October 19, 2015

All Souls Review - Part 1: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches 
All Souls Trilogy, Book 1
Deborah Harkness

Published: 2011

Headline, Format B paperback, 688 p.
ISBN: 978-0-7553-7404-5

It begins with absence and desire.
             It begins with blood and fear.
                          It begins with a discovery of witches.

A world of witches, daemons and vampires.

A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future.

Diana and Matthew - the forbidden love at the heart of it. 



Okay first off, lets talk about the covers.  I am such a huge fan of this trilogy that I have multiple copies of each book.  I have the US hardcover boxed set that I used in the title pic at the top of the page.  I love the design of the US books.  There is a sense of mystery, magic, and history that you recognize as soon as you see these elements.

But then you have the UK/AUS edition (pictured above) which was my first introductions to the trilogy.  I adore the original cover for ADoW (left), so when the publishers changed the artwork - to black with red smoke - I wasn't pleased with it. Don't get me wrong, if I had not owned the original I would probably be fine with it, however the removal of the Bodleian Library - a central part of the storyline! - just left it feeling somehow bland, and not as mysterious, for me.


The world created by Deborah Harkness is not fantasical, or full of over-the-top magical systems, yet it is a wonderful blending of the world as we know it and a peek at the hidden world of Creatures that struggle to remain hidden in the shadows.

In ADoW we get a taste of life in University Oxford, visited the ancient Sept-Tour and fled to a small New England farmhouse.  The way the author has written this book makes me visualize the places so clearly.  I can imaging walking through the Bodleian to the desks at A4, I felt a chill as Diana walked through the fog to the boat shed, felt fear for Diana as she lay in the oubliette, and laughed at the wonderfully bossy house that the Bishop's have lived in for generations.  If there was ever a book to capture my imagination, this is it.


What I loved about these books is that the goal, or aim, of the trilogy is stated in the first book, the first chapter, and we follow the characters as they struggle to reach their goal.  Yes, there is the occasional side story, but unlike a lot of trilogies/series that loose their way, All Souls is crystal clear and resolute in what the characters are trying to achieve.


Diana Bishop is an interesting main character.  She comes from a magical family, with magic at her fingertips (literally), and yet she chooses to put it all aside to live in a 'normal' fashion {I'm having visions of Samantha from Bewitched here} for reasons that become evident at the beginning of the story.  She is likable, intriguing and a tad mysterious.  Yet for all those positives I loved the flaws that the author let show.  Diana is also headstrong, impulsive and not always right - and it is these very flaws that make her into such a relatable character.  Then comes Matthew Clairmont.  Almost the opposite of Diana in the fact that he is accepts his reality as a preternatural creature.  He is by turns caring and capricious, brilliant and at times so completely stupid, especially when he lets his emotions rule him.  Again, flawed and dark - and such an amazing character to pair up with Diana.

With such strong leads, I found that the secondary characters that revolved around Diana and Matthew just as engaging and three dimensional, if to a lesser degree, than our main couple.  Sarah and Em are Diana's only remaining family, and are so lovely together.  Headstrong and vibrant.  Compassionate and always looking out for Diana.  Then there is Ysabeau.  Perhaps my favourite character after Diana and Matthew.  At first we see the cool, uncaring face that she shows the witch that arrives at Sept-Tours.  But underneath that diamond tough exterior slowly beats the heart of a mother.  Fiercely protective.  I loved her.  Then there's Marthe.  Ysabeau's ever faithful housekeeper.  We don't have as much interaction with Marthe as I'd have liked, she conjured up the image of an vampire granny.  I adored her.  Would love to read a spin-off story, or even series, about Ysabeau and Marthe.  The final two vampires are Marcus and Miriam, who work with Matthew.  Harkness has them playing off against each other - or ganging up on Matthew - and some of Miriam's lines had me sniggering at times.  As well as the lonely human, Chris, who is Diana's BFF.  He is adorable, and a total genius, but has no idea of Diana's secret world.

Now we move on the antagonists.   I really I loved to hate these guys (and girls).  Knox is a particularly nasty specimen, and Satu... well, lets just say I'd like to drop kick her to the moon!  Then there is Gillian, a spiteful witch that we get to know and loathe.  Even Matthew's 'brother' Baldwin is mired in grey territory.  He's a cunning and manipulative vampire who gives you the impression that he'd rather kill Diana than help her.  So good ;-D  The author made such interesting counterparts for Diana and Matthew to face.

In regards to character development, as the story progresses I felt that the experiences Matthew and Diana (plus those closest to them) altered them and added depth to their characters so that when ADoW came to an end, I just wanted to have Shadow of Night in my hands so I could continue on this journey with them.

Conclusion and Recommendations

A Discovery of Witches is the opening gambit in a truly fascinating trilogy.  Full of history, mystery and suspense, it only took a few pages to capture my attention.  If you love books with magic realism, a seemingly epic overarching storyline, complex relationships and history, then I highly recommend that you pick up A Discovery of Witches.

I hope you enjoyed my brief-ish review.  Let me know in the comments what you thought of the book (if you've read it), or if you plan to read A Discovery of Witches.  I'd love to hear from you.

Until next time,

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