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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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Fangtastic Friday: Waiting (for True Blood S4 still) Sucks…

*** Season 4 spoilers in the video & post below.  Do not click the Play arrow OR read on unless you want a sneak peek of what’s happening in S4! ***


OooooOOOooo, sexy-Eric and brooding-Bill shots.  Yum!  *grin*  Dead Reckoning is out this week, and it’s all about the Sookieverse!

With the talk of the “new coven in town”, I’m speculating just how much of S4 will coincide with the book and how much will be off on a tangent (hello, Marianne!)… and I’m really rooting for less down-the-rabbit-hole than more, after the out of control maenad plotline.  

This video segment must be from early in the season, maybe the first episode, since Eric still has some idea of who he is (enough to threaten Bill, anyway).  As far as I’m concerned, the more of the confused/tender/open Eric we get to see, the better!  I mourn the fact that Alexander Skarsgård has such short hair – how will Sookie braid it?!  /sniffle

Stay tuned for more Waiting Sucks preview snippets as we count down the days til the TB:S4 premiere!

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True Blood S4: An Invitation to the Set

This week, Alan Ball and the cast of True Blood Season 4 take us on set for an inside peek.  Check out the video below, but beware spoilers!  This video will include small bits of info about this season’s story, so if you don’t want to know, don’t click!  =)

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True Blood: Waiting Sucks – the writing’s on the wall…

*** Spoiler in the video below.  Do not click the Play arrow unless you want to get a sneak peek of what’s doing with Arlene and the mystery baby! ***


Creeeeee-py!  Is anyone else a little wigged out about this storyline?  Looks like, true to form, season 4 of True Blood will only follow the main story arc of the corresponding novel (Dead to the World), giving HBO plenty of room to add in more sex, humor, gore, drama, and just general weirdness.

Stay tuned for more Waiting Sucks preview snippets as we count down the days til the TB:S4 premiere!


Review: Dead Witch Walking (Rachel Morgan/The Hollows series novel #1), by Kim Harrison

TLDR recap:

Rachel Morgan is a dead witch walking, seeing as how her old boss has put a price on her head to cover the losses he took when she ended her contract early.  Witches, warlocks, fairies, and demons all make a go at her as she tries to prove the guilt of Councilman Trent Kalamack, a well-respected businessman and suspected drug lord.  Luckily for Rachel, she has a few faithful sidekicks- a “living” vampire, a spirited pixy, and a nebulously artless human- to keep her out of trouble.

  • Title: Dead Witch Walking
  • Series: Rachel Morgan – book #1
  • Author: Kim Harrison
  • Prominent Characters: Rachel, Ivy, Jenks, Nick
  • Recommended reader age: 14+
  • Sexual content level: Virtually none to very low

Premise:

After half the world’s human population is killed by an accidental rogue bio-virus, magic users (called Inderlanders) make their secret existence known to human society and jump in to fill the void.  Speeding ahead 50 years, with human vs. Inderlander segregation still prevalent, we meet our plucky heroine and her pixy and vampire sidekicks.  Rachel has a price on her head and spends most of her time avoiding assassination attempts while trying to gather enough evidence on a suspected black-market drug lord to buy off her contract.

Thoughts:

This book had the unfortunate disadvantage of having to follow Lover Mine (Black Dagger Brotherhood book #8) in my reading list, which is only the second novel to date that I have given a full 5-Fang rating to.  Needless to say it was a hell of a book and a very hard act to follow, so even though I tried to remain unbiased, there’s a possibility this book got the same treatment as Nancy Kerrigan when Oksana Baiul skated a near perfect and crowd-pleasing routine before the U. S. Skater’s set in the ’94 Olympics.  For those of you who just went “huh?!” and scratched your head, basically it’s really hard to follow a gold-medal performance… or book… and be judged impartially.

That said, this book did start out strong, and I had visions of a new potential Cat & Bones (Night Huntress series) to obsess myself with.  The first chapter immediately immerses the reader in The Hollows, the magical (primarily non-human) side of the tracks, and Rachel shows she has a campy sense of humor.  However, the initial momentum didn’t last through even the first chapter, when the story starts to become bogged down in a few too many unfamiliar terms and references.  Now normally, I’d say that practice (of tossing the reader in head-first and using references and implications to describe the story’s culture) is an effective and enjoyable tool for an author to use, but in this book it just fell flat and left me somewhat confused (and with a meandering attention span).  It does get a little better, but not fast enough for me to really latch on to either the characters or the “universe”.

The “universe” concept for this book/series is an interesting (and fairly original) concept.  Something like half of the world’s human population was wiped out nearly overnight by a mutated bio-virus that managed to hide itself inside a bio-engineered tomato.  This leads to some of the more campy humor of the book, with humans (including Nick) having a serious aversion to tomatoes and using tomato-inspired references as swear words.

The characters:

The Vampire: Ivy is a “living vamp”, who can walk in daylight and choose not to consume human blood, while still retaining some of the speed and strength of the soulless “dead vamps” who must consume human blood to continue existing.  Ivy is a frustrating quandary.  I think the author’s intent was to make her mysterious and brooding with implied secrets about her abilities.  To me, however, she just comes across as moody and annoying.

The Human: Nick is a seemingly harmless human with a murky background, lax morals, a sweet disposition, and no as-yet-known special abilities.  He has an uncanny knack for making things happen and finding solutions quickly and efficiently, and it seems as though he is being set up as Rachel’s love interest, although nothing really seems to come of that.  While it is somewhat alluring to be teased with hints about Nick’s potential for some kind of hidden power, there is just not enough substance to him to make me care what happens next.  His chemistry with Rachel is hazy at best, making it difficult to root for them as a couple.

The Pixy:  Jenks is a witty, fierce, clever, & efficient little winged warrior, who doubles as Rachel’s spy and bodyguard.  This little fireball of a pixy is by far my favorite character in the book, which is a little disturbing considering he’s not the main character and the story is not told in his voice.  The book isn’t called “Dead Pixy Flitting”, although that might have actually been a more amusing story to tell.  His humor, competence, situational awareness, fighting prowess, and larger-than-Tink personality really make him shine.  Without Jenks, I probably wouldn’t have rated this book as high as I did (which isn’t saying much).

The Witch: Rachel Morgan is the main character and narrator for the story.  She’s a witch, but she almost exclusively uses charms to cast her magic, which seems a pretty cumbersome way of going about things since they have to be pre-enchanted then carried around and physically activated with a time delay.  While I think Rachel has some potential to grow into a strong and likable heroine, in this book she tends to hover somewhere between being a careless liability and a spunky rogue with a one-track brain.

Memorable quotes:

About Inderlanders & the Hollows…

The Hollows have become a bastion of Inderland life, comfortable and casual on the surface, with its potential problems carefully hidden.  Most humans are surprised at how normal the Hollows appear, which, when you stop to think about it, makes sense.  Our history is that of humanity’s.  We didn’t just drop out of the sky in ’66; we emigrated in through Ellis Island.  We fought in the Civil War, World War One, and World War Two – some of us in all three.  We suffered in the Depression, and we waited like everyone else to find out who shot JR.

On pint-sized sidekicks…

I’d found Jenks to be a pretentious snot with a bad attitude and a temper to match.  But he knew what side of the garden his nectar came from.  And apparently pixies were the best they’d let me take out since the frog incident.  I would have sworn fairies were too big to fit into a frog’s mouth.

See, chocolate IS medicinal!

It was nerves that made me stop at the sweet shop.  Everyone knows chocolate soothes the jitters; I think they did a study on it.  And for five glorious minutes, Jenks stopped talking while he ate the caramel I bought him.

If you like…

If you like Dead Witch Walking and other books in the Rachel Morgan series, you may like the Cassie Palmer series by Karen Chance.  It has a similar competent-yet-disaster-prone female lead and is told from the same first-person viewpoint.  They also both feature vampires, wizards, fairies, demons, and humans.  In my opinion, the Cassie Palmer series has more momentum & wit, and a clever, more complex plot.  I also enjoy the interactions between the main and secondary characters much more, and the pace of the story is much, much faster.   You may also like the Night Huntress (Cat & Bones) series by Jeaniene Frost, which is told with the same first-person-spunky-heroine style, but focuses almost exclusively on vampires and ghouls.

Final thoughts:

I really wanted to like this book a lot.  I need a new series to keep me occupied between the Night Huntress, Black Dagger Brotherhood, Anita Blake/Meredeth Gentry, Cassie Palmer, Guild Hunter, and Sookie Stackhouse novel releases.  That might sound like a lot of series to keep track of, but when they average 1-2 book releases a year per series (some even less) and I read 1-2 books a week, that leaves me with a lot of free reading time and there’s only so many times I can re-read these series before I have them committed to memory!  *grin*

I was hoping Dead Witch Walking would draw me in enough to want to read the second one, but I just wasn’t invested enough in it at the end of the story.  The ending sequence of events is so predictable it’s almost depressing to read it play out when you know what’s coming.  I know a lot of people like this series and this book.  Maybe it gets better as it goes along.  Maybe I’ll come back to it later.  Obviously everyone has different tastes, so if you disagree with many of my review ratings, then you will probably enjoy this book!

Rating:
3.75 fangs: BITE IT, but beware splinters…

Related links:

http://www.kimharrison.net/

http://www.karenchance.com/books.html

http://jeanienefrost.com/books/

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