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A Discovery of Witches
All Souls Trilogy #1
by Deborah Harkness
Viking, $28.95, 579 pp
Published: February 2011

A hefty debut novel but maybe worth your time. The world is populated by witches, vampires, daemons and humans.  The humans, of course, are all-unknowing.  One of the more interesting perspectives of this story is that the humans play no part in it.  The witches are mortal but have all sorts of interesting powers/skills; however, their power is declining with each generation.  The vampires are immortal and do still enjoy their blood; however, there are no fangs nor any other typical constraint like sunlight or garlic.  Daemons are not as well described and I confess that I can’t recall any good description of what they are.  If there was a description, it was short and insignificant. All I know is that they are extremely creative but not what makes them daemons. This is a serious lack for me; I really wanted to know what the daemons are.

Each group tends to keep to themselves with some serious rivalry between the species.  Our heroine, a witch named Diana, has rejected most aspects of her heritage throughout her life.  She prefers the life of a scholar and makes much of her achievements accomplished without the use of witchcraft.  One day, while doing research in a library, she finds a book that is obviously bespelled.  She cares little for whatever is hidden by the spell and is only interested in it as a reference to her research.  However, many others are very, very interested in the book as it has been lost for centuries.  She attracts the attention of a host of vampires, other witches and daemons.  The daemons are an annoyance, the witches are extremely hostile and threatening, and the vampires….are intriguing.  She finds herself increasingly attracted to one debonair vampire and begins a relationship.  The other witches are horrified and attempt to control her.  She’s warned repeatedly that the relationship won’t be tolerated but she doesn’t believe they can affect her. 

She attempts to discover the significance of the book and while doing so, learns more about the other two species.  There is more intermingling than is publicly acknowledged or countenanced by the Congregation – a congress of the three species.  The assumption is that the book will have an explanation of the origins of all four species and give insight into their different abilities.  Here’s where the logic breaks down for me.  Witches and daemons are born but vampires are made.  How can they be a species?  Unclear by the author.

There are lots of interesting plot ideas – that Diana has the full pantheon of witch powers, that the vampires do genetic research, and many creative geniuses have been daemons.  There is little resolved in this book which may make you crave the rest of this trilogy.  The writing is technically proficient, the plot could use a bit more tightening up.  The main characters are pretty well-defined but the supporting characters are shallow.  Overall, the story doesn’t zing along, it kind of plods.  But the plot ideas have grabbed my imagination and I think I’ll have to see how they are resolved.  – Catherine Book. 

For more titles by Deborah Harkness click here

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