The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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April 16, 2011

...but speaking of witches

I've finally finished another first novel, Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches. It's a long book, almost 600 pages in hardcover and 20 CDs as an audiobook (the format I read it in), and I stayed up late last night to finish the last of it. {That might tell you something about how much I enjoyed it.)  But since I'm addicted to audiobooks as car-reading and bedtime-reading, that might also tell you something about the scariness factor:  there are two dramatic, violent scenes of death, but for a book imagining a world peopled by vampires, witches and demons and humans, there's hardly any gore or even terror.{That's good.}

The bare bones of the story are that Diana Bishop, a Yale historian who is descended from a notable line of witches, is in Oxford, studying the ancient science of alchemy.  Diana is determined not to use her powers of witchcraft and magic (two different things, we're learning), but when she's briefly tempted to use them to pull a book off the shelf in the Bodleian library, she meets Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist and a vampire. {We're reminded right away that all vampires are stunningly handsome or beautiful, but it doesn't hurt that Matthew is also tall, dark, broad-shouldered, elegantly dressed, apt to lapse into a French accent, and a doctor with a gentle bedside manner and a lopsided grin.} When Diana calls Ashmole 782 -- an alchemical manuscript with some unusual properties -- from the stacks, a crush of creatures descends on Oxford and the relationship between Diana and Matthew begins to change. {If you want to know more, you'll have to enjoy all 600 pages yourself. I'll just say that vampires and witches are natural enemies, and are not supposed to mix.}

I fee like I have to be a little defensive, repeating over and over 'I don't read this vampire stuff,' and really, I don't.  I can't remember where I first read about this book, but something about it (Oxford, maybe?) made me think it might be a highbrow cut above the usual, and I think it probably is.  As light, entertaining, engaging reading, I enjoyed it very much.  It was definitely too long for me (near the end, when another new set of characters is introduced, I wanted it to stop right there. No more twists. Be done with it.)  But then I think of my nieces and nephews devouring 800 pages of Harry Potter for the seventh or eighth time... This is scheduled to be the first book in a trilogy, and you can tell that it's written to be continued. And some of the dialogue (especially Diana's, for some reason), is positively sappy.

On the other hand, Harkness' character sketching and the details she uses to draw distinctions among the species are well done (which helps with disbelief suspension) and I confess I loved all the domestic details and the gentle humor that creeps into the book {especially when Diana and Matthew return to her aunts' house in upstate New York}.  I'll probably be drawn into reading the sequels, and I hope they're as much fun as this first book. I still don't feel the need to feed on any other such literature, though.

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1 comment:

FleurFisher said...

I'm not usually a vampire lover, but this book is calling very loudly. It's good to know I'm not alone!

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