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Et tu, witches?

A Discovery of WitchesI recently took A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness out of the library; soon after, a paperback version of it (and its sequel, Shadow of Night) magically arrived in our office. (“Coincidence? Or psychic phenomenon?” Anyone remember that TV commercial?) I’d been enjoying this smart story of Diana, a brilliant thirty-something Oxford scholar and historian — who’s also a witch trying to pass as human — and her sexy vampire lover Matthew. But now, about halfway through the book Diana is starting to go all Bella on me, mooning around and even considering giving up her witchhood to become a vampire. (Really?! Witches are so much cooler.)

Has anyone read Harkness’s All Souls books? Without any spoilers, am I going to want to throw this first one across the room?

SoullessI’m by no means a seasoned supernatural lit fan (will leave that designation to our goddess and queen, Katie Bircher), but I do love the Parasol Protectorate books by Gail Carriger. (Full disclosure: the author was my college roommate and is a good friend of mine; these books probably wouldn’t have been on my radar otherwise, so thanks, Gail!) Protagonist Alexia is a preternatural whose touch neutralizes the powers of vampires and werewolves. She’s also a chick who knows who she is and what she wants. She’s best buds with a dapper male vampire who’s also, well, a fairy (not faerie) and she’s married to a feisty Scottish werewolf. Her mixed marriage doesn’t result in any annoying dithering about changing her identity to please her man (wolf) or make life easier for either of them; she’s too busy — side by side with said man (wolf) — saving the world.

Etiquette and EspionageGail’s first Parasol Protectorate book, Soulless, won a 2010 Alex Award, and her new YA series, Finishing School (set in the same universe as Parasol Protectorate but earlier in time), is beginning at the start of next year. The ARC of Etiquette & Espionage just came into the office. I know I love it, but has anyone else read it yet? (If not, I’ll ask again in six months!) Gail’s fans are a rabid group.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She is a current member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.



  1. The yoga session almost had this book parked back on the shelf but I promised my granddaughter that I would read it so it is still on my bedside table. We’re in France now and I have a feeling the witch is going to tick me off. Maybe there will be more time with Hamish as I’ve fallen in love with his character. And so I continue as the granddaughtergrand/mother relationship depends on it 😉

  2. Angela Reynolds says:

    I really enjoyed the Harkness book (the first one), and she is not as bad as Bella (or I would have thrown it, too). The witchy bits get better and the ending makes you want to read the sequel. Keep at it!

  3. Whitney says:

    There are definitely eye rolling moments in the Harkness books, but the historian in me kept going and I’m glad I did. I’m usually pretty critical of these things, but the book read quickly and easily and was never boring.

  4. I wish that I were reading the Gail Carriger arc. Love her writing so much.

    Harness, on the other hand, not so much. I did, in fact, want to throw it across the room. Which is a shame, because I liked the history and the integration of science into the story. Totally moony and Bellaish though. Blah.

  5. Elissa Gershowitz Elissa Gershowitz says:

    Ha ha — the yoga cracked me up, too. (Probably not what the author intended…)
    Diana’s not nearly as bad as Bella, but she *is* a grown-up, for goodness sake.

  6. Angela Reynolds says:

    Ah, the fact that this is NOT a YA novel allowed me to read without my critical spectacles on, and perhaps why I didn’t mind Diana as a character — when I am reading children’s and YA books, I am always thinking about characters, setting, does it work…. and when I actually read a “big people’s book” , I just read for fun. Hmmmm….

  7. Elissa Gershowitz Elissa Gershowitz says:

    Interesting! Is that the way other children’s lit people read too?

  8. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    I think reviewers can’t help bringing a critical lens to any book they read, but it sure is a relief to feel free to ignore it! I can’t bring myself to review audiobooks for the HB much because I jealously guard the time I spend listening to them as Me Time.

  9. I had high hopes for this one, but for a long time, nothing happened. Plenty of tea and wine, gourmet delicacies, and black stretch pants. What happened to that strong and brilliant woman? She turned to mush. Lots of POV hops, too. It bugs me when a narrator comments on her own facial expression or tells what someone else is thinking. This is SUCH a great premise, I really wanted to like it. Hope the sequel is better!

  10. I’m almost finished Discovery~as Ruth said, I had great hopes for Diana and she just went all soppy on me (or Matthew). But I’m not finished so will see if our girl gets back on her feet and smacks a few Clermonts upside the head. The settings are wonderful, though, and so are a few of the secondary characters~that’s what keeps me going.

  11. Yes! Secondary characters are great. Matthew’s prickly henchwoman and his deliciously vampire-esque (except when she’s not) mother; Diana’s lesbian aunt and her wife (just the teensiest bit stereotypical, but not offensively so, I don’t think); even their house itself (*not* located in Salem, MA, I have to keep reminding myself) — very well drawn. If it weren’t for those two sappy lovebirds, we’d really have something interesting! (but no actual story, I guess)

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