Friday, 9 July 2021

A Discovery of Witches by: Deborah Harkness *Spoiler Review*

 Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal Romance 

Published: February 2011 by: Viking Penguin 

Pages: 579 

Rating: 1.5/5 stars 

CW: gore, torture, violence, death of a parent 

*this review will contain spoilers because I can't contain my frustration*

Diana Bishop is a descendent of witches, however after being orphaned at a young age, she has tried to distance herself from her magical powers. Instead, Diana turns to scholarship, and she becomes an accomplished professor at Oxford University. When calling up a manuscript as part of her research, Diana learns that the manuscript is bewitched, and there are many magical creatures, including vampires, who want to take the manuscript from her grasp. Diana soon finds herself in the company of Matthew, a charming vampire who is willing to help her protect the manuscript and herself. However, Diana soon realizes that in order to protect herself, she will have to start using her powers again. 

I like to describe this book as Twilight for adults. Now, I am not one for book shaming. Twilight is very much a comfort series for me. While the books have obvious problematic elements, I can appreciate them for what they are: entertainment. However, A Discovery of Witches pissed me off more than Twilight ever has. I think it's because it tried to do something intelligent with the paranormal romance genre, and instead it came across as condescending and just plain cringy. 

Let's start with the main character, Diana. Now I could very much appreciate that she was a scholar and gained her own independence once her parents died. The problem is, that this all gets thrown out the window once Matthew arrives. When Diana grows closer to Matthew, she seems to lose all sense of street smarts and instead opts to trust Matthew's misogynistic and creepy ways because his eyes are dreamy. She is also an incredibly predictable character, who magically becomes this figure of "The Chosen One," even though she's been out of the practice for so long. How convenient that Diana is suddenly uplifted to be this all-magical being in all of two minutes despite her distaste towards magic? I know we were supposed to root for her, but she contained all of these basic white woman tropes and I was just generally annoyed that her scholarship was watered down once the man came into the picture. 

Matthew is Edward Cullen. He is sexist, believes that he needs to control every aspect of a woman's life, and he whispers sweet nothings into Diana's ear, except the sweet nothings are always in French, to make it fancy. He is also rich but blissfully unaware of his own 1000 years of privilege. Side note, but why do vampires always have to be rich? He marries Diana without her consent, and he rarely asks for her opinions on things because he's a super-smart vampire and he can just make all the decisions himself. Am I supposed to like this guy? 

Harkness wastes a lot of time describing things that just seem unimportant and a little bit condescending to the average person reading the book. Diana and Matthew drink wine, but it's an expensive wine because they're both super rich and can afford it. Diana and Matthew go to yoga class, because they like to stay in shape and because they're super rich and can afford it. Diana and Matthew go to stay in Matthew's castle, because Matthew is super rich and can afford it. These characters did not seem relatable to me at all and I'm over having to like characters that just have it all. 

Now, I still rated this book 1.5 stars, because believe it or not, there was one thing about this book that I liked! Diana is a history professor who is especially intrigued by alchemy. So, the book does go a bit into the history of alchemy which I found to be interesting, and it did send me into a rabbit hole of googling to learn more, which was a good thing. However, this did not fully redeem the book for me, obviously. 

Overall, I would not recommend this book. I think if you want to read a comforting paranormal romance, then read more diverse novels that explore more complex themes than what wine Diana and Matthew are going to drink with dinner in a castle. 

Have you read A Discovery of Witches? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess


  1. I haven't read this, but I'm aware of the TV series - and... all generalisations have exceptions (even this one #ParadoxesRule,) but if I can follow the plot almost entirely from adverts and the odd 5 or 10 minutes where someone forgot to change the channel, it's usually not a good sign. (Lol.)

    Re: the richness of vampires -

    Short answer: it's a metaphor for nobility/the ruling-class. They're literally bloodsuckers, living off the life-force of the lower classes. (Or at least, that was the OG Dracula vibes - Bram Stoker & all that.)

    Long answer: lots of authors/creators have played with this idea; some are just like, 'you accumulate a lot of cash over the centuries when you don't have to buy food or pay for medical treatment' and/or 'vamps are strong so they steal stuff they want' - which, fair, tbh. ;)

    1. Thank you for offering an explanation to this! I had no idea there was a history behind vampires being rich, other than the fact that it maybe makes them appear more "perfect" to the love interest.

    2. Ha, you have to remember that vamps were the villains to begin with - the sexy villains, but the villains!

  2. "*this review will contain spoilers because I can't contain my frustration*"
    That made me giggle...

    "I think if you want to read a comforting paranormal romance, then read more diverse novels that explore more complex themes than what wine Diana and Matthew are going to drink with dinner in a castle. "
    LOL. It sounds like this book missed the memo about times having changed since, well, Twilight. All the people I know who have read it seem to still love it just out of nostalgia. I'm sorry you got so disappointed.

    1. I'm glad you could giggle, Roberta! I know a lot of people love this book. In fact it was recommended to me by a friend in the book community. I think it could very much be a comforting read and very nostalgic as you said. It was a quick read for sure, but just not at all what I was looking for.

  3. I read this book so long ago that I don't remember the details but I do know I was bored to tears and felt like this was just a pretentious take on vampires. But I had friends that loved it for all those little details like the wine so *shrug*

    Karen @For What It's Worth

    1. I guess it really is just a specific taste! But pretentious is a great way to describe it.

  4. I was curious about this because I liked the idea of finding the old manuscript and learning that paranormals are real etc. But wow no thanks- this does NOT sound good. I think I may have even read a few pages thinking I'd like it, but it didn't really grab me or anything.

    "the sweet nothings are always in French,"

    Wow- eye roll.

    the alchemy bit does sound interesting. But yeah I'll skip.

    1. I think I was expecting more historical elements from it. But a lot of it is just this really cheesy romance between two characters who are incredibly flat.

  5. I tried to read this book ages ago, before I started to read in English, I think. I remember finding it in the library and being very excited seeing that it has witches and vampires. Unfortunately, I was utterly bored of this novel and didn't enjoy the characters at all. :/ Great review, Emily! Sorry this was a miss for you too.

    1. Boring is a great word to describe it. It's a shame because it has so much potential.