A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
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 is the only creature who can break its spell.
Diana, scholar of history and alchemy and reluctant witch, is working in the Oxford library when she discovers a very magical book. Having spent most of her life denying her powers, Diana ignores the book and tries to go about her life. But Diana’s contact with the book has attracted the attention of the rest of the magical creatures, including witches, daemons, and one very powerful and attractive vampire, Matthew de Clermont. Witches and vampires have been mortal enemies for as long as anyone can remember, but Diana has no choice but to work with Matthew if she wants to stay safe while she figures out what’s so special about the book and why everyone is after her.
I liked this book because it was so different from what I had been reading, lots of long high fantasy books with complex worlds and magic and I needed something lighter. This book was an interesting take on magic and magical creatures. The story takes place in present day all over the world–England, France, and New York. Witches are powerful beings who can control several different kinds of powers, although it appears each generation of witches is less powerful than the ones before. Vampires are immortal blood-drinkers, generally considered evil and hated by the witches. We don’t learn much about daemons, aside from the fact that they are brilliant, into the arts, and typically go insane. Most importantly, the 3 species of creatures hate each other and never almost interact.
These distinct lines between creatures begin to blur when Diana begins working with dangerous and infamous vampire Matthew to figure out why the book Ashmole 782 is special and why every creature on the planet (except Diana) is interested in it. While working together, Diana and Matthew eventually fall in love, causing even more problems because relationships between different creatures are strictly forbidden. Naturally, this makes all the search for answers even more important and makes even more creatures hate and want to destroy both Diana and Matthew.
While I did enjoy this book, and really sympathized with Diana and Matthew and thought their relationship was interesting and well developed, the plot was tricky. It started out about the mysterious alchemy book, then became about Diana and Matthew’s relationship, then became about Diana learning more about her past, and then a secret and ancient society of vampires became involved, and then it was about Diana learning to control her powers she had been ignoring since she was a child and…. I’m sure I’m missing something. Probably several somethings. Knowing this book is part of a trilogy, I’m sure some of this information could have waited. It was too much. By the end of the novel, I had almost completely forgotten about the mysterious book that started it all, and if I wasn’t so interested in the characters (including all of the “side” characters, who I was equally interested in) I may have given up. I still intend to read the next book, Shadow of Night, but I am hoping it will stay on point and not wander quite so much.
I give this book 4 stars out of 5 and recommend it for fans of urban fantasy and magic who also have an interest in history. I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as “historical fiction” but I did enjoy the mentions of history and secret societies.