A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES: a recommendation

I actually want to talk about two books – A Discovery of Witches and its sequel, Shadow of Night.  Please note, this isn’t a book review, simply a recommendation of two books that I’ve enjoyed reading.  Both were written by Deborah Harkness, and they have totally caught my fancy.

If that phrase is old-fashioned, it’s because I’ve spent the last few weeks living in the sixteenth century, which is when the majority of Shadow of Night takes place.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I read A Discovery of Witches when it first came out last year.  It had been highly reviewed, and I love books about the supernatural.  Let me be clear.  The basic premise of these books is that there are four types of creatures in the world:  humans, daemons, vampires, and witches.  If you absolutely refuse to read books about any of these, stop here.  If you do read them, or haven’t before but will try it with one that is extraordinarily well-written and intelligent, read on.

Because (bad grammar, I know, but it fits) intelligent is the first word I would use to describe these books.  Fast on its heels comes well-written, then charming, romantic, authentic, fierce, colorful, interesting, historical, and fun, not in that order, but you get my drift.

Here’s the set-up.  The protagonist of A Discovery of Witches is Diana Bishop, who comes from a long line of witches, but has lived her life denying her powers.  As the story opens, she is a respected historian, a professor at Yale who is on leave, doing research at Oxford.  In the process of doing that research, she retrieves a book that has been lost for generations but, for whatever reason, emerges from the Bodleian Library stacks when she puts in a call slip.  Its appearance ignites a firestorm of interest among other supernatural creatures, not the least being Matthew Clairmont, the vampire whom Diana is destined to love.

Matthew is fabulous – his 500-year life, his modern skills and brilliance, his role in history, his evolution into a compassionate man with unique needs and fears – and Diana is delightful, very human, often hysterically funny when it comes to her heritage and her powers.  We’re talking witchwind and witchfire here, not to mention an ancestry filled with benevolent Bishop witches and a family house with a mind of its own.

I won’t tell more of the story, other than to say that the second book is the one in which time travel is key.  Shadow of Night takes us back to Elizabethan England, where Matthew’s circle includes not only Elizabeth I but such notable figures as Sir Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlow, and Will Shakespeare.  Matthew’s presence there is couched in historical possibility; I googled often and found amazing accuracy with regard to secret societies, witch trials, and the like.

Having loved A Discovery of Witches, I read Shadow of Night as soon as it came out this summer.  But I’d forgotten enough of the first to go back and reread it.  Deborah Harkness has to be every bit as talented as Matthew and Diana to have crafted so many twists and turns, and then kept straight the wealth of details accompanying them.  You have to think when you read these, and neither of them is short.  But I’ve now read both twice, and with great pleasure, which tells you something about their readability.

So there’s another word for them.  Readable.  I can’t say that about all the books I pick up.  Can you?  I think that my A Discovery of Witches review (and that of Shadow of Night as well) is pretty positive.

BTW, these two books are part of a trilogy.  I’m assuming that the next book will be out next summer.  I’ll be so looking forward to it, that I won’t even mind if it competes with my own Sweet Salt Air.

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  1. Laura on October 15, 2012 at 11:54 am

    I’ve read both of the books, and now can’t wait until the final installment. I couldn’t put them down, they are wonderfully written. My teenage niece has discovered your work, the first she read and loved is Return to Paytons’s Place, I told her I’ll be passing on more books of yours for her to read now.

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