Follow TV Tropes


Literature / A Discovery of Witches

Go To

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.

As of 2017, Harkness was working on another series involving the characters, taking place about two years after The Book Of Life, the first of which was going to be The Serpent's Mirror, due out in 2018. However, she eventually switched to working on Time's Convert, still taking place two years after The Book of Life but focusing on Marcus.

The book series has been made into a TV series.

A compendium, "The World of All Souls" was released on May 8th 2018.

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.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking
    “I don’t like this one bit,” my aunt finally said in a tone that suggested that the world was falling apart. “Bewitched books? Daemons following you? Vampires taking you to yoga? Witches threatening a Bishop?"
  • 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, including Christopher "Kit" Marlowe and Giordano Bruno. Matthew would know, he knew most of them personally! And in the case of Matthew Royden, we know little about him because he was one of Matthew's identities.
  • 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. Sophie's daughter Margaret is a witch born to two demons.
  • 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.
  • Breaking and Bloodsucking: Subverted. Matthew does break in, not to bite Diana, but to look for Ashmole 782 and unable to find it, watches her sleep.
  • 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' cast really grows 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.
    • This is also what Peter Knox did to Diana's parents when she was a child. They did not survive.
  • 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.
  • Curse Cut Short
  • Dead Guy Junior: Matthew and Diana's children; Philippe and Rebecca, wee named after Matthew's adoptive father and Diana's mother respectively.
  • Door Stopper: the first book clocks in at around seven hundred and thirty pages. The second one is about as packed.
  • Double Meaning: When Diana is worried about being less skilled than the other students at the yoga class that Matthew is taking her to, he replies that "It's a mixed class." While this is true, what he also means is that it is a mixture of daemons, witches and vampires, as well.
  • The Empath: Amira, a witch who leads an inter-creature yoga class, has very strong (magical) empathy.
  • Fang Thpeak: Sam does this when he comes trick-or-treating in his vampire costume
  • 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.
  • Fantasy Contraception: Diana is given a tea full of herbs (parsley, ginger, feverfew, rosemary, sage, mugwort, Queen Anne’s lace seeds, pennyroyal, angelica, rue, tansy, and juniper root) Averted when Sarah points out modern methods would be more effective.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage
  • Generational Magic Decline: Witches are less powerful, demons more erratic and vampires are having a harder time creating new ones.
  • 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. And Verin a vampire and Ernst, a human. And Stephen Proctor's father a witch, and his mother, a human.
    • Also between Benjamin Fuchs a vampire and Janet Gowdie's "Granny Janet", a witch which led to their descendants having longer lifespans than regular witches, though their lifespans get shorter with each generation. Janet is around 120 years old.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Diana attends Yale (she enrolls at sixteen), as does Chris, and also attended Oxford, and Matthew has attended several prestigious universities.
  • 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 conceive 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. Then she has twins.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Both Matthew and Marcus fall for women named for a moon goddess
  • 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.
    • Verin is a vampire while her husband Ernst is a human.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Vampires were fast, but magic was faster"
  • Monochrome Casting: Despite having characters from all over the world, the series only averts this slightly with Osamu, a Japanese member of the Congregation, Juliette Durand, and we find in Time's Convert that Phoebe's mother is Indian.
    • The TV show averts this a bit more with Emily Mather being black, as a descendant of Tituba, and the Wilsons being black.
  • 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, their daughter is 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
  • Nerves of Steel: Stephen and Rebecca make their final trip to Africa (Poland in the show), knowing that they will die and it won't be quick and painless.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: If Diana hadn't sent the manuscript back, she wouldn't have had all the creatures after her. But then, she wouldn't have met Matthew either.
  • 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.
  • No Periods, Period: Diana worries about and discusses her period as it relates to vampires. The vampires assure her it would not be an issue. She also discusses this when she is about to timewalk, but it isn't brought up in Shadow Of Night.
  • Nomde Mom: After Bridget Bishop was hanged in 1692, her daughter Christian kept her name and all women since have kept the surname Bishop even when married.
  • Non-Human Humanoid Hybrid: Diana and Matthew children. If Ashmole 782 is correct, this could be the solution to the problem of creatures dying out.
    • This is what Janet Gowdie is, as the granddaughter of Benjamin and Janet Gowdie, a vampire and witch. Janet II has powers like a witch, and a longer-than-normal lifespan.
  • Oh Look, More Rooms!: The Bishop house does this when guests arrive, creating bedrooms, bathrooms, and providing furniture and dishes when needed, before they disappear when the guests leave.
  • 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.
    • Matthew and Diana have a lengthy conversation about the traditional vampire tropes and where they come from—for example, vampires don't like garlic (or other strong smells and tastes) because it overwhelms their heightened senses.
  • Parental Abandonment: Diana's parents were murdered in Africa when she was seven years old.
  • Parental Favoritism: Ysabeau outright states that Matthew is her favorite son. When Matthew himself has children, he seems to somewhat favor his vampiric daughter over his witchlike son.
  • Parental Substitute: After her parents die, 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.
  • Practically Different Generations: Justified given that the vampires were made at different times. Jack and Marcus might have been turned when they were around the same age, but Jack is about 150 years older and hundreds of years older than Matthew and Diana's children.
  • 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.
  • Refusal of the Call: Diana is perfectly content to ignore her massive amount of magic, much to the chagrin of Sarah and several of the other witches. Some witches were happy to let her ignore the call due to her amount of magic.
    • Later, many magical creatures and factions are frustrated that she refuses the call of Ashmole 782.
  • 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.
  • Sliding Scaleof Muggle Involvement: While creatures generally hide from humans, there are some aware of them, due to marriage (Stephen Proctor's mother, Verrin's husband Ernest, and in the movie, the keeper of the keys at the Congregation, which has been passed down to the eldest male.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Hamish and Matthew play often. The family also uses chess metaphors during their battles and rescue mission. Miriam and company prefer Scrabble
  • Stock Unsolved Mysteries: In The Book of Life, Diana inspects the Voynich Manuscript and makes a few discoveries.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: Witchcraft and power distribution are hereditary. It can skip a generation, as with Sophie, who is a demon, but her daughter with Nathaniel (also a demon) is a witch.
  • 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.
    • In the de Claremont family one's first middle name is that of an archangel
  • 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 struggles 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.
    • Rebecca and Stephen would have also had Diana and her twin brother if not for Vanishing Twin Syndrome
    • Ysabeau also made twins, Louis and Louisa.
  • Upper-Class Equestrian: The de Claremont family has a number of horses they ride regularly. Subverted with Diana, who can ride well not due to wealth but rather due to her more rural upbringing.
  • Vampires Are Rich: Played straight with the de Claremont family.