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.

Comments
by Lizzy_Funk ‎02-19-2011 01:33 PM - edited ‎02-19-2011 01:33 PM

I picked this book up roughly a week ago, at the time I had not read the best seller's listings nor do I care (I can hear my fellow author friends cringing and groaning in protest as I type) for the most part.  So I was unaware this book was all over them.

 

If someone had asked me after I read the book I would have shaken my head and simply said I did not feel it had done anything amazing or witty, this book had not done something in my mind warranting it's admission to the top of the best seller's lists.

 

According to the critics, I would have been wrong.

 

However, I still don't agree. 

 

As I posted in my review of the book (on my blog, since I am not lucky enough to review for BN like some people) I found the book draggy at some points, I firmly understood Ms. Harkness's profession as a professor of history; no one who reads the book could mistake her for anything else.  

 

A blurb from my blog posting:

"At times the book reads like a history text book, or a science manual and then in the next moment it is a witch’s grimoire. I am a history buff, it was my minor in college so I enjoyed the tangents into history. I also read a variety of books about different faiths, religions, superstitions – so I was onboard with the witches, ghosts, vampires, daemons as well.

 

The research and detail that went into the book was superb, but at times it was also the wrench in cogs of the movement slowing the book down. Wading through sections which were stuffed to the brim with historical and scientific back-story made it hard to care deeply about the characters. The moments of action were spread throughout the book in jumpy groupings to the point of making them feel forced.

 

I had the impression this was more of a history and history of science book intermingled with a story to try and enhance the readers experience."

 

I have read the books stated above, I too found moments of thinking "I have read this before".  There is a decided lack of originality in pieces of the book and others which had me smiling thinking "spot on nicely woven". 

 

I believe this book will be around, it will sit with us as will the rest of the trilogy.  I am glad to see another author trying their hand at what I called a  history book and a contemporary fantasy novel blended together....

 

BUT my hope is with the next novels... we see something more.

 

~Double H

by ‎02-19-2011 08:58 PM - edited ‎02-19-2011 10:21 PM

I enjoyed this book, but it didn't sweep me away. There is a melding of alchemy, modern (primarily genetic) science and supernatural elements in the book, but it seemed awkward and forced at times. Further, the writing just wasn't vibrant enough for me. The majority of the descriptions seemed too calculated and were not immediate and direct impressions. For me the wine tastings and sculling were entertaining exceptions to this rule, but most of the other experiences seemed contrived and/or indistinct. Further, the main character, Diana Bishop, just wasn't quirky and/or emotionally deep enough for me. Note, the sophistication and volatility of the vampire hero, Matthew Claremont, kept me reading the first part of this book. Although I'm no vampire fiction expert, Clairmont did seem to combine certain attributes in an innovative heterosexual way. 

 

The story lays out a sweet but generally ordinary paranormal love story. (Actually, the stereotypical male and female roles ultimately adopted by the main characters were a bit irritating to me.) The narrative didn't take off for me until the heroine started spouting uncontrolled magic. Then, the story entertained with surprising plots twists and adventurous conflicts. Note, the pacing of the action in the latter half of the book was a bit lumpy, but it was entertaining.:smileyhappy:  

 

From the outset I was interested in the mystery surrounding the origins of the book's three supernatural species and their relationship to the elusive palimpsest manuscript, but the story seemed to focus more on the romance than that mystery. But, the puzzle of how to obtain and use the elusive manuscript becomes more integral to the emergent conflict among the supernatural species as well as the book's main characters as the narrative nears completion. I'm cautiously optimistic that both the mystery and supernatural conflict will take a greater role in the follow-up books. 

by PhyllisJ on ‎02-19-2011 09:07 PM

Hi Paul, I was surprised when I read that for the first 300 pages of the book the story didn't grab you.  LOL, the reason for my surprise is that I usually like the same books as you and so I am hoping that the story grabs me before I get to page 300.

 

I have the book and I plan on reading it as soon as I finish The Witches Daughter.  I am a little tempted to put The Witches Daughter down and start The Discovery of Witches now due to curiosity.

 

I have read most of the books that you listed above except the one by Harold Robbins.

by on ‎02-19-2011 10:35 PM

Personally I got a mere 10 pages in, before I put this down a couple of weeks ago. Too carefully calculated, a paranoraml by formula feel. Bound to happen, and certain isn't the first nor will be the last. It's just well a little too "disco duck" in spirit.

 

I might go back to it later, haven't decided yet. (shrug)

by gezza ‎02-20-2011 02:47 AM - edited ‎02-20-2011 02:48 AM

Paul

 

Forgive me if I have read between the lines too much (ie got it wrong), but your conclusion says a lot. I have not read this book - am tempted -  but I trust you enough to take your points (implicit and explicit, as the array presented itself) to come to some conclusions.

 

We are talking about originality here.

 

I am talking about 'pure' originality - a very hard commodity when 100k of novels are published each year, and great artists contributing to the writing craft over several centuries, but being able to put together fresh concepts into a package - made up of multivariate components - to delight a reader - this is still as hard to achieve today as it was 30 years ago.

 

I always enjoy reading your reviews because you have an unnerring capability of finding those gems in any given year - so thank you for that - and I get the distinct impression that this novel you reviewed today, doesn't quite get there. Intuitively, I see truth in this impression.

 

Thanks again for a good review, and more importantly, a persective that transcends time.

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎02-20-2011 11:16 AM

Oh boy, here are my thoughts. I loved it!!!

here is my review http://thereadingfrenzy.blogspot.com/2011/01/review-of-discovery-of-witches-by.html

 

To me it was impressive and since I knew that there were more books coming I also knew that the first book needed to set up the rest, so for me the minutiae was important for the building of not only the characters but to set the stage for the rest in the trilogy. 

For me those 300 pages flew by and the next 200 even more so because with each page I read in the beginning it made me want to know the whys of it, why didn't Diana know all those things that were so simple to the readers, I knew that there had to be a reason and those reasons were made evident as the novel neared it's completion. I lived on the character development, the relationships these characters had and made, I loved the narrative, the plot and the romance of it, but what really floated my boat was the mystique, and the danger and the whole new way to look at the different paranormal species then we've been fed so far by other well known and loved authors.

I would definitely recommend this novel to any reader, but I think it will appeal more to the adult reader.

 

So I think it's right to be at the top of the bestseller list, I do think it'll stand the test of time, but then again who knows. I only know what I like and this is right up my paranormal alley.

BTW, I have not read the Twilight series so there is no comparison in that way, but this is in no way a YA romance, it's an adult read with educated, intellectual and adult characters.

 

Paul thanks for the great article and for the advanced alert of the novel way back a few months ago.

 

 

Deb

by shayshebang on ‎03-11-2011 02:23 PM

I agree with you about the eventual comparisons, however, I did try to read the book on its own merits.  I have not read all of the books you have and in fact when I tried to read Anne Rice (anything) I found myself bored to death.  That being said, I found that I was also bored with this book.  I did love the story between Diana and Matthew, as it seemed to be an honest way in which people fall in love sans the supernatural aspect.  I thought the author went overboard with the references to text and manuscript and in fact I wanted to scream at Diana and Matthew quoting so much, it seemed like such pretentious dribble.  I did not love the book, but I liked the book.  If there are other books I can only hope they do not take hundreds of pages to get to the point.  I liked the other characters in the book and rooted for Diana to get a clue, when it came to using her magic, but I don't think we needed to have so much back story on Darwin.

by Trishala on ‎04-20-2011 10:32 PM

I know this is supposed to be a national best seller but I ended up putting it down halfway through the second chapter. normal I try to give an Author at least half a book before I stop reading but the way this author was writing just grated on my nerves. Every other sentance I would start to put the book down then end up reareading half a paragraph just to get what was trying to be said. It may just be that the author and I dont mesh well on a cominicative level. I normaly can tell a book is a keeper in the middle of the first chapter. This was not one of those!

 

I may try it againin a few years but for now it is gonna be a dustcatcher!