Review: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

I always make it a point to read various reviews, both good and bad, before I post a review here. I’ve already posted an impulsive review on Goodreads earlier because I couldn’t help but rant about it, but now that I’ve kind of got it out of my system over there, I’ll explain why I feel the way I feel here. Note that I struggle to keep the content of this blog on a mature and logical level. So let’s keep it civil, shall we?

I didn’t like it (in varying degrees. Take that statement how you will).

How I managed 579 pages of this book, I don’t know. But I do know that Harkness somehow kept me strung along for the entire long and strenuous ride. Allow me to summarize this story to you:




Let me go over the pros before I discuss the cons. Harkness is a very smart person. She has a vast story in her mind and she enjoys writing. Her use of language is intelligent, and for a reader like myself who won’t judge a few slips in scientific facts or history (unless it’s blatant), she does the job well. Diana, the main character, is also intellectual, independent, and clever, while simultaneously being oblivious, needy for her love interest, and willfully frustrating.

And there ends the pros, and commence the cons. Because the more time I spend away from this book, the more issues begin to raise their questionable heads.

First, if you’re familiar with my feelings on American Gods, you know how I love anticlimactic endings. And like another book I read this year, this book is missing the final climax. There is none. None at all. What is there is the queue for book two. Well, I’m sorry to say, this is where the book should have begun. These 579 pages should have been condensed into 250 pages.

Because second, the book spends paragraphs and pages and chapters upon wine, what clothes to wear, food being cooked and eaten, what MC had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, what kind of paperwork MC is working on, the various movements of everyone and everything in a room, what kind of wood the walls are made of, the history of castles, wine, the trees, and on, and on.


Example: there is a meeting and the participants decide to disperse and meet up again somewhere else. So the following chapter is spent saying good-bye to six people. Twelve pages. Six people. An entire chapter. Twelve pages. The good-byes are hardly relevant other than Harkness writing down every word of small-talk between every character.


She doesn’t even show half the action in the book (even though she’s good at it when she does). MC is left out of conversations. Granted 95% of the book is written in 1st POV. Four chapters are written from 3rd POV, and most of them are in the first half of the book. It was somewhat frustrating, but okay, I can deal.

Third, forgive me for this prejudice, but I’m just not into plots that depend upon the love interest. The blurb of this book is misleading. I thought this was going to be a story about alchemy. Instead, this book is about the forbidden romance between a witch and a vampire. I don’t mind the traits Harkness has given her supernaturals, but Matthew the vampire is far too romanticized for my liking. Never mind that he becomes a totally different character once he admits to being hopelessly in love with MC. I’m sorry. I like classic vampires, not this modern dreary sweep-you-off-your-feet so-called bloodsucker. Mathieu the vampire can eat food. He imbibes copious amounts of wine. Granted, it’s no real sustenance for him, but that’s just part of the curse, right?


Fourth, there were just some plot details that just didn’t ring right to me.

  • Two witches can outsmart nine super-powerful supernaturals?
  • Vampires are supposedly dying off, but then it’s never brought up again.
  • In fact, we lose all contact with current affairs around the halfway point.
  • Daemons act like the peanut gallery until some special ones show up at the end. How convenient.
  • Characters come and go, never to return again. Oh well.
  • There are apparently lots of children in upstate NY. (I’ve spent time up there. Most of the upstate NY population is considerably spread out.)
  • There is a war going on in the latter half of the story. But there isn’t any fighting. But it’s a war.
  • MC’s remaining family members, ghosts and all, know everything, yet don’t know everything. Or choose not to…
  • MC spends the latter half of the book trying to get down and dirty with Matthew. He resists every time.
  • In fact, both characters seem to gain magical powers by the end of book, but in the process, lose their original personality.
  • MC is (surprise) probably the most powerful witch ever.
  • And Matthew is probably the most powerful vampire ever.


And most importantly, will she ever get her hands on this alchemy book? That was the main reason I kept reading. She has this alchemy book in her hands in chapter one… and upon dismissing it, she never ever gets it back.


I’ll digress.

tl;dr: Writers, unless it’s relevant to the plot, avoid the small talk. Avoid describing every single detail of every inanimate and/or animate object in the setting unless it’s relevant to the plot. And please, for the love of all that is good in the world, have some sort of climax at the end of the book.

9 responses to “Review: A Discovery of Witches

  1. I was thinking about reading this book, but everyone says the same thing – it’s not that good. It seems I may be skipping this one. Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do believe that this is one of those “you love it or you don’t” type of storytelling. I’m amazed it has a 3.99 rating on Goodreads. Maybe book two is better than book one, but I’m not really hopeful for improvement. And you’re welcome! I make it a point to explain why I didn’t like a book. I picked it up because of its rave reviews, but I guess I shouldn’t have taken the negative ones with a grain of salt with this one. Thanks for reading!


  2. I chuckled at this review – mostly because, despite enjoying it (I think I gave it maybe a 3.5-ish?), I agree with just about everything you said. And yet somehow I couldn’t put the darn book down. The bookish side of me has yet to explain why. *lol*

    I’ll probably read Book 2, btw. I have it… but… I keep putting off reading it. I’m sure I will at some point. But like you said, I don’t have a whole lot of hope for improvement. Maybe that’s why I’m procrastinating on it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, now I understand your curiosity as to how I felt about the book! I admit I was cautious in the beginning because of your initial “warnings,” but egads, the first 50 pages sucked me in. And I don’t know why! *lol*

      It truly is befuddling why it kept us pulled in all the way to the end. Were we just waiting for something more? It was big time investment, but it was just so… monotonous? Maybe it was the worldbuilding that kept us hooked. The allure of the supernatural? I’m scratching my head, too, because it just didn’t feel right.

      Is book 2 just as long as book 1? I think you need to be in just the right mental mode of bored/reckless to pick up the second installment! I’d definitely look forward to your thoughts on it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Your guesses are as good as mine, tbh. *lol*

        I’m pretty sure Shadow of Night is about as long as ADoW. So… yeah. But it’s definitely in my TBR pile (I have a physical tower of books next to my bedroom chair, for the sake of prioritizing my reads – and because I’ve run out of room on my bookshelves. XD ). So I’ll get to it… maybe later this year? Or next year? It depends on what happens with all of the books ahead of it, of course.


  3. I’m so sorry you had to go through that tedium. It seems like the book was poorly edited? Also, I’m just done with vampires for a very long time. I’m reading Cassandra Clare’s books now and in that they’re bloodthirsty and power-hungry. I really want that dynamic rather than the one introduced by Twilight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It definitely seems poorly edited, though I’ve seen than other readers beg to differ. I guess it’s all a matter of taste, but it just didn’t work for me!

      I read the first of Clare’s Clockwork series earlier this year and ehh, I didn’t like it much at all (see the GR review: ) It must always seem I’m bashing books!! But yes, I too enjoy my vampires to be much more horroresque than love-me-I’m-damned-and-I-can’t-help-it types. I just finished Kostova’s The Historian, and her vampires are much more realistic and evil — definitely not romanticized like they often are nowadays! Needless to say, it was a much more entertaining read. If you haven’t read The Historian yet, and if you get back into the vampire mood again, and you have the time for a 670 page book, I recommend!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not liking Clare’s books either but they’re so popular that I feel like I’m missing something. I just don’t care about any of the characters and that’s making it hard for me to get through the book. I’ll definitely check out your review! 🙂
        A 670-page book seems a lot for me at the moment. But thanks for the recommendation! 🙂 I don’t specifically look for vampire books, so if I find the blurb interesting, I will put it on my TBR.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Coincidentally, that’s the same reason I picked up Clockwork Angel, too! Fortunately, now I know I’m not missing anything… And probably you as well! The characters just felt like they came from a cookie cutter. And the story is painfully predictable. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels unimpressed! I give her all the kudos though for making it big, though! To each their own, you can’t please all the people all the time, and all that good stuff!

          Liked by 1 person

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