A Trilogy: All Souls by Deborah Harkness, Book 1: A Discovery of Witches
You may have guessed at this point that the Harry Potter series is quite near and dear to my heart. I think when I selected these books to be the trilogy I read this year, I was sincerely hoping this would be a sort of HP for grown ups. It has the Witches, the Magic, the Historical and Mythological aspects that I absolutely love. What I did not bargain for was the stilted romance between Witch and Vampire that would dominate the flow of the story. Sadly, this book was more Twilight than anything else. In fact, most of the book was the main character gushing about Vampires, almost exactly like Bella in Twilight. Our protagonist is the same weak, helpless damsel in distress that needs her big strong Vampire to protect her from all the baddies of the world, even though she is apparently the mecca of Witchcrafty awesomeness.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up a bit.
Deborah Harkness’ debut novel and the first in the All Souls triology was a fun, fresh take on the recently overdone vampire/witch category so popular in the Fantasy genre. Harkness manages to successfully blend modern science, Academia, and Fantasy into an interesting twist on the popular Vampire romance. The narrative thread takes the reader from Ivy League Academia into unchartered, magical territory in a manner that feels balanced and complete. Though fun, interesting, and for the most part well-written, I did feel the story dragged at points and got very repetitive (if I had to hear how Matthew the Vampire smelled like cloves ONE MORE TIME….or many, many other repetitive minutia in her writing, I swear I was going to scream). Harkness tends to beat the proverbial dead horse in the vast amounts of time she spends reiterating the personality traits of the main characters, but since this is a trilogy perhaps she is frontloading this characterization so she can get into some really juicy action in the next two books (we can only hope). I did become annoyed by the large quantity of narrative fluff that made this book over 500 pages long (we don’t need to be told twenty times what Vampires like to eat, or how Matthew likes to protect her, etc), but if I take that off the table, this would have been a solid 4 out of 5 stars. If you can forgive those corny/lame parts, (hey, it is her first novel) it is a rather enjoyable story.
Our protagonist Diana is a Witch, born with magical powers that she desperately tries to keep at bay. Set in modern times, Diana is a Historian studying the History of Science—specifically, Alchemy—and she is visiting Oxford during the summer to complete her research. Unbeknownst to Humans, Witches, Vampires, and Daemons share their world, and Diana’s magical abilities repulse her. She tries her best to refrain from using magic; she wants desperately to fit in and be normal. This is a result of her parents, both of whom were also Witches, who were tragically murdered when she was seven years old, and she links Magic to their untimely demise ever since. One fateful day, Diana is in the library looking through old Alchemical manuscripts just as she had the day before and the day before that; however, on this day, she calls a particular tome from the stacks that changes her life forever.
Diana unknowingly calls an ancient magical text, but once she realizes the manuscript contains magical powers, she sends it back. Unfortunately, the damage is done—the very act of her calling this book sends the Creatures (Witches, Daemons, and Vampires) into a frenzy. Many of these Creatures have spent centuries searching out the text and they demand to know what its pages hold. Diana quickly becomes caught up into the magical world she has so long attempted to deny, and with it comes secrets that have lain long buried inside of her. Ancient rules are broken, new alliances form, and fate comes into play as Diana uncovers the secrets of her past, the choices she must make for her future, and the manner in which the two—the past and the present—are inextricably intertwined.
While I enjoyed the bones of the story, the frustrating romance that buds between two seemingly incompatible Creatures (Witch and Vampire, mortal enemies) takes center stage and it isn’t even good Romance. Most of the romance is weird, stilted, and misogynistic. But if you can look past that, and it’s a big IF, parts of the story are great. You will definitely find yourself caught up in the mystery behind Diana’s magic and the time traveling aspect that comes into play at the very end of the story is quite intriguing (my Dr. Who fandom is tingling). Onto the next book to see where (and when) we end up!