Literature / A Discovery of Witches
A Discovery of Witches
is the first novel in the All Souls Trilogy
by Deborah Harkness, which weaves together elements of science, history, romance, and fantasy.
The first book was published in 2011, and the second book Shadow of Night
was published in July 2012, with the final volume, The Book of Life,
released in July, 2014.
Yale historian Diana Bishop may be descended from a long line of witches (Bishops and Proctors, yes, from the Salem Witch Trials), but she wants no part of her magical inheritance. However, when she opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford's Bodleian Library, Diana discovers that she can no longer keep magic out of her carefully ordinary life.
After Diana returns the book, it becomes clear that creatures (classified as witches, daemons, and vampires) are after its secrets. They believe that it contains important clues about the creation and future of creatures and desperately want to know how Diana, an unskilled witch, was 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.
This series contains examples of:
- Alchemy Is Magic: Though Diana has convinced herself that alchemy is simply the gateway to modern chemistry, it is apparent that the discipline is more magical than she wanted to believe.
- All Witches Have Cats: Diana's aunts have a cat named Tabitha, who seems to have some level of precognition.
- Badass Family: Both the de Clermonts and the Bishops.
- Battle Couple: Matthew and Diana both exhibit impressive displays of combat due to their supernatural abilities.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Several historical figures are revealed to be either witches, daemons, or vampires. Matthew would know, he knew most of them personally!
- Beta Couple: Sarah and Emily, Diana's aunts.
- Black Sheep: Both Diana, a witch who tries not to use magic, and Sophie, a daemon born to a family of witches.
- Blessed with Suck: Diana's magic has the potential to make her the greatest witch alive — if it doesn't get her killed, first, particularly witchwater, which has threatened to erode away her conscious self. Not to mention the fact that since she was a child, other witches have been aware of her extraordinary powers, and her parents were killed for it.
- Broken Bird: Miriam is frequently coupled with the adjective "hostile." She's abrasive and blunt at best. But it turns out that she has several reasons to be so cynical — she's an adopted member of the de Clermont family, only hanging out with them out of a sense of loyalty. It's implied she has no clan of her own. She also blames Matthew for the death of her husband over five hundred years ago — and vampires mate for life.
- Cast Herd: The series edges into Loads and Loads of Characters as the third book runs along. Some groups include the de Clermont family, the Madison coven, the London coven, the women of the Mala Strada, the Conventicle members, and, of course, the School of Night itself.
- The Clan: The de Clermonts.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Satu does this to Diana. She tries to use an opening spell on her back in order to extract the information she needs. Sarah says that this sort of spell was not meant to be used on living things.
- Combo Platter Powers: Midway through book one, it's revealed that Diana has in her the potential for almost every single power known to witches. Most witches only have one or two supernatural abilities.
- Door Stopper: the first book clocks in at around seven hundred and thirty pages. The second one is about as packed.
- The Empath: Amira, a witch who leads an inter-creature yoga class, has very strong (magical) empathy.
- Fantastic Racism: Most creatures exhibit a degree of prejudice and distrust towards one another. Witches think of vampires as animals, vampires think of witches as untrustworthy and murderous, and both of them seem to see daemons as unstable loonies beneath notice.
- Fourth Date Marriage
- Genki Girl: Sophie, a daemon, is very friendly and quite the chatterbox.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: Elizabeth Tudor doesn't like it when she doesn't get her way.
- Good Old Ways: Matthew adheres to these quite strongly: always opens the door for Diana, buys breakfast for her, always waits until she's safely in her building before driving away (which meets Properly Paranoid). He fancies himself a chivalrous gentleman, but Diana finds it a patronizing sign of how stuck in his ways he is.
- Gossipy Hens: The women of the Malá Strana. It proves useful.
- Green Thumb: Most witches have a magical affinity for earth, which means herbal magic and the ability to influence growing things.
- Healing Factor: Vampires have a very strong one, which makes them Nigh Invulnerable.
- The Hecate Sisters: The witch's unnamed goddess at one point appears to Diana in a moment of need as a sprightly young huntress, and an elderly ancestor of hers. Diana realizes in that instant that she embodies the mother aspect, with the power to nurture and give life.
- How Do I Shot Web?: Diana has very little control over her witch powers and often finds simple tasks, such as magically lighting a candle, to be beyond her abilities.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Diana's main desire after her parents' murder.
- I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Matthew has a magnetic effect on the fairer sex (comes with being a vampire), and is quite surprised that Diana doesn't fall for a single one of his usual charms. However, this doesn't lead to lust, just surprise and him changing tactics.
- I Love You, Vampire Son: Vampires, or at least Matthew's family, exhibit strong amounts of affection for one another.
- Immortality Seeker: Rudolph II, the Holy Roman Emperor, hopes that Edward Kelley will make him a philosopher's stone. Elizabeth I wants Kelley back in England so he will not do this for Rudolph. The immortality and gold that would come if he made her a philosopher's stone would be nice, too. She also considers being made a vampire, but Matthew tells her that would violate the law of the Congregation.
- Interspecies Romance: Between Matthew, a vampire and Diana, a witch.
- Jack-of-All-Trades / The Red Mage: Diana. In Shadow of Night, she learns that she is a spellweaver, and will be able to access almost all magical talents, when most witches can only use one or two. However, she'll never exactly master any of these abilities, and cannot rely on spells written by other witches to work for her.
- Last Of Her Kind: Downplayed. Diana is not the last witch by any means, but she and her aunt Sarah are the last two carriers of a certain genetic code. Matthew's team of geneticist vampires have found that all witches claim descent from one of four original clans, but only Diana and Sarah claim descent from the outlying fifth.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: Vampires aren't supposed to be able to sire children, but due to Diana being a Weaver, a witch who creates new spells, Matthew and Diana are able to conceive. Subverted in that Diana miscarries their first child.
- Liminal Being: Diana Bishop. It turns out that Diana Bishop is a being of opposites in several ways — thanks to Vanishing Twin Syndrome, she's a genetic chimera with DNA of her unborn twin brother. She then saves Matthew's life by giving him some of her blood, and patches of her body turn cold, like a vampire's. In the second book, it turns out she is a weaver (capable of using all paths of witchcraft, but never mastering them), with an affinity for fire and water, and capable of standing between the realms of life and death, and past and future. In the third book, it's revealed that weavers themselves are the result of daemon and witch DNA mingling — and Diana merges with the Book of Life, to become a book and a woman, the history of the four races and the hope for their future. Phew!
- Love at First Sight: Strongly implied between Matthew and Diana, although with Diana it's more like "Love at My Decision to Not Beat You Down On Sight."
- MacGuffin: Ashmole 782, a book which all three species of creatures want to get their hands on, to halt the magic going away. (Based on a real life alchemical manuscript, which really has been missing for a hundred years.)
- The Magic Goes Away: When A Discovery of Witches opens, Matthew and other creatures have noticed that creatures are dying out. Witches are having fewer magical children, and their magic is a pale shadow of what it once was. Vampires are finding it harder and harder to make new vampires. Daemons, always mad geniuses, are more frequently mad and less genius.
- Making a Splash: One of Diana's powers, witchwater. Diana generates water from her body — her hair, her mouth, her skin, and her tears. Her mind can get swept away in the current, which could potentially be disastrous.
- Mayfly-December Romance: Matthew is a nigh-immortal vampire, while it seems witches like Diana have normal human lifespans.
- Muggle Born of Mages: Sophie is a subversion of this: she comes from a long line of witches, but she herself is a daemon. And, although she and her husband are daemons, she know her child will be a witch.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: This seems to be Juliette's intention when she challenges Matthew and Diana in the woods. Instead, Diana uses witchfire to kill Juliette in self-defense
- Nigh Invulnerable: Matthew and other vampires. Their Healing Factor is strong and works fast — it means that if you want to kill a vampire, you need to strike powerfully and fast. For example, with witchfire.
- Non-Human Humanoid Hybrid: What could result if Diana and Matthew have a child. If Ashmole 782 is correct, this could be the solution to the problem of creatures dying out.
- Occult Blue Eyes: Diana, a powerful witch, has striking blue eyes with gold around her irises. She is quite the sophisticated witch, being very well-educated and preferring to live as a Muggle. Her eyes also count as Elemental Eye Colors, since she can use witchwater.
- Official Couple: Matthew and Diana.
- Our Vampires Are Different: Vampires in this universe are not harmed by the sun, do not have fangs, can't fly, and can't change into bats. Interestingly, they are able to ingest food such as rare meat, nuts, and wine. However, blood still makes up the majority of their diet. Vampire hearts also beat, just at a much slower rate than humans.
- Parental Abandonment: Diana's parents were murdered in Africa when she was seven years old.
- Parental Substitute: After her parents' death, Diana was raised by her aunt, Sarah and her partner, Emily.
- The Patriarch: Philippe de Clermont.
- Playing with Fire: Another of Diana's powers, and one of the most terrifying.
- Playful Hacker: Subverted with Nathaniel, a daemon with a genius for computers. Most daemons that Diana meets range from dimly affable to outright genki, but Nathaniel is very serious and a bit grumpy.
- Please Don't Leave Me: Twice: When Matthew decides to leave Diana (albeit temporarily) and when Diana has to heal his near-fatal wounds from Juliette.
- Randomly Gifted: Daemons, peculiar among creatures for appearing apparently randomly in the human population. They don't descend from daemon parents, although it can happen, and therefore rely on another daemon finding them and recognizing them for who they are.
- Really 700 Years Old: Matthew is around 1,500 years old, but has the appearance of a 37-year-old.
- Salem Is Witch Country: Diana is the last witch in a long line of Bishop witches who can trace their history back to the first woman executed in Salem.
- Stock Unsolved Mysteries: In The Book of Life, Diana inspects the Voynich Manuscript and makes a few discoveries.
- Super Senses: Vampires have excellent hearing and smell. The latter has a drawback, in the fact that most vampires find the smell of cooked food to be nauseating — any food at all stops tasting like anything once it's been cooked to death.
- Take That: At Twilight. Matthew never has and never will sparkle.
- Theme Naming: Diana and Phoebe, both moon goddesses. Rebecca, Sarah, Emily are traditional names. Philippe (the French form of Philip), Baldwin, Matthew, Hugh, Benjamin, Andrew, Marcus, Miriam, Ysabeau (a variant of Elizabeth), Peter, Margaret and Steven (a variant of Stephen) are all Biblical names
- Time Travel: Diana has this power as well.
- Title Drop: Of the novel, in the epigraph:
It begins with absence and desire,
It begins with blood and fear,
It begins with a discovery of witches.
- And of the series, in chapter 14.
Matthew looked down with a shy smile. "Welcome to All Souls."
- Tome of Eldritch Lore: Ashmole 782. To what extent remains to be seen... It seemed like a standard MacGuffin book that has the history, secrets, and future of witches, daemons, vampires, and humans — until in Shadow of Night it was revealed that the book is made from flayed witch/daemon/vampire/human skin.
- Troubled Fetal Position: Subverted, in a downplayed fashion. When attending yoga with Matthew, Diana has a hard time struggling with the pose of lying on her back with her eyes closed. (It's implied it reminds her heavily of her parents' murder.) Amira, the yoga instructor, tells her that pose isn't for her and that she should curl into a fetal position, which is a great deal more soothing.
- Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: Matthew and Diana have twins, a boy and a girl
- Witch Species: Witchcraft and power distribution are hereditary.