Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #9: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
This was pure sexism, masquerading as a romance novel, hiding in a vampire book. A friend loaned it to me, thinking “Hey! She likes vampires!” So I went into it thinking it was a vampire book, and instead got an insulting, condescending romance novel with a huge helping of Mary Sue thrown in.
Diana Bishop (named after the goddess Diana, which is only mentioned 8,472 times) is a super-duper powerful witch from a long line of powerful witches. Except! She doesn’t want her career as a historian to be based on her magic, she wants to earn everything herself. So she buries her magic, turning her back on her witchhood, until she accidentally finds a secret hidden manuscript and suddenly everyone’s out to get her.
“Everyone” is the three different non-human species of creatures: witches, vampires, and daemons. (It’s never explained what exactly daemons are, or why they and witches aren’t human.) The Mary Sue-isms are rampant: Diana is an athlete, a genius (second-youngest person ever to get all these academic honors; works at Oxford), a super-duper (if squelched) witch, and can’t stop talking about her unruly but fetching hair. The clichés are also widespread: all daemons are scatter-brained geniuses, all vampires are gorgeous, all witches are loyal and true. If I read about someone’s ‘shock of dark hair’ or ‘wolfish grin’ or ‘cheekbones that could cut glass’ one more time, I thought I would throw things. What happens if a vampire bites a homely person and makes him/her a vamp? Does that person automatically get issued a shock of dark hair and glass-cutting cheekbones?
Anyway, Diana meets Matthew, a vampire also interested in the manuscript, but he’s Different. She’s not afraid of him, even though it’s built into witch DNA to fear vampires. And he wants to protect her, even though all vampires hate all witches. Matthew and Diana form an instant connection, and he spends the rest of the book protecting and coddling Diana while she learns more about her ‘most powerful in untold generations’ witch powers. He feeds her. He guards her. He walks her to and from lunch. He carries her occasionally. He introduces her to a yoga class where witches, daemons, and vampires all exercise together in peace (seriously). He treats her like a pet, or a small child, all the while resisting falling in love with her. At one point she gets annoyed at all the coddling and asks, “Why don’t you let me do it myself?” He gets annoyed right back and says, “Why do you feel like you need to?” During an argument, she tries to leave and he HOLDS HER DOWN and says he won’t let go until she comes to her senses. And during all this, she’s falling in love with him right back, ‘cause doesn’t that all sound so charming? All of his friends and family keep telling Diana she has to start listening to Matthew when he issues his orders, since he’s the alpha male of the vampire family, and that’s just how it’s done. Right.
That’s basically it. Running, hiding, plotting, magic montage, loving, no-we-mustn’ting, fighting the creatures who wish them harm, lather, rinse, repeat. First the book made me angry, with Diana being a wimp and Matthew being a Neanderthal. If I met a guy who scared me with his ‘lightning-quick mood changes’ and temper, I don’t think I’d be marking him down as a potential date, no matter how good his cheekbones were. Then it just made me tired, because I know I’m not the target audience here, and there are many many women who love this kind of thing. So if you like your men to be Cro-Magnon manly, and your heroines to be damsels in distress, this may be the book for you. I’m going to go re-read Fevre Dream instead (not a shining example of strong female characters, but proper vampires, at least!).