Deborah Harkness “A Discovery of Witches” – book review

I had such mixed feelings about A Discovery of Witches. I really enjoyed the first half of it – it was Oxford, Twilight, and bits of Harry Potter combined. The heroine is an academic specializing in 17th-century alchemy.

The main premise of the book is the worry of many an academic working in the Bodleian – Diane calls up a manuscript by accident, which turns out to be enchanted. No one else seems to be able to call it up, and all the magical creatures of Oxford: witches, demons, and vampires –  want it. Unthinkingly, Diane sends the precious manuscript back to the stacks. And no-one, not even Diane is able to access it again throughout the rest of the novel – which tells you a lot about the stacks in the Bodleian, if nothing else.

Talk about a scholar’s nightmare.

Anyhow, among other creatures who want the manuscript is a handsome, rich, medical scholar vampire by the name of Matthew Clairmont (aka Edward Cullen from Twilight). He broods a lot. He stalks Diane and watches her sleep, and he protects her from the other creatures. Her blood sings to him, but he is super self-controlled and doesn’t eat her.

He also drives a Jaguar around Oxford and finds places to park it, which is supremely unrealistic. But I guess it’s not quite as sexy to park your Jaguar in the Park and Ride and bus into the city centre. Could he cycle?

Part of the fun of the first half of the book is trying to figure out whether Matthew really has such good intentions as he claims. We don’t really have a clear division between goodies and baddies and there’s a lot of sexual tension in the air. There’s a lot of academic references too, and a hilarious magical creature yoga class.

And then it all goes to hell.


  • Turns out Diane’s dead parents actually prophesized Matthew as her soulmate. Convenient.
  • Turns out it is legit for a vampire to get married after 3 weeks of knowing someone. Given their lifespan of some 1000 years, and that we’re in part 1 of a trilogy, this might feel a tad rushed – but hey.
  • Even though Matthew initially can’t eat steak without thinking of eating his girlfriend, he sutures her wounds without problems, which seems weird.
  • Though Matthew killed two of his previous girlfriends by accident, he can’t kill Diane because ‘she trusts him completely’. I’m sorry WHAT?
  • Turns out vampires can’t have babies
  • Except with witches, it actually turns out they can have babies with witches.
  • But do they want to have a vampire witch baby?


Not that much really happens in the second half of the novel apart from theoretical discussions about the pros and cons of witch-vampire procreation. This feels a considerable drawback, given that Edward and Bella only had this problem after three novels.

Everyone seems to be ignoring the whole lost magical book problem. We end up with the happily-married couple deciding to time travel so that Diane can learn how to use her magical powers. For some reason, she needs to do that in the 16th century.

There are still two more books in this series, but since it is unclear that the vampire-witch couple has any plans to actually return to do some research in the Bodleian, I think I will call it quits at just the one.


P.S. I read on Wikipedia that Deborah Harkness claims she had not read Twilight before writing this novel. She must have heard about it through? Or is it just that  21-st century women share a common fantasy of a man with a history of violence – and find the risk of potentially being eaten during sex terribly appealing?


Here’s a link to a Goodreads review, which basically summarizes my feeling about the book:

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