In Deborah Harkness’ debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, Diana Bishop learns firsthand just how important a single book can be. When Diana, a reserved historian, calls up a bewitched manuscript from the archives of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, she has no idea how this simple act will change her life. Although she herself is a witch, Diana denies her power and shuns the society of fellow witches and wizards, so she has no notion of the importance of the alchemical tome she has summoned. Diana is the first person in centuries to have successfully retrieved Ashmole 782, long sought by witches, demons and vampires alike, and her unwitting accomplishment soon earns her plenty of unwanted notice, including that of Matthew Clairmont, a fellow researcher with an interest in Ashmole 782, who just happens to be a 1,500-year-old vampire. The two enter into an uneasy alliance in order to prevent the text from falling into the wrong hands, but before long, their entire world is thrown into upheaval as loyalties and lives are risked. In order for them to prevail, Diana must come to terms with her true self and harness the power she has long kept locked inside. The question is, will she have the courage and strength to do so?
With books about fictional witches, it’s all too easy to fall back on tongue-in-cheek descriptors like “enchanting” or “spellbinding,” but both adjectives aptly describe the superbly entertaining saga Harkness has crafted. This is a riveting tale full of romance and danger that will have you on the edge of your seat, yet its chief strength lies in the wonderfully rich and ingenious mythology underlying the story. Entwining strands of science and history, Harkness creates a fresh explanation for how such creatures could arise that is so credible, you’ll have to keep reminding yourself this is fiction.
A Discovery of Witches is a captivating tale that will ensnare the heart and imagination of even the most skeptical reader. This fantastic first novel will leave you anxious for the next installment, and sad to leave the remarkable world Harkness has created. Simply put, A Discovery of Witches is literary magic at its most potent.