Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1) by Deborah Harkness

Just one touch, that's all it took...
     'A mild shock made me withdraw my fingers quickly, but not quickly enough. The tingling traveled up my arms, lifting my skin into tiny goose pimples, then spread across my shoulders, tensing the muscles in my back and neck. The sensations quickly receded, but they left behind a hollow feeling of unmet desire. Shaken by my response, I stepped away from the library table.
     Even at a safe distance, the manuscript was challenging me--threatening the walls I'd erected to separate my career as a scholar from my birthright as the last of the Bishop witches. Here, with my hard-earned doctorate, tenure, and promotions in hand and my career beginning to blossom, I'd renounced my family's heritage and created a life that depended on reason and scholarly abilities, not inexplicable hunches and spells.'

With one touch of Ashmole 782, Diana Bishop, last of the Bishop Salem witches, unleashed something that was not likely to go away. Unbeknownst to her, many a witch, daemon, and vampire had been searching for the once thought lost document. To some it was thought to be the Pandora's box of the supernatural world and they'd do anything to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands. To others it was thought to hold their salvation. For Ashmole 782 was not a normal book, it was a palimpsest. For hidden within it's pages was a book within a book, but just exactly what was contained within its pages was a mystery. For the book had been hidden away so long ago that nobody was quite certain just what it truly contained. While Diana realized the book was bespelled, she had turned her back on her magical heritage long ago and did not unlock its secrets that day. So after writing a brief synopsis about the manuscript, she carefully placed the book back into the care of Oxford's Bodleian Library. Unfortunately for her, that did not put an end to things, it just marked the beginning...

I have owned this book for over a year and have been meaning to read it ever since. Right around the time I purchased it a bunch of my request for ARCs were fulfilled. A first for me. So, like Diana did with Ashmole 782, I carefully returned it to my own personal library, but unlike her, I had hopes to one day unlock the books secrets. Then recently a friend commented on the fact she was listening to the audio version of it and I finally found my means of reading it. Once, I started listening, however, I couldn't just let it go and found myself scooping up the book the moment I'd get home and pick up where I'd left off with the audio. So please beware this book is very addictive.

Diana is a strong woman who lost her parents at an early age. They'd traveled to Africa and never returned. They had reportedly been killed by the native population of the region they were visiting after they'd allegedly figured out they what they were--witches. Because of their deaths, Diana had sworn off witchcraft and was attempting to live a "normal" life. But as Matthew points out, “'Normal’ is a bedtime story—a fable—that humans tell themselves to feel better when faced with overwhelming evidence that most of what’s happening around them is not ‘normal’ at all.” And what adults sometimes tell a child is not always the truth. Diana will uncover not only what secrets Ashmole 782 holds, but secrets about herself and her family as well.

Matthew Clairmont had been a vampire a long time. While initially he set out to find the secrets of the missing manuscript, shortly after meeting Diana, it becomes clear his priorities have switched. It's no longer the manuscript that he desires most, but Diana. Interspecies mingling, however, is forbidden. It's thought when two different preternatural beings are together, they tend to attract human attention. So while it's taboo for the two to be together, there's just something about Diana that brings out the protective instinct in him and attracts him to her. Diana says, 'the most unnerving thing about him was not his physical perfection. It was his feral combination of strength, agility, and keen intelligence that was palpable across the room...he looked like a panther that could strike at any moment but was in no rush to do so.'

I love the world that Ms. Harkness has created. A world filled with Witches, Daemons, Vampires, and a house with personality, literally. Daemons, if you were wondering, are 'creative creatures who walk a tightrope between madness and genius. "Rock stars and serial killers" was how my aunt described these strange, perplexing beings.' While modern day vampires tended to find careers in science and 'gravitated toward particle accelerators, projects to decode the genome, and molecular biology. Once they had flocked to alchemy, anatomy, and electricity. If it went bang, involved blood, or promised to unlock the secrets of the universe, there was sure to be a vampire around.'

Where does the book get its name? I believe from this passage:

     'I unfolded the wrappings. On top, blocking Matthew's view and separated by still more tissue from what lay beneath, was a piece of ordinary white paper, the edges brown with age. There were three lines written on it in spider script.
     “It begins with absence and desire," I whispered around the tightness in my throat. "It begins with blood and fear." 
     "It begins with a discovery of witches,” Matthew finished, looking over my shoulder."

 The next book is slated to go back in time, and I find I'm really looking forward to it. I love it when an author mixes history into their books and I'm sure Ms. Harkness will do just that. If you look on her website  she states, "For the past twenty-eight years I’ve been a student and scholar of history, and received degrees from Mount Holyoke College, Northwestern University, and the University of California at Davis. During that time I researched the history of magic and science in Europe, especially during the period from 1500 to 1700. The libraries I’ve worked in include Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the All Souls College Library at Oxford, the British Library, London’s Guildhall Library, the Henry E. Huntington Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Newberry Library—proving that I know my way around a card catalogue or the computerized equivalent. These experiences have given me a deep and abiding love of libraries and a deep respect for librarians. Currently, I teach European history and the history of science at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles." I believe the series name 'All Souls' has something to do with the All Souls College at Oxford of whose library Ms. Harkness worked in and where Matthew reportedly lived. Also, I find it interesting that she researched the history of magic and science in Europe. I've never heard of such a thing, but it does sound interesting.

I enjoyed the mystery of just what Ashmole 782 contained and how things are slowly pieced together, although not totally solved by the end. I loved watching the relationship between Matthew and Diana grow and how when push comes to shove, creatures who normally avoid each other come together in a united front. A couple of things that made me chuckle were the author's use of the word twilight. I don't recall having that particular word pop up so many times in any other book I've ever read. Could Ms. Harkness have been trying to subliminally to have us make a connection to the Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series? Also, if Matthew is a good representative of the way men were from years past, I am very surprised the human race survived. It is for that reason on the Lisarenee Romance Rating Scale, this book get a BLUSH rating - at the beginning stages of romance where something is just starting to be stirred. Overall, however, I gave this one 5 out of 5 roses. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It kept my attention and stole it from other books. It had characters which were engaging and left off with me wondering what would happen next. A very enjoyable read. I alternated between reading this one and listening to the audio version and thought the narrator did a wonderful job. So if you spend a lot of time in the car and have been putting this one off because of the size, then you may want to pick up the audio version.

Order of series:

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