Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

Diana Bishop, a scholar at Oxford, accidentally discovers an ancient alchemical manuscript. Diana is a witch, but she wants nothing to do with the world of witches, vampires and daemons. That is, until 1500-year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont comes into the picture. When the two fall in love, it throws the entire world of magic into a frenzy.

Oof. This book started off with promise, and then took a NOSEDIVE, unfortunately.

A Discovery of Witches is the first novel in the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness. I found out about it through an influencer, who has talked about it so much that I ended up buying the second novel when I found it at the thrift store, then the third, and finally this book. It’s about witches and vampires, so I waited until autumn to read it. For the Vibes, of course.

The first one hundred pages or so I quite liked it. It’s marketed as being “Twilight for adults”. I used to love Twilight as a 14-year-old, and like many, I’ve recently come to realise that it really wasn’t such a bad book after all. Because of this change of heart, I was optimistic about the premise of this book. Even if it isn’t the most high-brow novel, at least it’ll be fun, right?

As I stated, the book starts off quite well. It definitely has an “autumn” feel to it. A Discovery of Witches starts in Oxford, and it has a fun “dark academia” vibe to it. The main character is Diana, a witch who doesn’t like to use her magic because of a tragic incident that killed her parents. She’s not a particularly interesting character but she’s not outright unlikeable. Yet.

Everything goes horribly wrong when she meets Matthew, a vampire. Vampires and witches don’t really mix, but of course, Diana and Matthew quickly fall in love. Diana turns out to actually be a really powerful witch (who saw that coming?) and Matthew is a 1500(!) year old vampire.

The story teases a plot at the beginning, with Diana doing research and accidentally uncovering an ancient, important manuscript that makes her a target for other magical creatures. Unfortunately, this “plot” is quickly tossed out of the window for the revelation that there’s a “congregation” of magical creatures who have decided that inter-magical species dating is against magical law. Next thing I knew, the following 500 or so pages were just about Diana and Matthew’s “forbidden love”. Nothing of interest happens. It was an absolute slog to get through. Mind you I had the whole trilogy on my shelf. Rest assured that books 2 and 3 are going straight back to the thrift store with their sibling.

So sure, let’s say the full focus of these books is on the relationship between Matthew and Diana, and the reader shouldn’t expect more plot than that. Even then, they are an insufferable couple. After they meet, Matthew stalks her for a while, following her home, breaking in and watching her sleep (a classing YA vampire move). Diana is initially extremely put off by his frankly creepy vibe. Even so, the timeline between them meeting and Matthew stating that because they have confessed their love to each other they are now Vampire Married (!!) is no more than a couple of weeks. Matthew is extremely controlling. Everyone does what he tells him to. It’s not because he is ancient, because his “mother” Ysabeau is even older than him. He’s just a jerk.

Diana turns into an empty vessel of a character after she and Matthew get “married”. She happily tolerates his controlling behaviour, and even starts referring to his 100+ year old vampire children as “her children”. I guess this isn’t super relevant information for this review but I hated it SO SO much I guess I just needed to rant about it a little here.

Near the end, two more characters are introduced, but they are DEEPLY irrelevant to the book. There’s a guy who’s just sort of there, and his wife who is pregnant. That’s her whole thing. It’s very much a set-up for the sequels that the author tries very hard to make you not read.

The writing overall is FINE, but this was truly a 700 page novel about nothing and near the end all I wanted to do was scream.

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