Catie's Reviews > A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
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's review
Apr 02, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: read-in-2011, paranormal, romance, series
Read from April 02 to 05, 2011

This book kept me hanging on just enough to stop me from abandoning it. I’m not really sure who this book is aimed at; it’s a very pedestrian, traditional romance wrapped up in a nearly 600 page, painfully slow tale filled with history and science. It’s a bit like a Hallmark card wrapped up in an encyclopedia. The history and science buffs will be turned off by the cheesy center, and the romance lovers will resent having to wade through pages of endless description and detail just to get to the good stuff. And speaking of “the good stuff” – there isn’t any. If I am going to struggle my way through a sappy romance, the least I would expect is a good sex scene!

The female lead is Diana, who is a highly intelligent woman and well respected in her field. She’s also the daughter of two powerful witches who were murdered when she was seven years old. Traumatized by their deaths, she turns her back on magic and devotes her life to study. When she accidentally pulls a heavily enchanted manuscript from the Bodleian library and is somehow able to open it, she draws the attention of the supernatural communities. Matthew, a biochemist vampire with many secrets and motivations of his own, seeks out Diana to investigate.

Probably the main thing that turns me off about this book is the cast of characters. Matthew will be startlingly familiar to any reader of paranormal romance. He’s a perfect physical specimen, with vast wealth (including several ancient homes which he built himself), a guilt-inducing past, and a tendency to be an overly protective, patronizing control freak. He also likes to name drop famous historical figures that he’s known, drone on and on about wine, and spout obnoxious lines like, “Will you never wait until I help you?” And, despite being alive for 1,500 years, he apparently still thinks that women are incapable of feeding and clothing themselves or knowing when they’re tired (Don’t worry, he’ll give you sedatives without your knowledge if you try to disagree). He’s the kind of guy who says, “I might not be able to control myself if you step away” after a first kiss, then spends the rest of the book avoiding consummating the relationship, because “there’s plenty of time” even though at this point the characters have (view spoiler) Diana is the otherwise intelligent woman who acts like a child whenever she’s in his presence. She has to be bullied and bated into using her powers, and saved time and time again by Matthew. Despite Matthew’s continual marveling about how powerful and strong she is, her strength is barely in evidence.

This book needs some serious trimming. This author is clearly a very bright, intellectual woman and she has a ton of ideas. I just wish she hadn’t put all of them in this one book. She manages to cram in alchemy, paranormal groups, magic, evolution, mythology, medieval knights, politics, DNA testing, yoga, and wine tasting, not to mention (view spoiler) before this book is done. There are also four chapters (out of about forty) that are written in third person following Matthew, instead of the first person (Diana) perspective that’s used for the rest of the book. It’s as if she feels the need to show the reader absolutely everything that’s going on, everywhere. This book would have been so much better if she had kept a few ideas in reserve. Some of the topics, like the wine tasting and the yoga, serve no purpose to the story, except perhaps to make Matthew seem even more pretentious.

I did enjoy much of the science and history, but there were too many niggling little scientific inaccuracies to keep me spellbound. For instance, Matthew has apparently mapped the DNA of enough witches and other supernatural beings to be able to locate and identify markers of different magical powers, not to mention create a map of the different lineages of witch families. However, he is somehow unable to use the same information to determine whether the different supernatural groups (witches, vampires, and daemons) are genetically related. For all of the author’s vast intelligence, I’m not sure that she really understands evolution either. I’m not one who typically nit-picks stories on the technical details, but this book is so agonizingly slow and the sappy romance is such a turn off for me – I found myself focusing on the little details more and more.

This book is absolutely not for me. However, if you are an intellectual person with a love of sweet, "courtly love" type romances, and macho-man heroes, then I think you might like this one.
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Reading Progress

02/02/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 62) (62 new)

Courtney I'm so excited to hear what you think about this book!

Catie I'm on page 300 or so...I sort of hate it!! I heard it was kind of like The Historian, but it doesn't seem very similar to me. What did you think of the DNA testing? Poor Matthew is still using gel electrophoresis, LOL. I did kind of squee when the mitochondrial DNA angle came up. I'm hoping Diana gets a bit less obedient by the end :)

Courtney I would never say it was like The Historian. More like Twilight maybe. I'm interested to see where she goes with it in the next book. By the end, I found myself more interested in the side characters than the main two. Diana in the beginning of the book is completely different than the one she finishes the book with. There's definitely room for improvement in the next one.

Catie Yay! It has picked up a little bit in the past 50 pages or so. I like Ysabeau. I just can't stand Matthew - he's not my type of hero.

I miss you guys!! Is book club this week?

Courtney Yeah - book club is this week. Kindra's turn. I like Ysabeau & Marthe a lot too. I hope they are in the other books more.

message 6: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana Well, Catie, thanks for test-driving this one for me. IDK how this drivel got so much hype. And that spoiler #1 was just ridiculous.

Catie Yes, it was totally ridiculous. I do think that this author has talent, though - just not with writing romance. She should leave that to Diana Gabaldon :)

message 8: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana You are a fan of Outlander too?:)

message 9: by Flannery (new)

Flannery Honestly, who in their right mind is not a fan of a hot muscly highlander in a kilt?

Catie Yes, I love those books. I can't help myself!

message 11: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana Well, I am totally sane, I like those:o)

Heidi (Yup. Still here.) I am over half done with the audio of this one and so far it seems like a smart persons Twilight (and I think you know how much I loved Twilight).

Courtney So Catie - do you think you'll read the 2nd one in the trilogy or are you done with it?

message 14: by Catie (last edited Feb 07, 2012 06:48AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Catie Nope, I am done for sure Courtney! But, I will probably be asking you what happens in the next book sometime next year, just to satisfy my curiosity :)

message 15: by Laraine (new)

Laraine Now I don't know if I'll like this one or not. I might try it out of curiosity but with 600 plus pages I'm hesitant. haha...

Catie Well, it's actually only ~ 575, Laraine, if that helps!

message 17: by Heidi (Yup. Still here.) (last edited Apr 07, 2011 09:58AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Heidi (Yup. Still here.) I am seriously having Twilight flashbacks!

We can't be together because I am a vampire.

I might kill you if we have sex and I lose control.

I am over protective and brooding but it is for your own good.

You have to become a vampire to be with me.

My family member hates you because they envy you.

I am just waiting for Jacob to appear, but he was barely in book one of Twilight so book two perhaps??

Catie OH GOD help me if there's a love triangle. No, I don't think she's going that I think about it...there was some mention of a (view spoiler).

It reminded me quite a bit of Twilight too. But, the whole thing is so much more ridiculous when the main female lead is 35 years old instead of 17.

message 19: by Heidi (Yup. Still here.) (last edited Sep 29, 2011 05:43PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Heidi (Yup. Still here.) I am telling you Catie this is Twilight for the older set! There will be a Jacob in book two!

Catie Everytime I remember that she's 35, I crack up. She's 35!!! Gay Jacob is something that I actually might like to see.

Heidi (Yup. Still here.) She is 35 and a highly educated woman. That is what makes it worse!

message 22: by Katrina (new)

Katrina Passick Lumsden Thanks to your review, I'm probably going to give this one a pass. Well, unless I can't find anything else. My mother has absconded with my Kindle and until I get it back, I am at the mercy of the bookcase...*sigh*.

I did try to read this book a few months ago. I was bored after...*checking to see where bookmark is*...oh, one chapter.

Catie Glad I could help Katrina :)

I've tried to lend my ereader out before (to my husband) and it never works. Eventually I just get impatient and snatch it back.

message 24: by Katrina (new)

Katrina Passick Lumsden I was getting close. Thankfully my mom reads fast and knows how much I rely on my Kindle for entertainment, so she finished her book today and I have my precious back :D

I think it's going to be a Kindle Christmas this year....

Shanmcg Loved your comment "kept me hanging on just enough to keep me reading.". I felt the same way and would often wonder where the story was headed. Like a fool I thought the climax was on the very next page...which of course never happened. Ugh, frustrating!

Catie Yes, so frustrating! At least I know not to read book #2.

Laura I thoroughly agree with your review. A hallmark card wrapped up in an encyplopedia -- love it!

Catie Thanks so much Laura!

message 29: by VMom (new) - rated it 3 stars

VMom a Hallmark card wrapped up in an encyclopedia

This description is so awesome. Love your review.

Catie Thanks Mayakda!

message 31: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Sumner SOOOO TRUE! go you!

Catie Ha, thanks Michelle!

Leanne I have to agree. I like the history and don't find it slow. But the characters are so cliched. Their conflicts are predictable. It was not original at all. It made me realize how difficult it is to write decent genre fiction.

Angela Oliver I would just like to say that I totally LOVE this phrase "...a bit like a Hallmark card wrapped up in an encyclopedia..." !

Catie Thanks :)

message 36: by Karly (new)

Karly haha! I was JUST about to comment on that comment (" a Hallmark card wrapped up in an encyclopedia.") when Lemurkat did first. That was pretty funny. Not sure if I'm going to read the book, but your review was funny. Thanks!

Caroline I too liked your description of the book as a Hallmark romance. So true!

Catie Thanks Caroline!

Vanessa Glad you mentioned all the little problems with the scientific details. The author seems to have a Lamarckian understanding of how species change and adapt. Now, I didn't like the book as a whole, but even putting all that aside I found myself endlessly irritated by all the scientific errors.

Shayantani Das Catie, I really do feel like quitting, but the just enough factors are keeping me hanging too. Does this book get any better?

Catie Well, I don't think it does. I would say - go read a few reviews, both positive and negative, and see if that helps you decide.

message 42: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim "It’s a bit like a Hallmark card wrapped up in an encyclopedia"

That sounds bad.

Fabulous review, Catie! This is the Kindle daily deal, so I was checking up on it...

Catie Thanks Jim! Yes, I really didn't like this one. I really love Jenne's review of it - you should check it out (for a good laugh)!

How are your reviews going?

message 44: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim Thanks Catie! I will definitely read that review - I am always up for a laugh.:) I did take a look at the sample for this one last night, and I was not impressed..

Thanks for asking about my reviews! I am working on Unwind today, and hope to post this evening. I want to go carefully through your review shortly - I think you had a list of specific problems with the logic, etc. I remember thinking 'yep, those are problems all right', haha! I want to see how much they bother me now..

I finished Genesis last night - WOW!! I was completely blown away by the power of that book. I couldn't help thinking of the logical parallels with Silently and Very Fast. Love to hear your thoughts on that. Totally different approaches to very similar issues.

To be honest, I am still heavily engaged in the hornet's nest I stirred up last week... I think you know the one I mean, and thanks very much for your vote!

I don't know if you are following the thread or no. Not campaigning for it, and I do feel a little radioactive from time to time.:) But still kicking!

Catie Oh, that's great. I've been really interested in your point of view on some of those things. I completely get that sometimes it's very easy to suspend disbelief when you're invested in the characters & story. Your review is all about what you thought, so don't feel like you need to respond to my issues, haha. I'm sure I will love reading it anyway!

Yes! As soon as I finished Silently and Very Fast, I was thinking about Genesis. I even recommended it that night to a goodreader I know who loved Genesis. Silently and Very Fast felt a lot more personal and emotional to me though. Genesis had my brain working over time but it didn't really hit me in my heart, if you know what I mean.

Haha, yes. I haven't been following the whole thread but I'm glad there's someone so objective and level-headed leading the discussion. :) Letting the writing speak for itself is a great way to go!

message 46: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim Catie wrote: "I completely get that sometimes it's very easy to suspend disbelief when you're invested in the characters & story. Your review is all about what you thought, so don't feel like you need to respond to my issues, haha. I'm sure I will love reading it anyway!"

You are such a great friend, Catie! I am constantly amazed at how often we think alike, and on so many issues:) Your perspectives always hit dead center for me.

I did re-read your review, and you made some great points! I plan to address most of them in one way or another. I will probably link to your review, but paraphrase the issues in the context of mine.

I think the biggest difference in our reactions was that I enjoyed the narrative more as it went along, and you found it more and more annoying. I could certainly understand that - as always, you explained it all extremely well!

I agree completely with your comments about Silently and Very Fast and the contrast with Genesis. Genesis was very cold and relentlessly logical, but extremely effective in that design. The emotional aspects were in the suspense and dramatic tension, in complete contrast to the arresting beauty of Valente's work. And yes, my brain was in heavy-load mode for Genesis, and in a completely different sense for Silently...

I am so glad to see your kind words and remarks on the thread! It was a bit agonizing, making the initial decisions about my approach. But I have been happy with the results, and I really appreciate your insights!

message 47: by Nicole (new)

Nicole I wish I had read this review before I started the book. I'm 1/3 of the way through and I completely agree with you about all your observations. I'm gonna stick with it, but it's good to know where this is going (namely, nowhere).

Catie Yes, I wish I had read a few reviews before I started this too. It was really different than what I was hoping for - not for me. Have you read Jenne's review? (Linked in comment 43.) Cracked me up!

Rachel I'm so glad I read your review. You pretty much articulated my thoughts as I (struggled to) read the first third of the book.

Catie Glad I could help!

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