A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Rating: 3/5 (but it’s complicated)
Genre: Fantasy
Description from Goodreads:

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

My thoughts:

I initially started reading this book a few years back when I was trying out Kindle Unlimited and it was one of the only books available that appealed to me, but when my free trial ended, I never sought out the book to finish it. Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of friends on Goodreads reading it, which prompted me to pick it back up.

As I was reading this book, I was struggling with whether or not to write this review. There were some parts of this book that I loved, but also some parts that I super did not love. When I started this blog I intended to only use it to talk about books I enjoyed, rather than books I hated. I don’t have anything against bloggers that do this, it just is not something I wanted to do.

So after going back and forth in my mind, I finally decided that I would review this book because while there were some things I hated, there were also some things that I loved.

(Also, potential spoilers in terms of story structure, but not any major plot details)

I’m going to start off with what I love.

I love the setting of the book. The main character, Diana, is an academic who spends most of her time in the library. Hello, sign me up. She’s also a witch, so double sign me up. 

I love books that take place in libraries or academic settings, so I was so on board with this one from the start.

I love all of the references to historical figures and events that we get because one of the characters, Matthew, is a super old vampire who happened to live through a bunch of interesting stuff. 

I also loved the whole initial premise of the story. Diana finds a magical manuscript that pretty much all the witches, vampires, and daemons have been after for centuries because it contains secrets of their origins. I was so into that.

So here’s where my negative feelings come in. This story had such a cool premise, but it was executed so poorly, in my opinion. I was so on board for a story about Diana trying to discover the secrets of this manuscript and for maybe an epic battle between witches, vampires, and daemons.

Instead, we get a book that is like ⅔ just about a vampire romance that I don’t care for. Pretty much the entire middle of the book is just focused on their relationship. While I don’t typically enjoy vampire / human (or in this case, witch) romances, I would have been fine if it was a secondary plot. But about a third of the way into the novel it was clear that wasn’t the case.

I really enjoyed learning about Matthew’s backstory and his family, but all of the interactions with him in the present just bored me.

It kind of feels like the author had this idea for a story about a witch and an old, magical text, but then also wanted to write a vampire romance and just kind of combined the two together. The first half of the novel and the second half of the novel just feel like two completely different stories to me.

When I picked up this book I was so excited to learn more about this ancient magical manuscript, but even though that seems like it is going to be the premise of the novel, we barely learn about it at all. So much of the story just becomes about Diana and Matthew trying to make their forbidden romance work.

As much as I loved the premise of this book, there were just so many scenes that I didn’t care for, making it hard for me to love this book or want to continue the series. It just feels like this book could have been edited down more heavily and it would have been more enjoyable. 

Other than the vampire romance and pacing problem, I enjoyed this book, but I found myself getting so annoyed with it halfway through that I can’t really honestly claim that I loved it.

Rating it was super hard because the first 40% of the book I would rate 5/5, 40%-89% I would rate 2/5, and then the last 10% of the book I would rate 4/5. Arg.

10 thoughts on “A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

  1. Jessica Greenfield says:

    I totally understand feeling conflicted about reviewing a book you had mixed feelings about. My goal is usually only to review books I really liked, as well. I enjoyed the review, though, and appreciated the honest critique!


    • Jenna says:

      Yeah it’s so tough because I know how much work goes into writing a book and I don’t want to say mean stuff about it just because I don’t like it. Plus I don’t want to make anyone feel bad for liking a book I hated.

      If I didn’t have any positive things to say at all I would have refrained from posting, but figured since I liked some aspects of the book I would go ahead. I just had so many feelings!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nadine - todaysechoes says:

    I agree 100% with your review. I really wanted to like this book, but there were so many things that could have been better. Maybe had I read this book when I was still high on Twilight I probably would have screamed from the rooftops professing my love for it.


    • Jenna says:

      Yes, exactly. If I had read this in high school I probably would have loved it for the romance, but as a 25 year old, not so much. It’s a shame because I really loved the beginning and started off loving the main character. She was a cool professor who got to spend all day surrounded by books, but then she gave up all her dreams and independence for a dude she’s just met, and it’s like what? Seemed so completely out of character

      Liked by 1 person

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