Book Review: A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness

Goodreads Synopsis:

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery, so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks, but her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries--and she's the only creature who can break its spell.


Oh boy! Where to begin… How about with the good?

 As a lover of science and fiction (I don’t think anyone who reads my bio will deny that) I was excited when I picked up this book and saw that it was about an enchanted alchemical manuscript – how exciting! The alchemist was not only a hardcore scientist, who often gave their life (quite literally) to the pursuit of knowledge but they were also theologians, mystics, inventors, healers and eccentric esoterics. Admittedly, I haven’t undertaken the pursuit of delving deeply enough to be an expert on the matter (that just seems like too much work and I assure you my life is full enough as it is!) but from the odds and ends I’ve picked up over the years I do find them truly fascinating. So, back to the book…

The author has clearly done her historical research. And not just on alchemy but also on the places and events encountered along the way.  She clearly knows her stuff. Her depth of knowledge seems so detailed that I was motivated to do a quick search about her and I learned, from reading her website (, that she is a professor of European history and the history of science. Her academic career is truly impressive and her expertise is wonderfully sprinkled throughout the book.

There were, however, a few points I found disturbing and just couldn’t get past.

1) There seems to be undertones of a misanthropic nature throughout the book – and it is not just from one character. The author continuously belittles the human race (e.g. calls them “pathetic’’ amongst other things) and the overall tone whenever humans are mentioned seems to be encroaching on an attitude of internalized ‘human’ racism. This attitude surprised me since in the beginning the main character, Diana, proclaims that she wanted a “simple, ordinary life…like humans enjoy.”

2) The love affair.  It was choppy, underdeveloped and unrealistic. And seriously, its not like I’m a tough critic; I was whole-heartily sold by Bella and Edward (even though I’m totally on team Jacob).

3) One other point that just rubbed me the wrong way was how Diana treated her aunt Sarah. Diana seems self –absorbed and self-righteous in this relationship even though Sarah raised her after her parents died. Ok fine, a lot of people might treat their family this way but Diana was even ready to attack Sarah with witchfire and possibly kill her for, as far as I can tell, no reason.

The author has clear talent and skill when writing about history and science but relationships and interactions feel forced. Will I read the next one in the trilogy? Most likely. Mainly because I hate not knowing how things end but I’ll need a little time to get the taste of what bothered me out of my mouth.