Friday, August 10, 2012

Fixation Friday (Book Review): A Discover of Witches

Damn, this is a good book. (I bet there's some rule somewhere that says not to start a blog post or book review with a curse word, but I'm a rule breaker. What are you going to do about it? That's what I thought.) Back to A Discovery of Witches. This is the first installment in Deborah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy and her first novel (she's apparently written some non-fiction too).

When I first started hearing about this book there were quite a few "It's like Outlander meets X" mash ups (the "X" was different for almost everyone, but the comparisons to Diana Galbaldon's Outlander were pervasive). Because you don't all know me personally, I'll let you know that I'm a huge Diana Gabaldon fan and regard the genre-busting Outlander series as one of my favorites. So with all the comparisons, I went into ADoW with high expectations. I was not disappointed.

If you're a fan of rich, detailed background, then Harkness is probably a strong fit for you. I read multiple complaints on Goodreads about the amount of detail and information some readers found superfluous. While I get where these readers are coming from, I just don't care. When dealing in the quasi-fantasy genre, I think detail is important. I want to know, as a reader, that you, as the writer, have thought every last detail through. I'm not the kind of reader who easily forgives shabby worldbuilding. I want the constructs of the setting leaping off the pages and playing a major role in how the characters operate.

A great world filled with lackluster characters a great novel does not make. I was instantly drawn to Diana's academic mind and willful personality. Matthew, with his darkness and unapologetic alpha personality, was a close second for me. They were frustrating at times and utterly real. There was a certain fragility to Diana that, while I didn't mind, landed her in the constant care of others. I don't think this a flaw in the story, and I liked that Diana persevered through many trials but certainly not unscathed. Harkness artfully remained true to her characters while letting them grow.

I can't say enough about how well written and well researched this book was. As a history nerd, I geeked out at all the interesting facts about alchemy that were woven into the story. As much time as she spent unveiling Matthew and Diana, Harkness also made time for each well-rounded supporting character to shine (which is probably why this book is hella long). When a house is one of my favorite characters, you know you've done your job!

Survey says? Well played, Deborah Harkness, well played. I've already got #2 in the series downloaded on my Kindle and ready to rock.

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:


  1. I loved Discovery of Witches! Loved it. So glad to hear you enjoyed it as well. I think it is truly a hit or miss because of the mentioned attention to detail Harkness has.

    1. Yeah, everyone I know who has read either loves it or hates it. I think being a Diana Gabaldon fan really prepares you for Harkness' level of detail. I'm pimping it to all the Outlander fans I know.