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Hello Hello! How are you?
Today I’m bringing you a review I should have written months ago but life and school and work kept getting in the way. I’m finally getting around to catching up on my reviews of books read so far this year, so you’ll probably see a lot of reviews popping up on my blog in the coming weeks and months!
I already read this first book in the All Souls series by Deborah Harkness a couple of years ago and fell in love. It’s actually one of my favourite series and I started reading the second book not long after, but COVID and lockdown struck and I honestly felt a bit lost and slumpy while stuck in Scotland waiting to get home to France with my husband, so I just sort of never finished the book.
Hannah from Han Loves to Read and I decided to buddy read this series at the start of the year and it was honestly the best thing to reread this first instalment in this series. I had the best time and I need to pick up the second book soon!
So now without further ado, let’s get into my mini review of A Discovery of Witches!
Title: A Discovery of Witches (#2 All Souls)
Author: Deborah Harkness
Published: 8th of February 2011 — Headline
Format: Paperback — 688 pages
A world of witches, daemons and vampires. A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future. Diana and Matthew – the forbidden love at the heart of it.
When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…
Trigger warnings: mentioned death of parents, blood, gore, torture (on page and vivid), serious injuries (mutilation included), kidnapping, violence.
“It is a blessing as well as a burden to love so much that you can hurt so b badly when love is gone.”
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is an adult paranormal fantasy romance and the first in the All Souls trilogy. This book is basically the adult version of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and while I will agree that they both have some iffiness and yuckyness in terms of consent and plot, I found this book to be slightly better on that front. In fact, I didn’t pick up on this detail until my reread, and luckily it was only for a small part in a chapter and then there was no more weirdness so I think it is way better than the YA counterpart.
I buddy read this first book with Hannah from Han Loves to Read and I’m so glad I picked it up with her for a reread because I had forgotten so many details and I think it will now be much easier to get back into the second book and this time finally finish the trilogy!
If you know me at all from reading my blog or following me on other social media, you’ll know that I’m an absolute sucker for anything paranormal but especially when it includes witches and vampires (also werewolves, but a bit less. Sorry everyone, I’m team Edward all the way!). I actually stumbled upon this book series on Goodreads a few years ago and couldn’t believe I had never heard of it before. I know that there was a TV show made as well, so once I’ve read all the books, I’ll have to watch it.
One thing I have thought to mention that I also noticed in my reread was that there seemed to be a lot of showing of patriarchy and stereotypes around Matthew and other male characters of the different species (witches, vampires and daemons), especially at the beginning and through to the middle of the story. This was a bit of an iffy element for me and made me feel a bit uneasy but honestly Diana is such a strong and determined female character that once she put her foot down and stood up for herself, all the iffiness sort of went away and I was glad to see that there were no longer any awkward moments of “I’m the man so it’s my job” sort of narratives between Diana and Matthew. I mean I could argue that there shouldn’t have been all that male posturing to begin with, but I like that the author really brought out Diana’s strength and independence and even though she and Matthew fall for each other and he does start to look after her, she never looses her independence of bows down to him as her male counterpart. So despite what I mentioned at the start of this post about the comparison between Twilight and this book on the iffiness for consent and patriarchy, I feel like both of these are quickly pushed away and there is a balance between these two characters as soon as Matthew sees that Diana won’t be babied. Again, I would prefer it not be a thing to start with, but that’s the only weirdness I found in this book, it since it got dealt with fairly quickly and doesn’t crop up again.
On the positive side (and since I absolutely loved this book despite what I just mentioned), I really enjoyed the dark academia feels of this world. It is set in Oxford University which is probably the coolest setting for a book like this one and the vibes I got throughout were top notch. I love the darkness and atmosphere in the story, linked to the hope and relationship growing between Matthew and Diana and her journey into discovering the magical world even though she knew about it from a very young age. I feel like this story is also Diana’s discovery of herself and her own personal quest in understanding her powers and her place in the world. I also really appreciate how all these vibes go so well with the theme of witches, vampires and daemons and I loved all the descriptions of places. It’s really a book for book and history lovers! I loved reading about Diana doing her research in the Bodleian Library, it honestly felt like I was sitting right next to her. And I also really enjoyed when she visited Matthews family home in France because that had some brilliant vibes as well. And as you know I love a good atmospheric element in books (especially in fantasy), this book gets all the points on that front!
I also really enjoyed the difference between the De Clairmonts (Matthew’s) and the Bishops (Diana’s) families and how different they were, but all wanted the best for these two main characters. I loved Diana’s aunt and her partner, but I also loved Isabeau (Matthew’s mother). There were so many different characters but I feel like they all had a great place in the story and the author did a great job of creating believable and multi-faceted characters that all felt right and believable. I thought that Matthew was a particularly well-written character with lots of emotional damage from his past with obviously traumatised him, but it made him feel a lot more real in this story, and I felt like both Diana and him understood one another more because of their baggage and past traumas.
And the last point I want to make is about Diana’s magic and powers. She comes from a long line of very powerful witches (I think one of her ancestor’s was burnt at the stake for being a witch) and she shut off all her powers (or at least she thinks she did) when her parents died when she was still a child. When she calls up a manuscript for her alchemical research in the Library one day, her life is completely changed by what she discovers and mostly about what she unlocks deep within herself but also all throughout the different magical worlds of witches, vampires and daemons. I don’t want to say much else and risk spoiling you if you fancy picking it up, but it’s a great mix of history, magic and politics between species of creatures all rolled into one!
FINAL THOUGHTS AND RATING
Overall, I absolutely loved my reread of this book and apart from the negative point I mentioned above, I don’t have a bad thing to say about this book. It was such a contorting read and as I love anything with witches and vampires, it ticked all my boxes.
It’s a chunky book (as are the second and third instalments in this series) but it went by so quickly and I was so immersed, even from the very first page. It had a great pace and I loved all the plot twists, even though I knew them all — but I didn’t remember them all accurately, so sometimes I got a few surprises. The author wrote this book really well and she kept me intrigued and hooked throughout, and I also thought it was really well plotted for it’s length and from the fact that it’s only the first book in the series. Obviously there is some set-up of this world and these characters, but it never felt info-dumpy or too complex.
I gave this book 5 stars and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great book to reread and I’m glad I did because now I’ll be able to continue and finish this series this year, and finally tick it off my list!
If you love paranormal fantasy romances with witches, vampires and daemons, love the dark academia vibes of the Oxford University setting (and the beautiful castle in France!) and love magic, complex worlds and political intrigue, this is the book for you!
“And happiness is always louder than goodness.”
Atmosphere – 9
Start – 8
Pacing – 7.5
Ending – 9
Characters – 8
Theme – 9
Style – 8
Total = 58,5
That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed reading this post and you’ll consider picking up this book and giving it a try!
See you soon, stay safe,