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Review: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls trilogy novel #1), by Deborah Harkness

TLDR recap:

Diana Bishop doesn’t want to be a witch and she tries very hard to avoid using her magic, but after she accidentally breaks a powerful protection spell and uncovers an ancient manuscript, her life will never be the same.  This is a smart, classy, heart-warming tale of witches, daemons, and vampires, and the ties that bind them.

    • Title: A Discovery of Witches
    • Series: The All Souls Trilogy – book #1
    • Author: Deborah Harkness
    • Prominent Characters: Diana Bishop, Matthew Clairmont
    • Recommended reader age: 15+
    • Sexual content level: Very light, nearly none

Thoughts:

Starting out, I expected not to like this book.  I’m not sure why – I just had a “bleh” feeling about reading it.  Maybe it was the length.  Maybe it was my fondness for smutty novels (which this absolutely is NOT).  Maybe because it was assigned to me as part of a book club (and I generally dislike authority *grin*).  Whatever the reason, I am SO GLAD I stuck this out and committed myself to reading it!  I was told this before I started, and I’m verifying it now by passing it on: unless you are the scholarly type who enjoys hanging out in libraries, the first quarter of the book is slow.  Very methodical.  Very Diana Bishop, actually, who is the first-person voice for the story.  I skimmed much of the pre-Matthew chapters, which I wouldn’t actually recommend because I missed out on some critical information and had to go back and re-read.  That said, once I realized there was a relationship blooming between Diana and Matthew (I went into this with as little information as possible), it was  much easier reading.  What can I say?  I’m a sucker for romances!  =)

‘A Discovery of Witches’ (ADoW) is The Da Vinci Code meets The Fellowship of the Ring (complete with three subnovels, albeit unlabelled as such), The Pillars of the Earth meets Angels and Demons.  If the Twilight Saga (TTS) weren’t obviously written and released first, I’d think *it* was a teenage adaptation of *this* book, minus the witches and daemons.  I know, *GASP!!*, but hear me out and think about it.  There are many similarities between ADoW and TTS: the forbidden relationship between a vampire and his human love & the war that ensues, the families closing ranks to protect them and wage that war, the evil council determined to pry them apart (for political gain & maneuvering) by any means possible, the slow pace of the sexuality in the relationship and the prospect of a child who is like neither and both parents, the frail heroine who grows into her own strength and power so she can protect her mate and family.

ADoW has a fairly deep cast of characters, in both the sheer number of them and the level of development given to some of the secondaries.  Many romance-centric novels focus on the hero and heroine to the detriment of most of the other players.  Ms. Harkness skillfully weaves in enough personality and details about many of the secondary characters to help the reader accept them as an integral part of the story.  As the book goes on, it becomes more of an ensemble cast (including the house itself!), providing a nice warm fuzzy family base for the primary couple.

Aside from the strange mix of first-person and omniscient narration (which is ideal for the characters’ individual personalities), the scientific talk of DNA and such was just understandable enough to be interesting without being offputting.  There were some thought-provoking passages during the DNA discussions and explanations, alluding to things like how our lifestyles and choices throughout our evolution directly affect our DNA mutations as a species across time.  That’s some high-brow stuff and should be discouraging to many people who aren’t schooled in that science, but I found Ms. Harkness expressed these ideas clearly & simply enough so that I could both follow along and still make my own leaps of thought.

Memorable quotes:

I love the allegory in this… on so many levels!

“There’s more to the game than protecting your queen,” Hamish said.  “Why do you find it so difficult to remember that it’s the king who’s not expendable?”

“The king just sits there, moving one square at a time.  The queen can move so freely.  I supposed I’d rather lose the game than forfeit her freedom.”

Aww, humans are special too!

“<Vampires> have strength and long life, you have supernatural abilities, daemons have awe-inspiring creativity.  Humans can convince themselves up is down and black is white.  It’s their special gift.”

Imagination, the spark of life…

Remember, Diana: ‘The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.  It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and science.  Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.”


If you like A Discovery of Witches…

Ok, this is a tough one.  Most of the books I review really aren’t anything like this one.  It would be easy to fall back on my standard “Read Cassie Palmer!” (because she time travels and people are trying to kill her too), or mention one of my other traditional favorites (Cat & Bones, Black Dagger Brotherhood), but honestly, ADoW is not nearly as similar to those series as it is to others that are outside the genres of paranormal romance and urban fantasy.  I mentioned a few above, and since I thought of them while reading, I’m going to recommend those instead.  Now I know some purists may be offended at my comparing this book to any work of Tolkien.  Yes, I know, Tolkien is something special and rare and making offhand references to Fellowship is sacrilege… yeah yeah, whatever!  The truth (as I see it) is, if you liked Tolkien’s ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, then you will appreciate the level of detail and thought that went into building the universe and storyline of this novel, and that is a pretty high compliment to Ms. Harkness.  Personally, I prefer the narrative style of ADoW to the  excruciatingly-specific-and-flowery Fellowship passages since it makes it easier to read.  Yep, I’m a blasphemer!  *grin*

ADoW also reminded me a little bit of the Dan Brown novels ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Angels and Demons’.  Again, that’s probably a controversial comparison, but think about the depth of the mystery here and how rooted it is in existing history, science, art, and lore.  Ms. Harkness is a decorated scholar and historian, and that really shines through in this novel.

Finally, I referenced The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  This is another work of fiction (which does NOT focus on a primary couple romantically) that is rich in history and intrigue.  It is set in the middle ages, during the age of the great cathedral builders, and is a stimulating journey through the life struggles, politics, and construction of the majestic structures of the period.

Final thoughts:

‘A Discovery of Witches’ is cleverly compelling and affectionately engrossing.  It is a rediscovery of the senses and the intellect, a celebration of indulgence through science.  This is the kind of story that can inspire a new generation of aspiring scholars or speculative conspiracy theorists.  It tugs at the heart strings with a cast of characters and plotline that is rich in such diversity of race, nationality, sexuality, and culture that it’s nearly impossible not to enjoy.

I would like to give this novel 4.75 or 5 fangs, but the first quarter put me to sleep a few times until I finally got into it.  In light of that, I’ll give it a solid 4.5 fangs and two enthusiastic thumbs up.  With all the curveballs Ms. Harkness sent our way and with all the new possibilities that opened up in the final chapters, I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Rating:
4.5 fangs: BITE IT!

Related links:

http://deborahharkness.com/

http://www.tolkien-online.com/

http://danbrown.com/

http://ken-follett.com/

http://www.karenchance.com/ (Cassie Palmer)

http://jeanienefrost.com/ (Cat & Bones)

http://www.jrward.com/bdb/ (Black Dagger Brotherhood)

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Review: Midnight Awakening (Midnight Breed novel #3), by Lara Adrian

TLDR recap:

On a mission to track down a dangerous continuing threat to the Breed, Tegan must face his centuries-old demons and open his heart if he’s to complete the hunt.  Elise, widowed and having recently lost her only son to the killer vampire drug Crimson, is slowly dying to the side-effects of her Breedmate talent.  With her connections in the Agency’s politics, Elise can open doors for Tegan and the order, but she’ll have to surrender some of herself to survive long enough to avenge her son’s death.

    • Title: Midnight Awakening
    • Series: The Midnight Breed – book #3
    • Author: Lara Adrian
    • Prominent Characters: Tegan & Elise, Andreas Reichen
    • Recommended reader age: 17+
    • Sexual content level: Moderate

Premise:

In pursuit of Lucan’s warmongering Gen One brother, Tegan, the coldest of the Order’s warriors, teams up with Elise, the widow of a high-ranking Agency director, who is on a quest for vengeance after her only son goes Rogue and must be killed.  Tegan & Elise are a fairly unlikely couple at first glance, but their chemistry is strong and their gifts complement one another well.

Thoughts:

This third installment is my favorite to date, having read through the first 6 novels in the series now.  Tegan is ice cold and calculating, and I’ve never really liked him until this novel.  We get to see his background and understand what happened that’s made him the way he is.  Elise is a character that I initially (before this story) did not like.  I prefer strong female leads and her whiny, clingy society-wife persona grated on my nerves in the second book (Dante’s book, Kiss of Crimson).  However, luckily for us (and unluckily for Elise), losing her husband and her son changed her outlook on life, and she grew a nice strong spine in the months between the 2nd and 3rd novels in the Midnight Breed series.

Tegan and Elise’s chemistry is surprisingly steamy, and I like Tegan best of all the romantic male leads in this series.  Somehow he’s just more raw, yet complicated… but not so complicated that he can’t be affected by Elise.  Watching her break down his hard outer shell is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this book.  I also like his domineering romantic style and the fact that he’s so verbal during their steamy scenes together.  Ms. Adrian did a great job making him appear both vulnerable and tender, while still keeping up his cocky, hard-ass warrior facade.  Elise also, is a good character – strong and determined, but also smart and physically capable.  She’s not a warrior,  but she’s no wilting wallflower either.

The other aspect of this story that I really enjoyed was the puzzle.  This story arc has a definite Dan Brown vibe to it, reminiscent of Angels & Demons or The Da Vinci Code.

Memorable quotes:

Move over Arnold…

As the three of them watched in awe, the front door of the place banged open, tearing clean off its hinges.  Not by the force of the blast, but by the will of a single individual.

Rolling orange fire silhouetted him from behind, backlighting the warrior’s broad shoulders and casual, long-legged stride.  As he strolled away from the inferno, the ends of his loose black coat winged out behind him like a cape befitting the prince of darkness himself.

Help me Obi Wan Kenobi…

“I can learn.  I want to learn.  Please, Tegan.  I need to learn.”

“And you think I’m the one to help you?”

“I think you’re my only hope.”

If you like…

If you like Midnight Awakening, you will very likely enjoy the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J. R. Ward.  The similarities are many, but there are enough differences to keep the stories from feeling like carbon copies.  I tend to recommend the same series over and over, so I’m not going to say “read Cat & Bones” (although you should) or “Cassie Palmer is great” (even though it is), so I’ll just sneak in some links at the bottom for you if you want to check out any additional reviewer-recommended series.  *grin*

I know these aren’t Paranormal Romance, but you might also enjoy Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons.

Final thoughts:

This story is intensely everything: heart-breaking, action-filled, mysterious, steamy and romantic.  It’s also the novel I’d recommend reading to if you’re trying out the series and deciding whether to keep on going.  IMO, Tegan & Elise’s story is the strongest one of the first 6 books, with Nicolai’s (surprisingly) coming in a close second.  If you liked Midnight Awakening, you’ll probably enjoy the rest of the series.  If you’re still not that into it after finishing this book, skip the rest and try the Black Dagger Brotherhood or take a chance on something completely new, because it doesn’t get a whole lot better than this one (I mean that in a nice tingly good way)!

Rating:
4.5 fangs: BITE IT!

Related links:

http://www.laraadrian.com/

http://www.jrward.com/bdb/index.htm

http://jeanienefrost.com/

http://www.karenchance.com/

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