A Discovery of Witches
A Novel (All Souls Series #1)
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Deborah Harkness’s sparkling debut, A Discovery of Witches, has brought her into the spotlight and galvanized fans around the world. In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and a descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, deep in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont.
Harkness has created a universe to rival those of Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova, and she adds a scholar's depth to this riveting tale of magic and suspense. The story continues in book two, Shadow of Night, and concludes with The Book of Life.
Praise For A Discovery of Witches: A Novel (All Souls Series #1)…
“Romantic, erudite, and suspenseful . . . Harkness attends to every scholarly and emotional detail with whimsy, sensuality, and humor.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“A thoroughly grown-up novel packed with gorgeous historical detail and a gutsy, brainy heroine to match. . . . Harkness writes with thrilling gusto about the magical world.”
“Harkness conjures up a scintillating paranormal story. . . . Discover why everyone’s talking about this magical book.”
“Delightfully well-crafted and enchantingly imaginative . . . It has some of the same ineluctable atmosphere that made Anne Rice’s vampire books such a popular success.”
“A debut novel with a big supernatural canvas . . . Its ambitions are world-sized, ranging across history and zeroing in on DNA, human and otherwordly. Age-old tensions between science and magic and between evolution and alchemy erupt as Diana seeks to unlock the secrets of Ashmole 782.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Harkness, an eloquent writer, conjures this world of witches with Ivy League degrees and supernatural creatures completely—and believably—while maintaining a sense of wonder. . . . A Discovery of Witches is that rare historical novel that manages to be as intelligent as it is romantic. And it is supernatural fiction that those of us who usually prefer to stay grounded in reality can get caught up in. Pardon the pun, but Witches is truly spellbinding.”
—San Antonio News-Express
“Readers who thrilled to Elizabeth Kostova’s 2005 blockbuster, The Historian, will note the parallels, but A Discovery of Witches is a modern Romeo and Juliet story, with older, wiser lovers. Blood will flow when a witch and a vampire fall for each other. Author Deborah Harkness, a UCLA history professor, brings vast knowledge and research to the page.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Harkness works her own form of literary alchemy by deftly blending fantasy, romance, history, and horror into one completely bewitching book.”
“A Discovery of Witches becomes increasingly charming as it goes along. . . . A shrewdly written romp and a satisfying snow-day read for those of us who heartily enjoyed the likes of Anne Rice and Marion Zimmer Bradley. By the book’s rousing end . . . I was impatient for the sequel.”
Penguin Books, 9780143119685, 592pp.
Publication Date: December 27, 2011
About the Author
Visit www.deborahharkness.com and follow “Deborah Harkness” on Facebook and @DebHarkness on Twitter.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
Diana’s mother says that fear is “the strongest force on earth” (p.5). What does she mean? Do you agree?
Early in the novel, Harkness describes the typical personalities and physical traits of daemons, witches, and vampires. If you could be any one of these beings, which would you choose and why?
Who is the Congregation? Is it a force for good or a force for evil?
What happened to Diana’s parents? What were they trying to hide?
Diana studies alchemy, which she defines as a type of “science with magic” (p. 73) used to explore and understand unexplained phenomena. Do you use astrology, fortune-telling, or ESP to provide a deeper understanding of events in your own life?
Why is Diana and Matthew’s love forbidden? Have you ever loved someone whom your family or friends thought was inappropriate? How did their reaction influence your feelings?
Most of the book is told from Diana’s perspective, yet a few chapters are written in the third person. Why? What feature or purpose unites those chapters?
Diana and Matthew travel back to the sixteenth century. If you had the power to time walk, as she does, what period in history would you visit?
In chapter 31, Diana remembers the bedtime story her mother told her as a child. In what ways does that story foreshadow the events of Diana’s life?
Harkness presents the use of witchcraft not only as an otherworldly ability but also as a part of everyday life; for example, Diana uses a spell to fix her washing machine. Which example of the novel’s blending of the magical with the mundane did you find most entertaining or creative? If you could use magic in your daily life, what would you use it for?
Look at the last page of the book. What is the significance of the blood and mercury? What is the reason behind the sense of relief felt in the house? What does the last sentence of the book mean?