I think the first warning about A Discovery of Witches should have been that I heard about it in “Parade”. Now, there’s nothing wrong with “Parade”; I like to read it on Sundays as much as the next person does. But it’s not really known for being a reliable source for literary insight. I read their little blurb about this book, though, and I thought it sounded pretty good. Then my mother said she was getting it for my cousin for her birthday, and I thought it would be nice for us to have both read the same book around the same time. Unfortunately, I’m now in the awkward situation of knowing that my cousin’s going to get a book that is not spectacular, to say the least.
A Discovery of Witches starts off with our protagonist, Diana Bishop, establishing that she is a witch, but that she refuses to use her powers. She’s a researcher, interested in the history of science — in particular, alchemical manuscripts (so, really, she’s interested in the history of pre-science). She’s an American professor who’s younger than thirty, yet has earned a sabbatical year so she can study at Oxford.
While looking at old alchemical texts, she notices that one is enchanted. She manages to open it, pretty much ignores what’s inside, and returns it. After that, all hell breaks loose, and “creatures” (Harkness’ term for daemons, vampires, and witches) come out of the woodwork to threaten Diana in all manners of ways.
But this is all okay, because she quickly runs into Matthew Clairmont, a vampire on a mission to protect her. Then Harkness spends four hundred pages ruining the premise she set up in the first thirty by making Diana completely dependent on Matthew for her physical safety and personal well-being. He does everything from guard her from other creatures to making sure she does yoga. This is extremely irritating. Don’t create a character that you call strong and brave and then have her be completely clueless as to how she’s supposed to behave without a man to reference.
I will say that Harkness’ writing flows well. I found it a pleasant read, language-wise, and would love to read something that isn’t so pseudo-feminist and, frankly, insulting to independent, strong women. I’d love for her to either write something that doesn’t involve a strong romantic theme or, conversely, something that is open about the fact that it’s a romance and embraces the genre. At least then the work would be honest. One of the worst things an author can do is lie to the reader within the book’s own text. I feel disrespected and betrayed, and feel almost that I should give my copy back to my mother so she can return it and recoup her money.
As it stands, however, A Discovery of Witches falls flat for me. It doesn’t even end satisfactorily; planning on two more books to come, Harkness made this one end in a cliffhanger. Sadly, this is just another turn-off for me, and I won’t be seeking out Diana and Matthew for another go-around. Unless my mother buys me the sequel. Then I’ll be duty-bound to read it, and most likely much more grumpy for the return trip.