May 17, 2022

“A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches is part one of a trilogy in progress about the human and non-human worlds of science, faith, and power.  Add a pinch of lust and some evil – lots of wine and Oh, what fun!  

Escapism is always best when it has foundations in reality.  Historical and scientifically-accurate (sort of) reality is especially appealing.  Throw in non-humans descended from human bloodlines, supernatural abilities and a hot french guy and I’m there.  This shocks you, I know. 

Deborah Harkness holds three degrees in history and specifically the history and science of magic in Europe. She has published books and received fellowships from many prestigious foundations (among them, the Guggenheim, National Science and National Humanities Foundations…)  It suffices to say that she knows of what she writes.  To mix fact and fiction with such cleverness is always deserving of kudos.  

I loved A Discovery of Witches.

Diana Bishop is an historian with impeccable credentials; Yale, Oxford and is also the progeny of a long startlingly-gifted and pure line of witches.  She renounces magic after the murder of her parents and fights against her innate abilities at every turn.  She tries, and fails, to squelch the extraordinary under piles of anal compulsive ordinariness.

Matthew Clairmont is an old, old, old geneticist.  And a vampire.  He also crawls the hallowed halls of academia at Oxford.  He is also rich as Croesus and french Nobilty.  Poor dear.

You’ll never guess what happens!  OK, yes you will.  They meet.  They fall in love.  It’s forbidden.  It’s so bloody familiar.  And yet … it’s more interesting because they aren’t love-sick teenagers.  No proms.  No sulking (… not that I didn’t love those books – you know I did).

Add some intelligently-original Darwinian plausibility to all that.  What if survival of the fittest is responsible for species other than human or animal?  Is it really so implausible that nature would create diversity outside of the known family, genus, species arena?

Diana and Matthew are possibly the end and the beginning of their own creatures’ survival.  How clever that one is a scholar of alchemy* and the other a gifted geneticist.  The answers will inevitably lie somewhere between the mind and the heart.

My only problem is waiting for round two.

*Alchemy is foremost the material transformation of chemicals but no less importantly, a discussion of philosophical and metaphysical transformation.

Jennifer Petty Mann grew up in New York City, moved to London, England, then back to Boston, and is now happily ensconced on the EightMile river in Lyme with three little ones.  A former teacher, window dresser for Saks, and designer, she is taking her love of books to the proverbial “street.” 

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