Reviewed by : Shivani Singh
Set in a world where witches, vampires and daemons exist along with humans, A Discovery Of Witches revolves around Diana Bishop, who is the last witch in a legacy consisting of powerful ancestors. But Diana is different from the rest, much to the dismay of the others of her species. Ever since the horrific death of her parents when she was seven, Diana refused to use magic since she held it to blame for her being orphaned, despite the fact that her lineage had ensured that she had powers and abilities that other witches could only dream of. As a historian at Oxford, she pours herself into research surrounding alchemy for a conference. This not only causes a drastic change in her world, but stirs the interest of other creatures too.
In the Bodleian Library, Diana calls in a manuscript named Ashmole 728. As she examines and reads it, she can feel magic exuding from the book. But she resists using magic to decipher what was hidden in the manuscript. From then on, Diana finds herself surrounded by various creatures both hostile and helpful. One of these is Matthew Clairmont, a 1500 year old vampire who develops an interest in her. He explains to her the story of the manuscript, which went missing in 1859. Since then, there had been a search for it because of its coveted contents. Witches, vampires and daemons all wanted the manuscript in their possession, as it contained secrets of tremendous significance about them. As a result, all kinds of creatures set out to seek the manuscript from her.
In spite of Diana's blood appealing strongly to Matthew, he takes up the role of her protector amidst the dangers her life is suddenly fraught with. As they spend more time together, Diana falls for him without realizing the consequences of a relationship with a creature from another species. Its's not just external forces that force their bond on tethers, though. As Diana gets to know Matthew better, she unravels secrets kept from her by him.
But with time, Diana realizes that Matthew is not the only one who has been keeping secrets. She gets to know more about her parents that leaves her heart-broken. Eventually, Diana is caught in a battle between who she is and who she has been made to believe she is. Will she use the magic that has been building up in her for so long to the extent that it's not even within her control? And will Matthew succeed in protecting her from the multiple threats on her life? Can she manage to be true to her namesake, Diana who was the Goddess of the Hunt and track down the manuscript before it falls into wrong hands?
A Discovery of Witches is a highly compelling read, even though its vast length makes it an endurance test. Deborah Harkness has combined history, science and her splendid imagination to spin a unique tale. It is high on intellect and historical references considering the protagonist's profession, thus making it a challenging read at times. But it keeps your mind reeling - and is definitely a challenge worth taking.
(Shivani Singh, who has just appeared for her 10th grade exams, is an avid reader and a writer in the making.)