Publication date: 29th September 2011 (paperback)
I’ve had the audio book of A Discovery of Witches for ages but, since I wasn’t concentrating when I started listening to it and started over half way through, I couldn’t really get into it. Admittedly this wasn’t the fault of the book but it did put me off. Fast forward to Spring of this year when the sequel was due to be published, and the lovely publicist at Headline sent me not only Shadow of the Night but also a paperback of A Discovery of Witches. Enough time had passed for me to largely forget what had happened in the chapter I’d heard so I gave the paperback a go.
Diana Bishop is an American academic who specializes in alchemical manuscripts and is currently studying in Oxford. She is also a witch who had worked hard to suppress any powers and who refuses to acknowledge that part of her self. When she calls up a bewitched manuscript in the Bodleian, she is suddenly surrounded by other witches, daemons and vampires, all of whom have been searching for Ashmole 782. The manuscript, somehow unbeknownst to Diana, is thought to be the only source of information about the evolution of ‘creatures’ and many will do anything that can to get their hands on it. Matthew Clairmont, a vampire geneticist (among other things), is one of those watching her and he quickly appoints himself as Diana’s protector. The two of them start trying to both understand Ashmole 782 and protect it from the others hunting for it. It soon becomes clear that the book is not the only thing being hunted…
I had such mixed feelings about this book. Parts of it had me speeding through the pages, eager to see where the story was going, but parts of it made me want to throw the book through the nearest window. Harkness knows how to tell a story but has a tendency to get slightly bogged down in details, which fall into two categories. The first, the good, happy little details, slow the story down but are worth it because they’re interesting. Falling into this category are all of the bits about the Bodleian and Oxford at the beginning of the novel. I happen to be a bit of a geek when it comes to old books (I know, you’re all amazed) and the Bodleian is particularly fabulous, so I enjoyed the passages about it.
The second category of details which Harkness is seemingly addicted to include the following: things about Matthew’s car; long tracts about wine; the way in which Diana manages to drink vast amounts of tea without spilling any; the hugely in-depth passages about yoga positions. Now, I understand that Harkness is a wine blogger, and obviously knows a lot about her subject, but no-one in the book was capable of pouring a glass without the whole history of the bottle being detailed.
It’s the same with Diana’s tea-drinking – she drinks a lot of tea (in fact, it seems to be the only thing stopping her from falling asleep most of the time) but every time she has a cup we have to hear the specifics of how she likes her brew. I live with a tea fanatic and I know all about the importance of correct tea-making procedure but even Mr. Mouse doesn’t make me listen to a treatise whenever he makes a cup of English Breakfast. Also, how hard is it to drink a cup of tea without spilling any? Is this something to be particularly proud of?
The main problem that I had with Discovery actually isn’t any of the things listed above. Rather it’s the very mixed messages about women that Harkness seems to be putting forward. Diana is ostensibly a successful, intelligent, independent woman but as soon as she falls in love with Matthew, she becomes a simpering idiot. Despite Matthew telling her that she isn’t a damsel in distress, this is exactly what she becomes for large chunks of the novel. There are passages where you can see welcome flashes of the original Diana but, for the most part, I wanted to shake her.
Also, most of us found Edward Cullen a little creepy with his predilection for watching Bella sleep and his way of constantly treating her like a child. Maybe having Matthew doing exactly the same things to Diana isn’t such a great idea? Just a thought. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the bit when Matthew causally announces that, having married Diana without her knowledge, she now had to obey him unquestioningly as he’s the ‘pack leader’, and she agrees with barely a murmur. I was practically spitting blood at this point.
All of this is not to say that there are not also some lovely sections of Discovery, especially Diana’s aunt’s house in America, which has rooms that change position, and which hates visitors. More bits like this would have been very welcome. However, and it’s a big however, I probably will read Shadow of the Night. Despite all of the problems that I had with Discovery, I did keep reading it and I am interested in how Harkness deals with the time travel involved in Shadow (yes, really). Just call me a glutton for punishment…
A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher but the thoughts are all my own and I wasn’t paid for the review (fairly obviously).