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A Discovery of Witches: A Novel
by Deborah Harkness

Published: 2011-02-08
Kindle Edition : 592 pages
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"A wonderfully imaginative grown-up fantasy with all the magic of Harry Potter and Twilight." -People In a sparkling debut, A Discovery of Witches became the "it" book of early 2011, bringing Deborah Harkness into the spotlight and galvanizing fans around the world. In this tale of passi...
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Introduction

"A wonderfully imaginative grown-up fantasy with all the magic of Harry Potter and Twilight."
-People


In a sparkling debut, A Discovery of Witches became the "it" book of early 2011, bringing Deborah Harkness into the spotlight and galvanizing fans around the world. In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and the descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript deep in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. Harkness has created a universe to rival those of Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova, and she adds a scholar's depth to this riveting story of magic and suspense. And the story continues in Book Two, Shadow of Night.


Editorial Review

Amazon Best of the Month, February 2011: It all begins with a lost manuscript, a reluctant witch, and 1,500-year-old vampire. Dr. Diana Bishop has a really good reason for refusing to do magic: she is a direct descendant of the first woman executed in the Salem Witch Trials, and her parents cautioned her be discreet about her talents before they were murdered, presumably for having "too much power." So it is purely by accident that Diana unlocks an enchanted long-lost manuscript (a book that all manner of supernatural creatures believe to hold the story of all origins and the secret of immortality) at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and finds herself in a race to prevent an interspecies war. A sparkling debut written by a historian and self-proclaimed oenophile, A Discovery of Witches is heady mix of history and magic, mythology and love (cue the aforementioned vampire!), making for a luxurious, intoxicating, one-sitting read. --Daphne Durham

Ten More Books for Readers of A Discovery of Witches

Interested in learning more about magic and science?

I may have written a novel, but Iâ??m still a history professor! Here are some reading suggestions for those of you whose curiosity has been stirred up by the story of Diana Bishop, Matthew Clairmont, and the hunt for the missing alchemical manuscript Ashmole 782. All of the titles here are non-fiction, and inspired some aspect of A Discovery of Witches.

Elias Ashmole, Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum: Donâ??t be put off by the Latin title. This is a collection of English alchemical texts that were gathered by Elias Ashmole. The missing alchemical manuscript that Diana finds in the Bodleian library is not among them, alas, but if you are interested in the subject this is a fascinating glimpse into the mysterious texts that she studies as a historian.

Janet Browne, Darwinâ??s Origin of Species: Books That Changed the World: Browne is not only a great scholar, but a superb writer. A highly-regarded biographer of Darwin, here she turns her talents to writing a â??biographyâ?? of his most famous bookâ??and one of Matthew Clairmontâ??s favorites, as well.

Owen Davies, Grimoires: A History of Magic Books. If you are interested in the history of magic and witchcraft, Daviesâ?? description of the development of magical spellbooks will provide insights into how ideas about magic, science, and nature developed over the centuries.

Carol Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. Diana Bishop is descended from a long line of witches. You will find out more about some of those witchesâ??the Bishops and the Proctorsâ??while reading this classic interpretation of what happened in Salem in 1692.

Robert Kehew, Ezra Pound, and W. D. Snodgrass, Lark in the Morning: The Verses of the Troubadours. Matthew is a very old vampire, who has slightly old-fashioned views on love and romance. You might be surprised at the love poetry of his early life, and come away with a whole new appreciation for â??old-fashioned.â??

Bruce Moranâ??s Distilling Knowledge: Alchemy, Chemistry, and the Scientific Revolution. This marvelous book is not only deeply learned but extremely readable. Touched with Moranâ??s sense of humor and his compassion for his subjectâ??s tireless efforts to understand the natural world, you will come away from this book with a new appreciation for the alchemists.

Alexander Roob, Alchemy and Mysticism. Diana Bishop is an expert on the enigmatic imagery that is used in alchemical texts. Many are included in Roobâ??s book, along with other illustrations from mystical and magical traditions.

Lyndal Roper, Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany. This scholarly book was important to me as I wrote A Discovery of Witches because it helped me understand how the belief in witches influenced the imagination. Many of the notions we have about witchcraft today have their roots in these terrifying fantasies.

James Sharpe, Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in Early Modern England. Sharpeâ??s book is an ideal starting point if you are interested in the history of witchcraft beyond Salem or Germany. One of his most controversial arguments focuses on the role that women played as accusersâ??not just as victimsâ??in the witchcraft trials.

Bryan Sykes, The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry. I was fascinated by the combination of history, genealogy, and science in Sykesâ??s work. The book provides an introduction to the study of genetics, and to the legacies that are carried from generation to generation among the population.

--Deborah Harkness

(Photo of Deborah Harkness © Marion Ettlinger)

Excerpt

The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable. To an ordinary historian, it would have looked no different from hundreds of other manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, ancient and worn. But I knew there was something odd about it from the moment I collected it. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. Diana’s mother says that fear is “the strongest force on earth” (p. 6). What does she mean? Do you agree?

2. Early in the novel, Harkness describes the typical personalities and physical traits of daemons, witches, and vampires. If you could be any one of these beings, which would you choose and why?

3. Who is the Congregation? Is it a force for good or a force for evil?

4. What happened to Diana’s parents? What were they trying to hide?

5. Diana studies alchemy, which she defines as a type of “science with magic” (p. 91) used to explore and understand unexplained phenomena. Do you use astrology, fortune-telling, or ESP to provide a deeper understanding of events in your own life?

6. Why is Diana and Matthew’s love forbidden? Have you ever loved someone whom your family or friends thought was inappropriate? How did their reaction influence your feelings?

7. Most of the book is told from Diana’s perspective, yet a few chapters are written in the third person. Why? What feature or purpose unites those chapters?

8. Diana and Matthew travel back to the sixteenth century. If you had the power to timewalk, as she does, what period in history would you visit?

9. In chapter 31, Diana remembers the bedtime story her mother told her as a child. In what ways does that story foreshadow the events of Diana’s life?

10. Harkness presents the use of witchcraft not only as an otherworldly ability, but also as a part of everyday life; for example, Diana uses a spell to fix her washing machine. Which example of the novel’s blending of the magical with the mundane did you find most entertaining or creative? If you could use magic in your daily life, what would you use it for?

11. Look at the last page of the book. What is the significance of the blood and mercury? What is the reason behind the sense of relief felt in the house? What does the last sentence of the book mean?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

A Note from author Deborah Harkness:

Why does a history professor decide to write a novel about witches? It's a good question!

Writing a novel is a mysterious process and many of my life experiences went into A Discovery of Witches. One of my favorite books as a child was Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond. The history of alchemy and magic caught my interest as an undergraduate, and I'm still fascinated by these subjects today. And, once upon a time, I discovered a lost alchemical manuscript—although it was not (so far as I know) enchanted.

A Discovery of Witches tells the tale of a reluctant witch named Diana Bishop and her discovery of a long-lost alchemical manuscript at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. There, Diana meets Matthew Clairmont: a geneticist who happens to be a very old, secretive vampire. Witches and vampires are traditional enemies, but Diana and Matthew grow closer as they try to puzzle out the manuscript's significance. Their search for answers takes Diana and Matthew from Oxford, to his ancestral home in France, to her family’s farm in upstate New York. But they are not the only creatures who want to solve the mystery of manuscript, and their fellow daemons, vampires, and witches frown upon their unorthodox relationship. Are these just old prejudices, or is it something more?

Our culture’s renewed obsession with witches, vampires, and other things that go bump in the night has been fascinating to me as a historian. I’ve gone from needing to explain what alchemy is to having my students all nod wisely whenever Nicholas Flamel is mentioned. Parents have confessed that they've been staying up late to read their kids’ copy of the latest Harry Potter. Our reading habits reveal that even grownups need a little magic—with the limitless possibility, unpredictability, and even chaos that inevitably comes with it. My goal with A Discovery of Witches was to write a fairy tale that was mesmerizing but spoke to adult issues and concerns. I tried to create characters who were strange—yet strangely familiar. Many of us will recognize ourselves in Diana, who has so much power but is afraid to use it. Others will empathize with Matthew’s inability to let go of his 1500-year past—even though we have less of a past to worry about! And still more will wonder, while riding the train or sitting in a meeting, if that strange creature opposite just might be a daemon or a vampire.

If it's magic you need this winter, I hope that you find some in A Discovery of Witches.

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