Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness


Did Not Finish

The book's description from the author's website:

When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer.
For witches are not the only otherworldly creatures living alongside humans. There are also creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires who become interested in the witch’s discovery. They believe that the manuscript contains important clues about the past and the future, and want to know how Diana Bishop has been able to get her hands on the elusive volume.
Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans—and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.
I think I'm pretty much done with romances. Every single one I've read in the past couple of years seemed to be dumber than the one before. A Discovery of Witches takes the prize in the latest string of romance novels written exclusively for stupid people. Don't let the categorization as fantasy fool you. I thought I was going to read a fantasy book about a smart, independent woman who also happened to be a witch and who would, to be slightly brash, kick some ass. When you think that not only did she have ordinary humans and fellow witches to contend with, but also demons and vampires, then it's easy to get your hopes up, settling in to what promised to be a smart escapist adventure of a read. It's not smart, the only time 'escape' would enter my mind was when I wanted to run from the story, and sitting home with my three kids is more of an adventure than spending time with the stuck-up, boring witch Diana Bishop.

I am not a reader who discounts a novel because the main character is unlikable. Not always. There are unlikable characters that were assigned such a role by an author (whether as a straight-up anti-hero or as a way to display that world is not made up of people we only want to fall in love with but that there needs to be a balance, if only to have some fun) and I have found myself absolutely loathing a character but also loving a story. And then there are characters that we're supposed root for, like, adore, what have you but an author fails to deliver in the characterization department and unknowingly (due to the lack of writing skills) manages to base a whole novel on a person that will make me at best roll my eyes in exasperation and put the said book away in disgust at worst. Deborah Harkness' character, Diana Bishop fell somewhere in between exasperation and disgust. She was such a perfect specimen that I began to wonder if she might have been an alien creature. She had the best powers any witch could have, she was a genius with all kinds of doctoral degrees, her bookcases no doubt brimming with awards for her scholarly work (of course, she was also a very young genius, not even forty yet), she was beautiful, made a vampire famous for his disregard for women fall madly in love with her, and of course she would eat like a horse without gaining a pound. All this blinding package came complete with Diana's obliviousness to all those wonderful attributes she possessed. Did the author read a manual for romance writers on how to write a run-of-the-mill romance, checked each staple requirement as she kept writing about Diana the Prodigy and that completed her education on writing? That's certainly how I imagined the process. And that's what made me decide to not waste my time on this book any further, along with minor (in comparison to the main character) other ridiculous cliches such as stunningly beautiful yet attractively dangerous vampire or a no-nonsense aunt with a hot temper as befits...you guessed it, a redhead.

One question remains: Why the hell are so many readers loving this book?! I'm not going to offend individual readers, but that A Discovery of Witches has such a following and such high ratings is yet another sign of our society's declining intelligence.

FTC: I wasted my hard-earned money on this book.