Heather's Reviews > A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
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Feb 04, 12

bookshelves: fantasy, so-worst, want-money-back

I'm cross-posting my reviews from my 100 Beers and Books in 2012 project. Please forgive me if this makes you feel bombarded with my opinions.

I have never been angrier at a book than I am at “Discovery of Witches” and it’s all my fault. Firstly, I got my hopes up way too high about this one on account of ten dozen book critics comparing it to “Harry Potter.” And secondly, I knew it included a vampire love story. I knew it. And I should have adjusted my expectations accordingly — because you can’t have a vampire love story without an afflicting amount of male posturing and patronization.

The heroine, Dr. Diana Bishop, could have been exceptional, but the vampire ruined her life. (Actually, she seemed to like him in her life; maybe he just ruined my life.)

Listen to how awesome she is without the vampire: a) She’s a history scholar who b) lives in England where she c) spends half her life in Oxford’s Bodleian Library (you remember it as the library they use in the “Harry Potter” movies) studying d) ancient alchemy manuscripts. Also, she’s d) a witch who e) hates the dogmatic identity politics of her minority group and so she rebuffs their claim on her to f) spend time doing exciting outdoor activities and g) reading the whole library and h) eating full English breakfasts.

A super smart, super powerful, super accomplished, non-conformist witch who loves bacon, you guys. And as soon as that goddamn vampire comes a-callin’ she loses all sense of agency, and also her mind.

I was totally willing to look past the part where Deborah Harkness wrote herself as the main character. Like you know how every time Robert Langdon looks at his Mickey Mouse watch you want to kick Dan Brown in the shins? It’s like that, but worse because the vampire character gets his own chapters where he swoons and swoons over Diana’s quirks and Diana is obviously Harkness’ fictional version of herself. So it’s pretty much a masturbatory opus when you think about it like that. I was also willing to ignore the way Harkness over-describes everything. Not in a Steig Larsson “and then Lisbeth bought ten Billy’s Pan Pizzas at the Seven Eleven” kind of way, but in the way where she tells every detail of everything every character is wearing and where they purchased the things and how they fit and what it feels like to take them off and put them on and wine tastes, wine tastes, wine tastes for all eternity. (Harkness writes a wine blog, so I get it. But still. Come on.) I was willing to go with it, though. To embrace it, even. But again: The goddamn vampire. And so those mildly annoying things morphed into unforgivably grating things.

This is where I really lost it with “Discovery of Witches.” Page 192. I highlighted all the parts that made me want to explode in a fury supernova. For example: “We were prey and predator once more.” (Guess who is the one doing the attacking and who is the one getting attacked?) And: “With Matthew in bodyguard mode, I didn’t have much choice.” (When a man tells you do to a thing, you do that thing or he gets violent, OK? You don’t have a choice.) And: “I’m letting you go,’ he said, cutting me off. ‘But don’t bolt for the door.’” (He was just being aggressive because it’s what was best for her. He holds her against her will because he cares.)

I can’t keep talking about this; I’m spiraling into a rage blackout again. I just want to say if I ever hear anyone compare Dr. Diana Bishop to Hermione Granger again, I will set something on fire.
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message 1: by Ashley (last edited Feb 04, 2012 01:52PM) (new)

Ashley 1. Anyone who compares Harry Potter to anything is an idiot.
2. If you liked the witch/scholar angle, I'd suggest reading The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. It's not world-changing or anything, and I had some writing-level issues with it, but there are no vampires! And it's about the Salem witch trials. If anything, it suffers from an overabundance of girl power (male characters not very developed). Anyway, I liked it.
3. I spit my drink out when you said the thing about Dan Brown and that motherfucking Mickey Mouse wristwatch. I hate that thing so much.
4. I love when Stieg Larsson starts his description tangents. There's something about all that irrelevant detail that I find soothing.


message 2: by Jason (new)

Jason I was just thinking about how overwhelmed I've been with all of your opinions.

P.S. That's a dirty lie.


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