Monday, April 18, 2016

discovery of witches

This book is from a few years ago. I discovered the third book at one of the libraries I'm working on--if I get there early, or if they aren't ready for me, I sometimes have few minutes to take a look at the new books. I don't usually spend a lot of time with the book jacket, I just try to get a feel for a book, so I didn't realize it was part of trilogy: the All Souls Trilogy written by Deborah Harkness. I took a picture of the third book, and when I looked it up in my library, I found the trilogy.

Harkness is a little different than your average witch/vampire book author; she comes at this from a very successful, non-fiction historical writing, by all accounts. Harkness teaches history at the University of Southern California, and has won a number of awards for her historical writing. She has also done pretty well in the past with a wine blog. According to her bio she has also lived or worked in many of the places that figure large in this book as settings. They say write what you know, sounds like good advice. The main protagonist in this story is a historical writer doing research in libraries for her new book. Books, libraries, writing, history, collegiate life, scholarship, mitochondrial DNA, and wine all figure into the story. Harkness is definitely writing what she knows and it shows. A Discovery of Witches shows a depth not often found in stories in this genre, based on my limited experience. Good on you Deborah Harkness.

Diana Bishop is spending her time in the library these days, researching alchemy for her new book, and thinking about a scholarly presentation she needs to make in a few months, when she stumbles across something in the
Bodleian Library at Oxford, something that hasn't been seen for 150 years. Suddenly, she has a lot more attention that she'd planned on, and from the types of people she didn't expect to run into at the library. She pretty quickly realize that she's opened up a major can of worms, and... we're off.

Harkness's sense and understanding of history, the research required to do what her protagonist does, and the background to this fantastic story are effortlessly painted in. That first-hand understanding is what I think, gives this story its formidable sense of depth and place. The science, magic, wine discussion, and secret society slant fill the picture in nicely. This is a wild romp, and its got some of the same elements we've seen in other stories of this ilk, but its smarter. Reminds me a little of David Mitchell's take. I'd put this is the same read-alike category.

I'm looking forward to picking up the next installment tomorrow.

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