Saturday, October 29, 2011

SPL Shelf Life [adult]

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on October 27th. Written by Shauna Thomas, Librarian.

A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness

It's nearly Hallowe'en – with any luck you've got your costume ready, your festivities planned, and even some candy left for the kids. But whither the adult treats? Hey, straighten up and fly right, I'm talking about books here. It's post-Thanksgiving, and scales and thermometers indicate the neighbours' kids aren't the only things getting ghastly. There's no time like the present to curl up with something seriously addictive, beautifully written and slightly creepy to distract from the draining dregs of summer's glory, and I might have just the book.

Diana Bishop is a witch in denial. An orphan born to a prominent witch family, she's ignoring her magical heritage to pour her energy into academia. She's travelled to Oxford's Bodleian Library to research a lecture she's giving on alchemy - but when she orders up one ancient manuscript, she unwittingly unleashes a maelstrom of supernatural power. Soon, she can't walk to her study carrel without tripping over some witch, vampire or demon brimming with curiosity or malicious intent. One such creature is Matthew Clairmont, a handsome fellow academic with a sanguine disposition. As other supernatural creatures become more threatening, Diana finds herself warily grateful for the help he offers. Can she survive the powers she's unleashed to become the witch she's meant to be? Is the real Matthew the kind, chivalrous man she's come to know, or the bloodthirsty hunter of whom she finds hints? The answers to these questions will determine the fate of the uneasy worldwide peace between witches, demons, vampires and humans.

Like Harry Potter, A Discovery of Witches features an orphaned witch with latent legendary powers who encounters a great evil. It shares a great sense of mythology and place, too – you can practically smell the Bodleian when you're reading, and Oxford almost becomes extra character in the book. Diana's aunts' bewitched home in Wisconsin shares the same haunted architectural quirks readers loved in Hogwarts. And, like Twilight, an apparently-doomed romance with plenty of sexual tension and a sense of destiny takes centre stage in the action (but be forewarned: readers frustrated by the unresolved tension or the gender politics in Twilight will find themselves pretty annoyed with this book, too). This first book in the All Souls trilogy will also appeal to readers who enjoy the time travel elements and exhaustive research of authors like Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series) and Susanna Kearsley (The Winter Sea, Marianna). Other potential appeal factors include emphases on yoga, literature, and serious wine and book collecting. A great story to pick up for Hallowe'en, you'd best read the book now while the hold list is short, because the movie rights have already been purchased by Warner Bros. Oh, and good news for your future addiction issues: The second book, Shadow of Night, is anticipated for a summer 2012 release.

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on October 27th. Written by Shauna Thomas, Librarian.

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