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Book Review – The Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1) By Deborah Harkness

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I just want to start this review off with a resounding WOW! This book has been sitting in my TBR folder for a while and I seriously feel like slapping myself for not getting to it sooner! I didn’t bother to check the size of this book when I downloaded it, but soon realized last week that I was going to be dedicating many late nights to finishing it. And it was SO worth it!

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.

The story is set in a reality where there are humans, witches, vampires and daemons.  Humans don’t know the half of what is going on in their world (typical of us humans huh!) So, one of the things I loved about this book is how much information we were provided with for each ‘creature’. Slowly as the story continued more and more details were revealed so I felt as though I was really starting to understand what made the vampires/witches/daemons the way they were, why they acted the way they did and believed the things they did. I always felt that there was a reason for the characters following the paths they were following. From what I was learning about each character I could understand the choices they made / reactions they had. It didn’t ever feel like it had just been plunked together for the sake of a storyline, which can quite often happen in fantasy.

”Normal’ is a bedtime story – a fable – that humans tell themselves to feel better when faced with overwhelming evidence that most of what’s happening around them is not “normal” at all.’

This brings me to what I think makes this story stand out from other books of the same genre that I’ve read lately…. It is completely and utterly immersed in history, and to a lesser extent, science. It comes across as a very ‘smart’ book. So we get a very interesting mix of the whimsy and folk tales of fantasy, crossed with the cold hard DNA and theories of science and the hindsight and re-telling of history. This is all evident in our MC, Diana Bishop, who specializes in the history of alchemy. She spends a lot of her time reading old manuscripts in a library, trying to decode them. Not to mention she is from a long line of witches which are notorious from a well known era in history…And of course, she meets a 1500 year old Vampire by the name of Matthew Clairmont. So he himself is the epitome of history. Through his love of vintage wine, his re-telling of encounters with many well known historical figures, and many well know times and events, plus of course is own varied lives and lifestyles lived through the ages, we get to see the world as it develops. Like with the characters in this book, it’s the little things, the details that really bring this story to life, and the historical detail is phenomenal.

‘Nobody really wants to keep secrets, not even the dead. People leave clues everywhere, and if you pay attention, you can piece them together.’

This book had so many characters that I LOVED. Even some of the more minor characters were written in such a way that they were so real and engaging, that I couldn’t help but become a fan. Of course our main character Diana Bishop had everything I like to see in a MC, including the good bits and the frustrating bits. Sometimes I wanted to shake her for being so naive… but then, wouldn’t we all be in the situations she faces? The fact that she was such a Scholar and so book smart made sure that she wasn’t just the usual run of the mill heroine that you see, she had that little bit extra, yet still kept all the coolness that a leading lady should have. I loved that she could keep up intellectually with much older beings, that it wasn’t all ‘woe is me’ in her life.

‘She’s not the earrings and coloured hair type. She’s more the three-mile run followed by an hour on the river in a dangerously tiny boat type’

I also had a major soft spot for Ysabeau, (Matthew’s ‘mother’) the way she was written, and her development throughout the book actually has her almost at the top of my list of favourite characters.  She had such a huge part to play in the storyline and understanding of the vampires and their relationships with each other and other creatures. Sometimes I think that more minor characters don’t always get the attention they deserve, but Ysabeau definitely deserves a mention. She was absolutely a standout for me.

And I’ve saved the best for last; Matthew Clairmont has now been added to my book boyfriends list.  Every UF romance has to have a swoon-worthy leading male and this one is no exception. This is exactly how I love my main men, scary and mysterious at first, then lovable and irresistible by the end… oh and with a tad of torment and possessiveness of course! (I won’t go on and on, you need to have some mystery!)

Matthew Clairmont smiled. My heart stopped beating for a fraction of a second. This was not the small, polite smile with which I was now familiar. His lips curved toward his eyes, making his whole face sparkle. God, he was beautiful, I thought again, slightly dazzled.

Yep, that’ll do me. Tall, dark and handsome. If the recipe works, why change it!

I had very few gripes, the start maybe quarter of the book was SO loaded with detail that it was slow to get off the ground, I personally enjoyed the descriptions and information about every little thing but I know it’s not for everyone. By the time you’re reaching the second half of the book, the pace definitely increases. The only parts I sometimes had to stop, think and put more effort into was the Alchemy talk (which I’m pretty sure would go for many of you, unless you have a bit of understanding on the subject.) Sometimes I felt like maybe I hadn’t exactly grasped what was being said in those instances, so would always read back and make sure I did. I didn’t find this too frustrating but when you combine that and the fact it’s not a small book you really do need to be prepared to set aside some time to process it.

This book is the first in a trilogy, I don’t mind cliff-hangers (my BBH HATES them, but I promise Kristal, you will be fine with this one) but I have to say I really loved how in this book it tied up (for now) what you really needed to have tied up but left you with enough of a cliff-hanger that you know you want to read more. Also to be fair, with such a big book it would’ve been frustrating to not have some closure in a few areas. So, overall, I did really love this book. That’s probably the third time I’ve said that in this review! But I did. It was a lot more ‘work’ than other fantasy books I’ve read, a lot of detail to process, but in my opinion it was totally worth it. I really enjoyed nearly every aspect of the book. Mostly, I loved that even though it is, at its heart a romance, it’s not soppy, overwhelming, or boring. The romance is definitely there, but there’s enough going on that it balances out. There is really no question about it; I will definitely be reading the next 2 installments.

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