If Twilight was written better and for a more mature audience and, of course, if Bella was a witch. This is what you would get.
I want to preface this by saying that I literally had to force myself not to write this review immediately after completing Discovery of Witches. Not entirely because I liked it, more so because it got me extremely frustrated.
This is what happens when you grow up and begin to be critical of the world that surrounds you. Discourses of implicit misogyny and sexism affect me so much more now that I am, what some may call, an adult. Oh, the travesty.
Let’s actually get into this review then, shall we?
A Discovery of Witches is the first instalment in the All Souls Trilogy and tells the magical and slightly convoluted romance of Diana Bishop and Matthew de Clermont. Diana Bishop is a witch; she actually comes from a long line of witches descended from Bridget Bishop who was one of the first women executed at the Salem Witch Trials. I want to point out that Diana’s genealogical history is absolutely fascinating, and one of the most fantastic aspects of this novel was its ability to blend the fiction with the historical. The synopsis for A Discovery of Witches is as follows and can be found on GoodReads:
Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
Set in a contemporary but alternate universe, Discovery takes place in a world where humans are aware of the existence of Witches, Vampires and Daemons. Living alongside each other, albeit not without its racial tensions, Witches hold the social hierarchy of the supernatural with a tight fist. According to Witches, Vampires and Daemons symbolise the wretchedness of the supernatural and do not really consider them anything but creatures who constantly give in to their baser, more darker, instincts. There is a sense of racial superiority in the way which Witches perceive, discuss and act towards Vampires and Daemons. Although Witches, Vampires and Daemons do exist alongside humans, the supernatural and magical community do their best to ensure they do not place undue attention upon themselves, as Humans and fear have not historically worked well in anyone’s favour. Though this aspect of the narrative is never really extrapolated upon, I am quite sure most Humans would know when they come into contact with Vampires, for instance, as Harkness made sure to emphasise how ‘otherworldy’ Matthew was, and how ‘non-human’ the other cast of Vampires were. But again, this wasn’t really explored as well.
The overall narrative then, centres on Diana and her accidental discovery of a manuscript which may very well detail the origins of supernatural and magical creatures. But of course, when Diana discovers it, she quickly becomes afraid of its bewitched nature – because she doesn’t want to be a witch – so she puts it back like an absolute idiot. More so, her actions are like that of a child who refuses to take responsibility and thus, endangers herself without her knowledge because she again, refuses to take responsibility and acknowledge who she is. Although the narrative eventually points out that Diana did not have the magical ability as yet, because her powers were not ‘unchained’, so to speak, this aspect of the plotline was so frustrating because Diana was painted as a woman who literally had no idea about anything that was of significance to her as a Witch.
As a result of her discovery, Diana unknowingly shines a beacon upon herself which results in everyone that is supernatural or magical within an immediate and not-so-immediate radius, to flock to her. This is where we meet Matthew. What occurs is a star-crossed-lovers type of romance, where a romantic and sexual relationship between a Vampire and a Witch are forbidden. I don’t quite remember why it is forbidden, and if someone can tell me in the comments, that would be much appreciated. Thus, a journey begins where both Matthew and Diana have to figure out why Diana is being targeted, then the realisation that they both need to find this manuscript before the Witches and the Vampires of the Council can claim it. Because, it is assumed that if the manuscript describes the origins of all species, then it would also detail how to kill those who are untouchable, specifically, immortal Vampires.
Diana Bishop is written as a damsel in distress. Her overall personality is very much, let the man take control. To be honest, Diana’s characterisation isn’t one that you become emotionally invested in. She just exists, if that makes sense, and I never connected with her to any sort of degree. However, I did adore the fact that her character was written as a historian. Very rarely do you get a protagonist who is a historian, and the aspects of the story where it was just Diana partaking in research, were reminiscent of my own research days when I was completing my thesis in medieval history. It felt super cosy and Diana’s work ethic was exceptional. She made me want to be more productive! But her character is extremely frustrating. When the narrative goes to the more ‘action’ aspects, it is just Diana being ridiculous and making the absolute worse decisions that an intelligent woman should know better than to make especially when you’ve been told over and over and over again that your life is in danger. But again, when Diana is in trouble, god forbid she finds a way to save herself! Matthew is the only one allowed to save her. Literally, her dead mother tells her to wait for him.
Her romance with Matthew is obviously one of the main aspects of the story, and the love between them is written beautifully, I am not refuting that, but it didn’t feel organic. For instance, Diana goes from not trusting Matthew and not wanting to be apart of the entire ordeal, to professing her undying love to him and submitting to his every whim. Legitimately, Diana was warned by both Matthew and Ysabeau (Matthew’s Vampire Mother), that if Diana commits to a relationship with Matthew, she has to listen and abide by what he says. Even though Diana does, I guess, speak her mind as she is an intelligent woman, she is confined with the space that Matthew defines for her.
It is Matthew who becomes the true hero of the story. He is literally painted as Diana’s saviour, and if you read the book or have read the book, you will understand why. It is Matthew you become more emotionally invested in, even though his beliefs and actions towards Diana are ridiculously stupid, it is meant to come across as a 1500-year-old Vampire who is traditional and of the ‘old ways’, so you’re meant to forgive him. He obviously is the protector, the soldier, the possessor. His secrets have secrets, but his relationships with other Vampires is what really demonstrates his emotionality. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the cast of Vampire family of Matthew, Discovery would have lacked in more ways than one. In terms of the romantic element, it was written as though Matthew fell instantly in love with Diana. It was written in the stereotypical way in which the people around Matthew realised he was in love with Diana because he broke into her house, for example, and that symbolises the beginning of ‘the hunt’, etc.
In terms of the writing, Harkness definitely has a gift. Her ability to captivate audiences with the way she undoubtedly creates a world so similar to our own, but so different, is incredible. Even though it may not seem like it, I did enjoy A Discovery of Witches overall. I found the central plot itself enchanting and I really do enjoy reading books that focus on the magical and the supernatural, and this book has that and more. What I will say, however, is that it is quite easy for the narrative to seem like it drags on – 700 pages is a significant amount for only most of the narrative to be building the foundation of the series overall. I just can’t fully be in love with a book if I don’t fully love the characters. Diana was an extremely frustrating character to read as I felt that she did practically nothing to help her situation and that inability or lack of want to empower herself, annoyed me. At least try and figure out how to get yourself out of sticky situations! At least try and acknowledge your magical history and your Witch identity. JUST TRY PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GODS.
In saying that though, I will end up buying and reading the rest of the trilogy because I do want to know what happens with Diana and Matthew, the cast of characters and, of course, detail about the manuscript which acted as a catalyst to the entire narrative. I would personally rate A Discovery of Witches a 3.5 out of 5 stars. I hope that Diana’s character grows in the subsequent two novels in the trilogy and becomes all she has the potential to be.
That’s it, my loves! Until next time, happy reading!