Aparna (inspirethoughts) wrote,

Book Critique 2016 – 10/02/2016: A Discovery Of Witches

Note: It's 2017 and I still have three months of reviews to go from 2016. I am hoping I should be able to finish it soon but we have to wait and see how far into 2017 this will go into. :)

Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here
For review of all books in this series: Go here

Stars: 4.5 / 5
Recommendation: Witches, Daemons, Vampires and Humans all co-exist and what comes out is this marvelous plot moving between past and future yet anchoring to the present.

A Discovery Of Witches is a historical-fantasy novel and the first part in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, published in 2011. This is another one of those books that I bought during my travels and ended up reading the remaining two as well. Yeah, I usually don’t stop mid-way on anything. ;) This is the debut novel by the author who is an acclaimed American scholar as well as has studied magic and occult. The primary plot revolves around Diana Bishop - an alchemical history professor at The University of Oxford, Matthew Clairmont - a charming vampire and a long-lost manuscript. The plot is set in a world where humans, vampires, witches and daemons co-exist. Also it is narrated in a first-person basis - in the voice of Diana to be accurate.

Diana Bishop is one of the research professor with a specialty in History of Science working at the Oxford University in England and the last the Bishop witches from America - ancestry that would trace back to that first Salem woman, Bridget Bishop, who was executed for witchcraft in 1692. . One day as part of her daily ritual of collecting the manuscripts that she was working on from the Oxford's Bodleian Library, a very old manuscript - Ashmole 782 - lands in her hands. It belonged to a seventeenth century book collector and alchemist Elias Ashmole. But, why has it landed in her lot? When she tried to open it she felt a tingle that only a witch can feel. She has been avoiding magic and denying her legacy as a witch for as long as she knew. Her parents - Rebecca Bishop and Stephen Proctor - were powerful witches in their lineage, and she had lost them to a cruel accident. The day she decided not to advertise her lineage or heritage. Much to her only living relative Aunt Sarah and her companion Emily Mather's frustration she has chosen a line totally different from the traditional witches. And now this manuscript, rather a palimpsest - a manuscript within a manuscript - felt very familiar and unfamiliar in many ways to Diana.

To top it, she has been noticed by a vampire. Not any vampire but a powerful one - Matthew Clairmont, a 1500 year old vampire. Why is he suddenly interested in her research? Is he somehow connected to the mysterious Ashmole 782 - that had been considered lost for centuries? Despite her rebuff, a slow attraction begins between Diana and Matthew that she cannot ignore it anymore. She considers making him an ally to her a better option than alienating him even though the risk of the attraction becoming something more. What is in Ashmore 782 that is causing such a stir in all of the Oxford and amongst all the creatures? Is Matthew right that their line of creatures are slowly dying out? Will the manuscript have secrets bout vampires that he could use to solve so many of his questions?

However what exactly went between Diana and Ashmole 782 was known to only three witches (Diana, Sarah and Emily) and three vampires (Matthew, Miriam and Marcus) - a secret shared between two creatures which is very unusual. And now the manuscript in question is missing again. Plus the growing attraction between Matthew and Diana is being noticed, frowned upon and threatened by all creatures alike. Will they still act upon it? Marcus finds out some interesting facts about Diana's DNA makeup that puts Matthew on edge. So what is the big secret in that that Matthew doesn’t want to share is with Diana? Everyone believes that Ashmole 782 had been sealed by a powerful witch and no matter how many tried there was no right combination. So how did it open for Diana and why?

A parallel plot about men being murdered in Westminster that may be related to a vampire gone rogue also follows the story along. Who is responsible for these killings? As if this was not enough Diana's magic is rising despite her efforts to curb and she has no idea why it is happening now and how to control it. Matthew and his son Marcus along with Miriam unlock several possibilities of witch powers in her DNA analysis and also her connection to a fifth and unknown clan of witches that are far older than Matthew perhaps. How does this all connect in the quest they are doing?

This manuscript - Ashmole 782 - and that it had opened for Diana has caught interest of all vampires, witches and daemons all over leading to her life being in trouble - Gillian Chamberlain (An American Witch and constantly trying to have Diana join their Oxford coven), Peter Knox (An elderly Wizard who tried to get into Diana's mind), Domenico Michele (another vampire from the Congregation), Gerbert of Aurillac (a vampire and tenth century pope),  Satu Jarvinen (another witch who kidnaps Diana to extract the secrets from her) and Juliette Durand (a one-time lover to Matthew centuries ago).

However, she has her fair share of friends who come to her aid in every way possible - Christopher "Chris" Roberts (Diana's colleague and friend at Oxford), Dr. Miriam Shepherd (Matthew's research colleague and reluctant bodyguard to Diana), Amira (a With and a Yoga Instructor), Hamish Osborne (a Daemon and best friend of Matthew), Jordan (a Human butler to Hamish), Marcus Whitmore (another associate of Matthew's who works at his lab and also a vampire), Ysabeau (Matthew's mother - the one who made him), Marthe (Ysabeau's house-keeper), Baldwin Montclair (Matthew's older brother), Agatha Wilson (A Daemon from Australia who dreamed about Diana and wants to unlock the secrets of the manuscript as well and a member of congregation) and finally Nathaniel Wilson and Sophie Wilson (Agatha's Son and Daughter-in-Law).

Matthew and Diana's love blooms as the efforts from witches, daemons  and vampires increase to separate them, to rip them bodily and to try to find about Ashmole 782 and the connection to them. Undeterred Matthew and Diana move forward with their efforts to fight the Congregation and also find more about Ashmole 782 with help of their allies - three more daemons, three more witches and two more vampires - form an odd mottle of a Shadow Congregation or a Conventicle. However it would have been better if they would be three daemons, three witches and three vampires to form a true Shadow Congregation or a Conventicle. The plot ends with Matthew and Diana traveling back to a time when there was plague and few comforts of modern time.

A very complex and intricately spun plot with vampires, witches, daemons, humans, immortality, time travel, secret brotherhoods, witch powers and daemon intelligences that blow your mind off. Referencing to things past, envisioning the future and keeping to the present, the author has created a marvelous story that will keep you glued to the book not wanting to put it down until you finish it. A thoroughly enjoyable plot with every word it moves along. Looking forward to the read the sequel and find out how Matthew and Diana's journey ends.

Spoiler Alerts:
1) The author gives differences between daemons, witches and vampires with the way how they observe you - When a Daemon looks, there would be an unnerving pressure of a kiss. When a Vampire stares, it feels cold, dangerous and focused. While when a Witch gazes, your skin tingles. Surprisingly enough the Vampires don’t go up in flames when exposed to sun.
2) Matthew belongs to All Souls College at Oxford in this part of his life and in the series - and also a Prize Fellow too. The entire trilogy revolves around the All Souls College and references to it.
3) It's always interesting to see that every book I read I find some new words or phrases used (new to me in general I mean), and so is the case here too:
a. Détente - strained relationships or hostility
b. De rigueur - required by etiquette or current fashion
4) Remember these, for they would appear in the next books in the series in a surprising way:
a. In her research, Diana comes across a manuscript that is a combination of Joy of Cooking and a Poisoner's Notebook with alchemical recipes.
b. Matthew takes Diana to a special yoga place, a two-story Tudor manor house, called The Old Lodge, that came with its own splendid brick gatehouse. The entire building was built by Matthew in 1526.
c. Diana has visions of riding horses in a garb from somewhere in the past holding a bow and a quiver full of arrows.
d. Diana finds a book titled On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin with notes by Matthew in it - apparently it is the first copy that Darwin sends to Matthew for review and comment before it was printed in November of 1859.
e. Diana finds that Matthew could be belonging to one of the orders of Crusader knights (like The Templars, The Knights of Lazarus of Bethany, etc.) and also could be still leading one of the orders.
5) The plot shows how Marcus came to become a vampire and son to Matthew since 1781.
6) We get to know Matthew's past from when it began in the year 500; about his father Philippe; his brothers Hugh, Godfrey and Baldwin; what is his past with Eleanor was;
7) A Congregation is a nine-member council of daemons, witches and vampires formed during the Crusades - three members representing each species. It was to ensure safety of every creature and also not getting the attention of humans.
8) Matthew and Diana keep quoting from different works of literature - poems, books, novels and stories, although most seem to be from works by Giordano Bruno.
a. He was not of an age, but for all time - by Ben Johnson in his work The Complete Poems.
b. With thee conversing I forget all time - from Paradise Lost by Milton.
c. For they are no longer hunters but the hunted - from The Heroic Frenzies by Giordano Bruno.
d. I saw her coming from the forest huntress of myself beloved Diana - from The Heroic Enthusiasts by Giordano Bruno - An Ethical Poem.
e. If the butterfly wings its way to the sweet light that attracts it, it is because it knows not that the fire is capable of consuming it; if the thirsty stag runs to be brook, it is because he is not aware of the cruel bow.
If the unicorn runs to its chaste nest, it is because he does not see the noose which is prepared for him.
- from The Heroic Frenzies by Giordano Bruno.
f. Desire urges me on, while fear bridals me - from The Heroic Enthusiasts by Giordano Bruno - An Ethical Poem.
g. Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night - from the poem The Tyger by William Blake.
h. Settle thy studies, Faustus, and begin. To sound the depth of that thou wilt profess - from Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.
9) The witch Sarah and the vampires Marcus and Miriam share a fondness for film noir. They watch a movie called Out of the Past in one of the chapters. It is a 1947 film. I have an affection to old films and so this goes in my list too. :)
Tags: all souls trilogy, books, critique by amateur, reviews

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