Book Club: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Welcome to thebookkat book club! I am very excited to be here; I have a fantastic book club that I have been a part of for over a year now and I am looking forward to continuing the conversation! I started my book club with a hope of spending time with some like-minded people, people who love to read and want to talk about books. We have a wonderful time together and I am looking forward to creating a space here where we can do the same. I look forward to hearing the opinions of others – it is both challenging and exciting when someone’s view opposes your own. It presents an opportunity to expand your knowledge and to view new ways of thinking. Each person will approach this in a different way based on our studies or experiences and our emotional reactions are often personal. My only rule is that we respect the opinions of others; no opinion is wrong just because it is different. So… let’s do what we came here to do!

“It begins with absence and desire. It begins with blood and fear. It begins with a discovery of witches…”

There are many reasons why I love A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. In the lead up to reading it, I saw it everywhere I went but I was reluctant to pick it due to a rather intense dislike for a certain other vampire series. Despite my love of ‘witchy’ tales, I didn’t want to read another helpless love story where a wealthy, strong and charismatic vampire sweeps a vulnerable and needy human female off her feet. One day, I had a customer return to the bookstore I was working in to tell me that she had loved the book I recommended to her (The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – one of my absolute favourites) and that she thought I would really enjoy A Discovery of Witches. So I bought a copy, took it home and sat down to read. It took me a quite a while to get into it – Diana was annoying to start with and I found myself rolling my eyes as the stereotypical vampire appeared on the scene. A whirlwind romance ensued and I felt as though I was reading what I had read before. I kept reading and found myself getting sucked in! There is something slightly addictive about this story but where I expected a stereotypical love story I was given so much more.

Deborah Harkness is an academic historian of science (17th century) by trade and so this novel is rich (and at times a little heavy) in historical and scientific research however I found both of these aspects equally fascinating and absorbing. What I love most about this story is the characters. Harkness’ descriptions are detailed and thorough and I love the way they appear in my mind. Diana and Matthew are rounded and whole but Harkness has not limited this to her main characters. My favourite character of the trilogy appears in book two but in book one, Matthew’s ‘mother’ Ysabeau stands out as being strong and fierce and incredibly loyal when it comes to her family. She is not ruled by her emotion and demands to be respected. Despite some strong patriarchal ideas regarding family and life, the female characters are strong, intelligent and capable. The male characters are equally as enjoyable and they round out a very engaging cast!

A Discovery of Witches is a genuine pleasure to read – it is thoughtful and intricate and even though it was slow going to start with, I counted down the days until I could jump into book two!


Finally, the titles we will be discussing in the next month will be:

August 18th: The Harp in the South by Ruth Park

September 1st: Magician by Raymond E. Feist.

I look forward to reading them both for the first time!


So over to you – what do you think of A Discovery of Witches?

20 thoughts on “Book Club: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

  1. I have to say, I am a bit unsure about this book still.
    It has been on my to read list for over 2 years. I love fantasy reads so the title of the book really appealed. The complexity of the story lost me a little bit and I found myself losing interest towards the middle of the book. There seemed to be a lot of talking (so to speak) and very little happening. I found it a little jumpy too, I am reading a sentence and then she seems to shift tone mid line and I ended up in a completely different spot to where I thought the sentence was heading. This is definitely not a book that you can binge read, there is too much room to miss important dialogue.


    • I know what you mean about missing important dialogue. I read when up during the night with my baby and a few times I have had to go back and re-read a section because I’ve zoned out and missed something!


    • I understand completely! There is so much detail. She has created such an intricate story and there are so many characters; it is the kind of story that needs to be read slowly! I really feel like you will like book two even more!


  2. I still have about a third of the book to go, but have no doubt I will finish it very soon. It’s a gripping, page turning tale. I started it reluctantly. I am not a fan of vampires, witches, and steer clear of these fantasy type genres for the most part. For the first few chapters I was thinking this book was not for me. I didn’t like Diana, I didn’t like the premise of witches being academics at Oxford, I had a closed mind. Then something clicked and suddenly I couldn’t put it down!

    I love the interplay between Mathew and his family. The way Harkness describes the characters and scenes really brings them to life and I could imagine the cool, stone chateau. I think my favourite character so far is Marthe. There is a mystery there I have yet to uncover and I think she is a bigger part of the story than just the faithful maid.

    I am looking forward to seeing how this plays out, but know that it’s going to end on a note that makes me immediately want to start the next one!


    • I am so glad you are enjoying it!

      I agree that she has created a very interesting family dynamic. There are so many rules and traditions within the ‘vampire’ society and it definitely favours the patriarchal ruling. Her conversations is detailed and nuanced. I also like the way Matthew interacts with his friends. There is so much more that goes un-said than is actually spoken. There are so many secrets and lies it is sometimes hard to read between the lines and know exactly what is being said.

      And yes, it will finish and you will want to dive into book two… I actually think book two is the best of the three!


  3. I love Sarah, Diana’s Aunty. She brings a new dimension to the story and is depicted in a really relate-able and human way.
    I also do not like Diana. I find her full of contradictions and lacking in some conviction. She is supposed to be this brave woman, but she seems to be running away from everything, her magic, her family and even her memories. She makes some questionable decisions and at times I feel like reaching into the book and just shaking her lol. I am hoping that her character will strengthen and develop further as the series goes on. I also really struggled with Matthew to begin with..sooooo controlling. I get that this protectiveness is supposed to be a vampire thing, but it is a quality that I really don’t find attractive in men. He seems to loosen up somewhat towards the end and becomes much more relate-able
    I found the story really hard to get into to begin with, but once I persisted through the first half or so things really picked up


  4. I enjoyed the book enough to read the next 2 immediately. However there was something about it that bugged me, trouble is I cant pin down what the problem is. I liked the concept, particularly the idea of the supernatural living amongst us. I also really enjoyed the time travel in book 2. I found the scenes in the US around the modern day witches irritating, I just didnt like those characters, too touchy feely. I much prefer the strength of the vampires, but maybe that says more about me than the book!! Overall I am pleased to have read the series. Looking forward to next month.


    • Book two is my favourite of the three. I feel like we learnt so much more about the characters. So much was left up in the air at the end of book one.

      I like the characters of the vampires but I could easily take out the vampire part and like them even more. I still don’t like vampires but Harkness certainly makes them a lot more likeable.


      • This book is not really about the supernatural elements, but really about the relationship development between Diana and Matthew. Harkness could have easily removed the supernatural element (granted with some re work) and you would still have the core of the story.


        • I agree that this book is definitely about the relationships. I think she uses the supernatural element as a tool for making those relationships play out!


    • I had the same deeling after reading this book. I enjoyed it enough to read the second book, but something really irritated me about it as well. After reading the second book I realised it was because the characters did a lot of what I like to call “faffing” around (because what I would actually like to say is too impolite to post lol). They have two main objectives, 1. To discover what is up with the book, and 2. To help Diana discover her magic, both in book one and two they seem to get distracted very easily from these goals and it drives me insane. We are lead to believe that the situation with the coonvention is life or death, indicating some need for immediate action but it takes them over 500 pages for them to do anything constructive (clearly im impatient, and a ‘get it done now’ kind of person). They spend the majority of the second book, playing house in the 16th century rather than gettimg their act together. *spoiler alert* Actually the chapters kn the second book with Dianas father were my favourite, because he raised every issue that I had with Diana as a character and the plot line thus far.


      • I just finished the first book. I will read the next one, but I was surprised that I didn’t read the final sentence and immediately want to start the next book. That’s how I was with Game of Thrones, I could not take a break and read all 5 books back to back. I enjoyed the storyline, but I wouldn’t say I loved it. I am interested to see how the story plays out.


  5. Hi BookKat,

    I haven’t had the time to read this your first choice but I definitely will be rereading “The Harp in the South”. It is one of my favourite books and the author Ruth Park was married to D’arcy Niland the author of my favourite book of all time “The Shiralee. Could you imagine dinner time around their table. Thank you for such a wonderful choice of a story of a Sydney, indeed an Australia long gone. Ruth wrote the book in 1948. It was her debut novel. She wrote a sequel called “Poor Mans Orange” the following year. She also wrote the children’s novel “Playing Beattie Bow” in 1980 and children’s story book “The Muddleheaded Wombat”. Ruth Park and D’arcy Niland married in 1942 and in the 25 years before he died in 1967 had 5 children She was born on the 24/08/1917 and died on 16/12/2010 aged 93. I had a copy of her obituary tucked away inside my “Harp in the South. I hope I haven’t bored you with that information.


    • I love Playing Beattie Bow, and can’t wait until my daughters are old enough to read it! I had forgotten The Muddleheaded Wombat. I know I have a copy of that somewhere, I will have to dig it out. I haven’t read The Harp in the South, but look forward to it.

      I did not realise Park was married to the author of The Shiralee. That is another good one. I agree, their dinner conversations would have been great!


  6. I read this book simply as it was listed as the first book to review of the bookclub. I had absolutely no expectations, nor any real idea what to expect, but I’m generally a fan of paranormal fantasy, so long as it is somewhat plausible and set in reality, so I gave it a go.

    1. I had no idea this was a trilogy. Honestly, given the size of almost 600 pages, I thought I was reading a standalone novel! When I realised things weren’t finishing up anywhere at the end, I was a bit surprised!

    2. I’m not the biggest fan of Diana. It’s a little hard to pin point why, but I think it is something to do with everyone making a fuss about how strong and powerful she is, yet she spends quite a lot of time acting hard done by – so a little hard to see where people are getting their faith in her from.

    3. Never the biggest fan of stories where it seems like the main characters fall in love knowing virtually anything about each other. Diana seemed to start off thinking vampires were truly evil, yet falls for Matthew without truly getting too much new understanding of them. Yes, they both like yoga…so let’s fall in love!

    4. I did like Matthew’s family, particularly his mother. I think this is a character I’d like to know more about, as well as the servant. They seem to sneak around the edges with little bits of information and stories, and very much add to whatever scene they are written into. I usually enjoy hearing about long acquired wealth and history – such a fantasy to have that much “stuff” accumulated over the years!

    5. The story moves fairly slowly – not much seems to happen…I kept waiting for action but it felt like I’d read heaps and heaps and yet had not gotten anywhere much further.

    6. The MOST frustrating thing about this entire novel, was the attempt on Matthew’s life by Juliette. After spending forever telling us how powerful Matthew is, and how long he’d lived for, Harkness suddenly introduces a seemingly insignificant character in Juliette, who doesn’t appear that strong and threatening – yet manages to strike an almost fatal blow on Matthew???? Why the hell didn’t he fight back? It was extremely difficult for me to accept this scene, and made me a bit skeptical on the whole premise of Matthew. Was it just to have Diana promise to the goddess for some future storyline? Honestly, I just couldn’t do this scene. Seemed utterly silly that Matthew couldn’t fight her.

    Overall, it was relatively interesting, but not something I’d be suggesting for friends to read. Given all the reader comments so far, perhaps Book #2 is something to give a go, but I wonder if it’s going to take me anywhere interesting…


    • Hi Jen,
      Thanks for giving the book a go!
      1. It’s a trilogy! Surprise! ☺
      2. I agree that Diana is not the greatest of main characters; I also find her quite frustrating. The reader can understand her frustration but the growth in her character in the first book is very slow. She learns a lot about herself and magic in book two and I think this helps her character to become more likeable.
      3. You sound like my kind of reader! I just ignored the romance as best I could. It can be endearing in teen books because the feelings of teenagers are as fickle as the wind. It felt very Twilight to me and I really struggled with that. Thankfully I liked the premise behind the story enough to keep going.
      4. Ysabeau is a wonderful character. There is so much more of her in book two and three. She has a complex relationship with everyone around her and yet they all respect her (even if they don’t particularly like her). She is one of the strongest characters of the trilogy. I liked how both Matthew and Ysabeau have so many layers. They are never quite what they seem, particularly with all of the lies and secrets surrounding them both.
      5. The plot is quite slow. Its all about the personal journey…that takes time of course:P
      6. * nods head *
      I really believe that the books get better. Book two is my favourite mainly because of the time travel that occurs. They go back to one of my favourite time periods and the characters are fascinating! Unfortunately, the romance side of things does not improve. It stays fairly mushy and overbearing… so if you think that you are able to move past that, then you might be able to continue reading!


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