Penguin, $28.95, 579 pages
In Deborah Harkness’s enjoyable, page-turning debut, A Discovery of Witches, Diana Bishop, an Oxford scholar and witch, discovers a lost alchemical text called Ashmole 782 in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. The peculiar manuscript attracts the attention of a legion of underworld creatures—witches, vampires and daemons—including the mysterious Matthew Clairmont, a 1,500 year-old scientist, vampire and wine connoisseur. As Diana seeks to uncover the secret of Ashmole 782, she must come to terms with her past and the magical powers she’s shunned all her life. Along the way, she begins a forbidden interspecies romance with Matthew, who has dark secrets of his own.
The text is bogged down in parts by too much detail (how many descriptions can there be of Diana drinking tea?) and some of the dialogue feels forced, but Diana and Matthew are a unique supernatural team that breathe new life into the tired paranormal romance genre, reminding readers that books and knowledge can be very sexy. Harkness’s background as a historian of science also allows for a fascinating look at a diverse range of subjects, including alchemy, evolution, genetics, mythology, and the age-old concern about the meaning of existence. So, grab your favorite glass of wine and curl up this winter with A Discovery of Witches.
Reviewed by Laura Di Giovine