It begins with absence and desire.
It begins with blood and fear.
It begins with a discovery of witches.
· A Discovery of Witches (March 2011) – 2 out of 5
· Two more books anticipated in the future
Author: Deborah Harkness
Narrator: Jennifer Ikeda – 4 out of 5
Length: 24:02, purchased on audible
Diana Bishop, a descendent of Bridget Bishop of Salem, had sworn off witchcraft after her parents were murdered in Africa under the suspicions of being witches when she was 7 years old. A tenured 35-year-old professor teaching in Oxford, Diana was working in the Bodleian Library on her key-note address on the topic of alchemy when she inadvertently opens an archaic manuscript that no witch has been powerful enough to call upon in centuries. Overnight, Diana’s life is threatened as the three groups of preternatural creatures (demons, vampires, and witches) will stop at nothing to get their hands on the book. Under the protection of another Oxford professor – the vampire Matthew Clairmont – Diana embarks on the greatest discovery of their kind.
Paranormal Identity Crisis:
In my opinion, A Discovery of Witches suffers from an identity crisis. What is it? A love story or a paranormal conspiracy-theory-type mystery? On the one hand, it’s basically a very adult, very grown-up Twilight, where instead of students in high school, Diana and Matthew are professors at Oxford. Instead of dates at the movie theatre, on the beach, or in a meadow, we have yoga, teatime in England, and dancing at a French chateau. The audiobook aspires to that same Twilight feeling – the chaste love affair of two star-crossed lovers who should never be together, but fall for each other early on in the story and spend a good deal of the rest of it kissing, hugging, and nothing more. On the other hand, A Discovery of Witches aspires to also be a mystery/thriller a la The Da Vinci Code. Again, the plot centers on this incredible discovery that Diana, a professor with special powers, is on the verge of splitting wide open that can change the direction of the way creatures (demons, vampires and witches) have viewed their past, and change the course of their future. Like in The Code, there is an established hierarchical system of witches and a congregation of creatures who seek to stop Diana from making this discovery even if it means war.
Most paranormal/urban fantasy novels skimp on the research. That’s not the case here. It helps that Deborah Harkness has released two non-fiction historical books, and also teaches history at a university level. This understanding of history really shines through.
Overall, this book is enjoyable but it’s very, very long. It’s a bit like the great works of Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens – great characters, wonderful plot, lots of emotions, but boy do you have to work through some parts of it to get there. Listening to this audiobook felt like a marathon. Usually, when only two hours remain to an audiobook, I have to fight myself to turn off the book so I can get some sleep. With this audiobook, at two hours until the end, I had to talk myself into finishing it. It is not surprising that many reviews are positive – with a book you can skip and skim over pages of description. With an audiobook, however, there is no skimming. You have to listen to every single word of that 24 hours. Every word of description. If there was an abridged version available, I’d highly recommend it. As is, I’d still recommend it, but with some reservations. It’s worth a listen, but just know what you’re getting into before you start.
This is the first time I’ve listened to Jennifer Ikeda read an audiobook, and I was impressed. She is particularly good with accents (French, British, and Irish), and has a very naturally expressive voice. Nothing over-the-top, but very believable. Her voice has just the right amount of emphasis to keep you from falling asleep while it’s soft and feminine enough to be consonant with the heroine in A Discovery of Witches.
This section contains SPOILERS. If you have already listened to this audiobook or if you hate surprises, please click below to continue reading.
This book has something I haven’t seen in a long time: parts with no tension. For example, when Diana goes to France with Matthew to his mother’s estate, we get to listen to her have dinner, go up to her room, go to bed, fall asleep, wake up, eat breakfast, and ride a horse. In extreme detail. The entire time, I kept wondering why the author would want to tell me all this. There had to be a point, right? But the writing wasn’t suggesting any tension. So I kept expecting a surprise. Diana getting food poisoning, attacked in her sleep, falling off a horse, maybe? Surely, I wasn’t listening to how difficult it was to put on those new riding boots or the dialogue between her and Matthew as to how ornery one of the horses had a reputation of being for nothing! I was wrong.
These sorts of scene with no real point just kept popping up in the worst places. Toward the end, for example, we’re getting to the really good stuff – Diana’s about to go back in time with Matthew! Fascinating! Then, for some reason, we get this long scene and conflict between Matthew and a demon about Diana getting a small pox vaccine. In extreme detail. Like the chill from the glass of water Diana was holding as she was being injected. It seems like the point of having that scene was just to have a quote from Thomas Jefferson. Or the scene with Diana and Matthew picking up pizza before going back in time. I understand the point of having your favorite food that you might never have again, or the importance of having that vaccine, but frankly, all these items could have fit in two sentences. They didn’t need scenes. This audiobook should have been 8-12 hours long, like every other good urban fantasy/paranormal audiobook.
And it ends in a cliffhanger. I think I would have given this audiobook a 3 out of 5 had it ended in some sort of a resolution. You can’t have a 600 page book or a 24-hour audiobook and end it in a cliffhanger. That’s just not fair.