Friday, April 6, 2012

"A Discovery of Witches", By Deborah Harkness

So, I finished reading A Discovery of Witches (Viking, 2011; 579 pages) by Deborah Harkness. I mentioned that I was reading it last time I posted. In that mention, I said that I would be very disappointed if the book did not maintain its high level of quality as it progressed.

I am very happy to report that I am not disappointed.

I just want to repeat that: I AM NOT DISAPPOINTED. A Discovery of Witches is the best fiction I've read in a long time. Ms. Harkness has written a fascinating, absorbing, rollicking good story, and has done so in high style. The characters are vivid and three-dimensional, the plot is involving, and...and it's just a damn good book.

Her female protagonist, Diana Bishop, is a witch who has mostly ignored her powers since her parents were killed when she was seven years old. Oh, she will use them to fix her washing machine or to get a book she cannot otherwise reach off of a high shelf. But she doesn't feel a real connection with it and has no desire to develop her talents. She is a historian and a professor and loves her work.

But, in the course of her work, which as the book opens involves research into very old alchemical manuscripts, she discovers one manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, that has been missing for a very long time. When she touches the manuscript, however, she can feel the spell that has been put on it. She does what she needs to with it for her work and then quickly sends it back to the stacks.

Simply touching it, however, has sent out the alert to other witches, as well as to the vampires who have also been looking for it, that it has surfaced, and soon the Bodleian's reading rooms are stacked to the gills with witches, vampires, and daemons who want that book.

One of those who wants the book is Matthew Clairmont, a vampire who is also a physician and a geneticist. But he quickly falls in love with Diana and takes the role of protector. Within very little time, Diana has also fallen for Matthew, and that's where the real trouble begins. There is a Congregation of witches, daemons, and vampires that long ago decreed that relationships between creatures who are not alike are forbidden. So, not only is Diana being chased for her access to the manuscript, which is again missing, and so that the witches of the Congregation can learn the extent of Diana's hidden powers and talents, but because she and Matthew are breaking a basic rule by becoming involved romantically. So, the two of them go on the run, first to Matthew's family home in France and then to Diana's home in the United States, involving both their families in the conflict that threatens to tear apart the world of creatures and expose them as never before to the world of humans.

Aside from the wonderful story Ms. Harkness tells, it is difficult to resist a book that includes a yoga-practicing vampire and a sentient house that lets everyone know whether or not it likes the people inside it and can add rooms when it senses that someone new is coming to stay...and knows they are coming before the living, breathing residents of the house. And then there are all the ghosts that also inhabit the place. Oh, and then there is Tabitha the cat, who hates just about everybody but takes an instant liking to Matthew, even though vampires, as he points out, get along much better with dogs than with cats.

If you like fantasy, especially urban fantasy, at all, read this book. And if you don't like fantasy, but like romance novels, read this book. Even if you don't like fantasy (I do) and don't like romance novels (which I generally don't), read this book. It is that good.

Fair warning, though. There is a sequel to A Discovery of Witches that will not be out until July. I'm going to be urging my library system to buy the sequel, because that's the only way I'll get to read it, since my budget cannot stretch to buy new hardback novels right now.

Now that I've finished reading Ms. Harkness's book, I've started reading Kraken (Ballantine Books, 2010; 509 pages), by China Mieville. I've barely started it, so I'm not sure yet how I'm going to like it. It also has to do with something that has gone missing...a giant squid, which has disappeared from London's Natural History Museum. Do I detect a theme in my current fiction reading?

No comments:

Post a Comment