#bookreview A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness published by Headline

It begins with absence and desire. It begins with blood and fear. It begins with a discovery of witches.

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…

My reading experience:

My curiosity lay in the streets of Oxford, the musty Duke Humfreys library and the 17th century palimpsest, but who could resist any tale of magic and forbidden love.

The All Souls Trilogy

This book is the first in a trilogy and you might be put off by the mighty chunks of books that they are, but don’t be. They are full of a witchy bibliographers dreams; prose filled with vellum and palaeography, illumination, history, blood and spells, perfect for winter and long days in the dark corners of an historic library.

Deborah Harkness much to my delight is a professor of history so this isn’t some tale woven with made up history, it is exquisite in its subtle yet intelligent weaving of history with magic. The result is a spellbinding story; we meet Diana Bishop as she rejoins Oxford University doing research on alchemy. Unbeknown to her, she has managed to discover a long hidden manuscript which is believed to be the Book of Life. The importance of the manuscript and its connection to Diana is revealed through the timeline of the narrative, and the reader is drawn into the crisp cream illuminated pages of other manuscripts along the way.

If you were expecting a traditional vampire story you will be disappointed. In many ways the story is much more elegant and mature. Yes vampires experience heightened emotion, sense of smell, taste and hearing, but equally they don’t sparkle or turn to dust in sunlight in the Harkness universe. Matthew is a sophisticated historian and scientist. There are surprises past times and glimpses of the past. It is hard to write a review without spoilers so I am skirting around the story, but suffice to say both Matthew and Diana seemed destined to be entwined and you just can’t fight destiny.

I watched the TV series first, and I was utterly compelled to start reading this triology. As a bibliographer and rare books librarian I was delighted by the academia and book history.  Aspects of this book that I enjoyed throughout my reading experience were the stylistic prose, the magic of the Duke Humfreys library, the wholly credible world of vampires, witches and daemons, the history, the connections, the love story, the breaking down of centuries held barriers, the phrases that precipitate thought and discussion, the passion, and the atmosphere derived from elegant description.

As always the book has more detail, a greater insight and much more story than a TV box set and I’m moving swiftly onto the second book Shadow of Night. I am however enjoying the portrayal of Matthew by Matthew Goode and of Diana by Theresa Palmer in the Sky TV production and equally can’t wait for season 2.

Themes: Witches, vampires and daemons, magic, love, covenants, betrayal, ownership, manuscripts, academia, yoga, friendship, Bodleian, time travel


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