And after reading it, I can understand what all the hype was about. It’s a Twilight situation all over again…
I have the utmost respect for Stephenie Meyer – and I’m certainly more than excited that her novels have compelled literally millions of adolescent and pre-adolescent girls to read – but, unbeknownst to the majority of those young readers, the Twilight saga wasn’t exactly original. In the mid 1990s, a decade before Meyer published Twilight, Laurell K. Hamilton was already well into writing a decidedly adult paranormal fantasy series revolving around a tumultuous love triangle including a female necromancer named Anita Blake, a sexy vampire and a hunky werewolf. Again, no disrespect intended – those Twilight books were an unparalleled literary phenomenon and the story of Bella, Edward and Jacob have obviously resonated with an entire generation of young readers. But there was nothing particularly innovative about the Twilight novels – that was my biggest disappointment – Meyer didn’t expand the boundaries of the vampire mythos or redefine it in any way…
The same thing can be said about A Discovery of Witches. Deborah Harkness’s debut novel certainly cannot be described as wildly original or innovative but, like Meyer, Harkness has succeeded in building the perfect beast by taking some succulent narrative elements from popular reads and fusing them together to create a wildly entertaining and deeply intellectual story. A Discovery of Witches is essentially a paranormal romance with very strong historical fiction and dark fantasy undertones – a heaping helping of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan saga, a few spoonfuls of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Saint Germain Cycle, a cup of Garabaldon’s Outlander saga, with a pinch of Caldwell and Thomason’s cerebral The Rule of Four for good measure.
As the novel began, I couldn’t help comparing it over and over again to Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s extensive Saint Germain Cycle (which began in 1978 with Hotel Transylvania and is still going strong) and Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches novels and Vampire Chronicles. These sagas are unarguably towering classics of vampire fiction – and all of them masterfully blend historical fiction with dark fantasy and romance.
And the character of Diana Bishop, a powerful witch who has no understanding of her latent abilities, is a typical paranormal heroine – an emotionally fragile female struggling to find her place in the world who, with some supernatural encouragement, gets in touch her her inner butt-kicking self – and Diana's budding relationship with Matthew has a decidedly conventional paranormal fantasy feel:
Wearing nothing but a bra and the trousers, I ran into the bathroom and dragged a comb through my shoulder-length, straw-colored hair. Not only was it tied in knots at the end, it was daring me to make it behave by lifting up from my scalp with every touch of the comb. I briefly considered resorting to the curling iron, but chances were excellent I’d get only half of my head done before Matthew arrived…”
The comparisons to Twilight are inevitable. Edward Cullen sparkles and Diana Bishop “shimmers” – and both novels have found a ravenous audience of besotted readers. Entertainment Weekly predicted that this debut “might just be a Twilight for the tweedy set.” I couldn’t agree more – in A Discovery of Witches, wizards wear brown tweed, daemons sip lattes, and witches and vampires avidly practice yoga.
I have little doubt that Harkness’s All Souls trilogy will sell phenomenally well – and I applaud her for writing a story that has so powerfully effected with so many readers.
But how will this trilogy be remembered historically, I wonder?
To put it all in perspective: It’s been 35 years since Interview with the Vampire was originally released, and 33 years since Hotel Transylvania hit the shelves. While neither of these were elite bestsellers in their year of release, both are still in print and relevant. Below is the list of mainstream fiction bestsellers from 1976. How many of these titles have you read, or even heard of?
1976 Fiction Bestsellers (from Publishers Weekly)
1. Trinity by Leon Uris
2. Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
3. Dolores by Jacqueline Susann
4. Storm Warning by Jack Higgins
5. The Deep by Peter Benchley
6. 1876 by Gore Vidal
7. Slapstick: or, Lonesome No More! by Kurt Vonnegut
8. The Lonely Lady by Harold Robbins
9. Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart
10. A Stranger in the Mirror by Sidney Sheldon
I wonder how history will remember A Discovery of Witches in 2046?
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.
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