer/reader had to sate my curiosity and find out. So off to Costco I went and then I read it in a week--which is fast for me.

Happily, I really loved the story. I found myself reading as slowly as possible, savoring the book--as happens to me when I'm really enjoying a story. I don't want it to end! But the writer in me demanded to know why. So these are my reasons:
-- As a lover of classic Bewitched TV show, I enjoy the fantasy of creatures that use magic.
--There's a strong pull of elements that always compel me: love of family, loyalty, love, respect, protectiveness and honor.
--The older I get, the less patience I have for discrimination--and this is a classic Romeo/Juliet story of two people meet and fall in love and aren't allowed to be together because she's a witch and he's a vampire.
--The mystery/suspense aspects are compelling and well-done.
--The pacing is good.
--The romance is good.
--The writing is quite good.
--I loved the main characters. I really cared about all the characters, not just the main characters. Diana and Matthew, are well-drawn, sympathetic characters, although in an attempt to have our heroine be strong and save herself, I'd caution Deborah not to do this at Matthew's expense. My one criticism of the story is that near the end when Diana and Matthew are attacked by Matthew's old flame, Juliette, Matthew appears weak to me. We'd been told what an amazing fierce warrior he is, we'd been told that he killed a witch who threatened

Diana, Matthew is the head of some secret society that protects innocents, however he does a poor job of protecting himself from Juliette. He does nothing to defend himself or fight her and neutralize her threat. I was really disappointed in this and lost some respect for my hero here.

The next book in the series, Shadow of Night,comes out July 2012 and picks up where this one ended, plunging Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan times. It appears to have a completely historical setting. Hmm. A historical. Interesting. Will fans of her first book want to follow Diana and Matthew into a totally historical book? Ordinarily, I'd say this might be a
concern. But for this author and this story, I'm willing to bet it's not a problem.

So have you read this book? What did you think?


Donnell said...

Theresa, I haven't read the book, but your review makes me want to. Well done!

Frankie Brooks said...

Deborah Harkness is also a historian, hence, history, but good review. Absolutely loved the book, best book I've personally read in a long time!

Anonymous said...

I have read the book, and purchased Shadow of Night on Tuesday (July 10), and am 75% through the book. It is as good as the first. I love the characters. I also love the things you mentioned ... love, loyalty, etc. The second book is at least as good as the first, and I cannot wait for the third!

Theresa said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks for letting me know! I bought the book, but haven't started it yet. Saving it for a trip. Now i will look even more forward to reading it!

mbsprengle said...

I loved both the books and cannot wait for the third. The movie should be interesting. I see Hugh Jackman as the lead. He's the only one I know who's handsome enough to be Mathew. :)