A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness Review (All Souls Trilogy)

A Discovery of Witches feels like it’s floated around book tube, and other book communities, and yet still has been on the down low.  Does anyone else get that vibe??  I also keep meaning to just review the first book, but then binge read series, so this is me yet again reviewing a trilogy, while also somehow avoiding big spoilers, so bear with me on this one.  To be honest, when I started this book, I wasn’t sure where this would head. I’ve heard really good things about this trilogy, and then also heard a lot of ‘mehs’ when talking about it as well.  Basically, like any book on Goodreads, there are the stellar reviews, the shoulder shrugs, and the critique bombs, and this book as far as what I heard hit the second option more than anything.  So what did I think?

Basic Summary

Well, first the trilogy follows Diana Bishop, a witch, who does not wish to be a witch.  Everyone around her is pretty much telling her to just be herself, but instead she consistently bottles up the magic until we hit that tipping point (good old plot line – I actually do like these)  Diana, in this case is a professor/researcher of alchemy, who is going through her every day research, when a mysterious book, Ashmole 782, appears in her stack, and subsequently throws her into the middle of a war/hunt.  This incident is what pushes Mathew into her path, and also on her side.  From there, the story takes on a star crossed lovers plot line with dangerous groups trying to force her to call back the Ashmole book, so that they can discover the secrets behind their own species (Witch, Vampire, Daemon).


That was a pretty rough summary, especially since I am avoiding going into the other books for those who haven’t read any of them yet.  The first things to go over with this Trilogy, are its supernatural components.  Most follow the basic rules that we have seen in Paranormal books, minus the ahem, sparkling vampires. Staying on track, Harkness kept the types of species to a minimum in this trilogy, giving us only Vampires, Witches, and Daemons.  Each of these groups is highly prejudiced, no surprise there really, but in her world there is also a council that seems to maintain the prejudice and ensure that the species don’t mix.  Interestingly there are a couple of moments where she touches on the absence of werewolves, but these moments are Matthew pretty much steam rolling the whole concept, so Harkness apparently is not a fan of werewolves, sorry Jacob.  As per the usual Paranormal, she also makes a note of how the basics humans know of the species is fairly inaccurate, Matthew telling Diana that no he is not allergic to garlic, can in fact be in the sun, and they do not have fangs.  Nothing too new there since this seems to be a requirement in this genre.  I’ve rarely read a Paranormal book that doesn’t try to play the we’re different than the legend card.


Diana, as far as main characters go can come across as kind of bland when you are first introduced to her.  If you take away the magic trying to seep out of her she’s ordinary, a professor trying to work on her current paper, and get through another term.  Once she’s run into Matthew and had the Ashmole show up though it’s like other parts of her become known, and we also get an idea of just how much she’s been trying to hide her true nature.  This issue is at the heart of the trilogy itself, one of her biggest hurdles as a character, being her rejection of her full self.  She grows stronger, accepts certain parts of her, but still there is that undercurrent of her not fully accepting everything.  I enjoyed her in the first book, but I think she was so much better in the second and third novels as she came into her own, and wasn’t presented as this anti-feminine woman.  Some of the comments from Matthew in the first book start bringing up some of those old, ‘she’s so cool because she’s not like other girls’ lines, I really don’t like those anymore.  This one I think was about her lack of packing much for a trip.  Maybe I’m offended since I am over packer (my family hates this), but why?

Matthew, when I imagine him looks like Matthew Goode, but the tv show version goes its own path honestly beyond that.  When we first meet Matthew he has spotted Diana working magic, even if it’s basic, and from there becomes a mildly scary presence when he pops up at first.  Really, he gives stalker vibes for a bit, before the bad things start occurring and he takes on more of a savior role.  Not to mention, his overprotectiveness is less endearing at times, and more cagey.  I still really liked his character, and the way he and Diana seemed to challenge each other both in the intellectual department and magical.  He sees her fear of her magic, and doesn’t push until its necessary for her.  He does improve on the overprotectiveness as the series progresses, so Harkness does introduced it as a flaw for him to overcome, rather than a quirk that Diana has to put up with forever.

Writing Style / Writer Background:

Harkness is a professor herself, so it definitely comes out not only in her writing style, but also in how each of her characters act.  Matthew and Diana are both academics, and base their hunt for the Ashmole, as well as their own theories about their species/relationship on an academic basis.  Matthew bases a lot of his personal theories on genetic research along with Darwin’s theories on evolution.  Diana, though new to really thinking about the paranormal, dives headlong into the alchemic understanding of magic, and how the two are connected, or are the same.  At times, this writing style can get a little dry, but I actually enjoyed the scientific research they went into, and the lengths to which Harkness tied rational thought to that which is well, irrational.  This isn’t exactly a debate on whether ghosts exist or not, but otherworldly creatures that coexist with humans, so the fact that she could give this scientific backing, or explain vampire flaws with genetics grabbed me.

The Trilogy Overall

Out of the trilogy, I think I liked the second book, Shadow of Night, the most.  It was probably the slowest of the three in terms of the action, but it felt like we had two dangerous worlds pressing in on Matthew and Diana in this one.  First you have the world/time they just came from and then they have Elizabethan England, which was definitely not a great time to be a witch, let alone accused of being one.  The third book, Book of Life, was still really good, and brought all of the characters (Modern time) all into action as we head into the end game (yes, that was an Avengers reference).  When I picked up A Discovery of Witches I was excited to read the book, but honestly had no idea what that would lead to.  I’m really glad I got sucked in, and ended up running to B&N for the rest of the trilogy, because there is nothing like a good series binge read.  Is it the kind of book I think everyone will be into?  Not necessarily, it’s definitely well written and developed, but the overprotectiveness from Matthew won’t be accepted by every reader, and the academic basis of the plot/action could be more personal taste than enjoyed by all.  I would recommend this though if you want the paranormal given with one of the most well thought out reasoning, or simply just an expansive world filled with dangerous creatures.


Tv Show:

What happened???  I was really excited when I found out that AMC/BBC were finally showing the tv series, since I’m sure the Sundance Now app probably didn’t pan out for them.  The first episode was this really beautiful cinematography of Oxford, but from there things got real different from the book.  I even made the mistake of thinking that being three quarters of the way through the first book would be fine, but little did I know…

First Matthew was just bordering on creepy, and the chemistry wasn’t really there for me between him and Diana.  Throw in that they switched up events left and right and the tv show was a different creature entirely from the books.  Funny part was that I had just read in the final book that for Diana, she refused to use magic or endanger the library in any way, and yet the show has her blasting everyone in the library pretty early on with magic.  It felt like the show kept the mood of the series, maybe some of the core essence but changed everything it could.  Like I said, I had thought I was fine since I was almost done with the first book, but there were already characters I hadn’t encountered yet in the first episode as the director/screenwriter tried to bring the plot in faster, so much faster than the novel.  This still isn’t as bad as the Shadowhunters tv series, which I personally just couldn’t get through the first season, even if I’ve been told it’s close, I’m giving that a hard ‘no’.  I’m really starting to want a series/film for once that doesn’t change every thing it possibly can, but instead chooses to follow the source material.  I get the concept of poetic license and the need to create something ‘new’ for the audience, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the characters and overall plot, which is what happens when books are made into movies/shows, and why we have the phrase, ‘the book is always better than the movies’, because it is.


What were your thoughts on the books, or tv show?  How does this fit into your paranormal line up?  Let me know in the comments!


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