Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Discovery of Witches (and Vampires Who Do Yoga, Fondle Books, and Sniff Wine), by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches: A NovelA Discovery of Witches
by Deborah Harkness
New York: Viking, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-02241-0

Guilty confession/secret shame: occasionally I read books for adults in addition to books for kids.  While there are some respectable titles in the mix (a recent brush with The Road comes to mind), more often than not they happen to have less literarily lofty ambitions.  Yes.  Are you ready for this jelly?  I'm coming out of the I-love-epic-time traveling-paranormal-historical-romance-fiction-novels closet.  It is true.   I love Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.  But this is not a post about an awesome book about a WW2 era English nurse who trips and falls through a mini Stonehenge and time and into the arms of a be-kilted ginger Scot that you should read.  It is about another saccharine-y fun book for grownups that I read just the other day!  

When I saw a review for A Discovery of Witches in Booklist that compared it to Outlander, I felt I owed it to my freak flag to read it.  Abandon ye all hope of getting any sort of respectable, scholarly review below.  Pull up a couch and pour yourself a mouthwatering glass of red wine.  Appropriately, anytime I use the word mouthwatering, I have an overwhelming urge to say it like this:
Thanks for nothing, Twilight!  But why, why is this urge to talk like a ridiculous vampire in Twilight so appropriate?  Well, let me tell you all about it.

Ladies and ladies (since I doubt the gents picking this up are few and far between), this book is a mouthwatering mashup of Twilight, Outlander, The Historian, and The Da Vinci Code.  Yes.  Seriously.  Though nowhere near as insane as Outlander, it is epic, it is fun.   Our heroine is one sweet young thang, Diana Bishop, a witch hailing from a long line of other witches, including an infamous one in infamously witch-loving Salem, MA.   Since her parents bit it suspiciously on a trip to Africa when she was a kid, Diana has been denying herself and the world of her magical powerz through a combination of pensive pre-dawn rowing sessions and a historical study of alchemy.  Alchemy being the ye olde science equivalent of magic.  Clearly she's doing a great job!  On sabbatical to Oxford to fondle some dusty old books in Bodlean, Diana finds and promptly returns a freaky enchanted book, and immediately stumbles into the arms of a hot Doctor.  Suspect! Double suspect, he is not just a Doctor!  Oh ho! He is a hot VAMPIRE doctor!  Matthew Clairmont is impossibly fast and strong, his skin is pale white and ice cold, and sometimes he speaks like he's from a different time!  His powers include being hot, being a badass predator, being a doctor, being ascetic, being immortal, having lots of secrets, being part of a vampire gang, and having a penchant for fine wines.  If it weren't for the last, I'm pretty sure the Cullen's would have adopted him by now.  But I digress!  

Turns out a ancient pact of Witches, Vampires, and Ghouls want the book real bad - it may or may not have the secret to magical life tucked away inside and it has been MIA since nigh on forever - and now that everyone knows Diana fondled it, they're all after her.  To boot, said secret society also has a rule on intermagical species dating.  As the Germans say, VERKLEMPT! Oh snap.  But they are not the only secret ancient society out there, and lines are drawn (to steal yet another Stephenie Meyerism) irrevocably.  Our heroes are on the run to places near and far, bourgeois and swank, denying their love, proclaiming their love, doing yoga, and sipping wine throughout.  Will Diana ever embrace her magical powers?  Will Matthew ever not be hot?  Will you be able to avoid craving wine while reading this book?

This book is filled with many things you would expect of anything that has been hit with the romance or paranormal genre sticks:  hot vampires, breaking in to watch people sleep (aka studying at the school of Edward Stalker Cullen), longing looks, pensive walks in the woods, near death fights, surviving near death fights, dudes carrying girls, girls sitting on dudes laps all the time, declarations of true love, opulent vampire lifestyles, hot baths, etc.  But it failed majorly on one count.  I was expecting it to be much more smutty.  I love smutty books!  In fact, there is no. sex. at. all.  I'd have given you a spoiler warning, but consider this your sex disappointment warning.  What up with that Deborah E. Harkness?  No excuses!  What is this, Twilight?

At times the story can drag; there was probably way too much scholarly debate in the first half and not nearly enough action.  It also becomes clear with 200 pages to go that this book is going to be the first in a series.  However, there is a lot to redeem it and judging from the fact that I devoured this book, it's relatively captivating.  If you are anything like me, you will probably be amused by the ridiculous wine sniffing activities (turns out Ms. Harkness has a wine blog), Vampire yoga, convenience of Matthew knowing every historical figure mentioned, inclusion of gay primary characters, occasionally clunky dialogue, and (antiquated) semantics of (vampire) marriage. In short, this post is not short and neither is the book.  But if you at all like reading series or epic paranormal-time traveling-historical fiction books, this is a strong recommendation! 

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