By Deborah Harkness
Diana Bishop, the smart, beautiful, cosmetics-shunning witch at the center of Deborah Harkness’ debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, is one more feisty female heroine in the long tradition of ladies who populate fantasy novels. She loves to exercise and is therefore in great shape. She doesn’t like lipstick, but her lips are naturally flushed, so why would she need it? She is oblivious to her own amazingness, another hallmark of fantasy heroines. And, of course, the men around her are not immune to her many wonders, including (but not limited to) sexy vampire Matthew Clairmont. Both Diana and Matthew are seasoned academics, he a scientist, she a historian with interests in alchemy. They meet when Diana accidentally opens an enchanted book called the Ashmole 782, a legendary text purported to explain the history of all supernatural creatures, including the big three that inhabit Diana’s England: Witches, Vampires and Demons. All three come out of the woodwork, looking for Diana to open the book again, and Harkness doesn’t bring much new to their classic traits: the witches are kind of… witchy and uptight; the vampires are all brooding, intense and cold-blooded (literally and metaphorically); and the demons are sort of crazy, but not in a terrible way—more like those kooky people who seem very smart but have problems staying on topic. Diana resists re-opening the book, having shunned her witch upbringing in favor of the more human route. The otherworldly creatures don’t care much and start chasing her. Matthew tries to protect her, and conveniently (considering they have to spend a lot of time together) they fall in love. The book picks up a bit toward the end, but Diana is painfully boring, self-conscious and incapable of taking care of herself which makes it a little hard to root for them. I found myself hoping the demons would chat her to death.