My favorite book of last year in the paranormal romance genre is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. The funny thing is, I hated the book when I began reading. The story starts off sounding trite and ridiculous: a witch falls in love with a vampire, there’s a mysterious secret society of creatures out to destroy their love, she has a photographic memory, they’re both really into yoga? Ugh. One of the most irritating and unlikely things we are asked to believe is one that only a current or former academic might recognize: the heroine got tenure at Yale??? That’s almost as ridiculous as the fact that James Franco is currently a doctoral student in their English Department (yes, that one unfortunately is true). Needless to say, the first fifty pages of this book piqued my annoyance rather than my interest…and then something happened. I was swept away by the story, compelled to read late into the night by an increasingly complex and riveting plot.
The book follows the romance blossoming between Diana Bishop, historian and non-practicing witch, and Matthew Clairmont, scientist and vampire, as they navigate increasingly dangerous waters stirred up when Diana manages to call up a bewitched manuscript from the stacks at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Author Deborah Harkness, an actual historian who teaches European History and the History of Science at UCLA, legitimizes her characters with her extensive history chops, which is one of the reasons why this book stands heads and shoulders above so many other entries into this genre. Harkness hasn’t just “done her homework” in order to write a book; she is quite literally an expert on the subject about which she writes.
But the book’s charm lies outside of whether or not it is historically accurate. Harkness writes with such warmth about her characters that they, for lack of a better term, feel like home. The book really hits its stride in the final third, which takes place in upstate New York, where we meet several of the books most memorable characters.
As it turns out, the book is the first in a planned trilogy (the All Souls Trilogy), so we must all wait together for the next installment of the further adventures of Diana and Matthew.
Why you might love this book: Harkness has crafted a captivating and compelling story that is a pleasure to read.
Why you might not love this book: You have to get through the almost obnoxious introduction of our too perfect heroine. Once you get to know her, she’s really okay, I promise.
Rating: Five out of five black cats.
Publisher: Viking Adult (February 2011)