Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches

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A Discovery of Witches Summary

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A Discovery of Witches is the 2011 historical fantasy and debut novel by American author Deborah Harkness. Primarily set at Oxford University, the story revolves around Diana Bishop, an alchemical professor who reluctantly embraces her fate as a witch when a long-lost manuscript resurfaces and summons hordes of monsters. Along the way, Diana falls in love with a dashing vampire named Matthew Clairmont. The first book in the All Souls Trilogy, followed by Shadow of Night (2012) and Book of Life (2014), A Discovery of Witches became a New York Times bestseller upon release. The novel has been optioned by Warner Bros. for motion picture adaptation, and a British television series based on the novel has been completed by Sky One.
The story begins in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. Diana Bishop, an American Professor of Alchemy, prepares a keynote speech she’s scheduled to deliver in a few months. Diana is also the last descendant of two infamous bloodlines of witches that were nearly exterminated in Salem. Because her parents were slain when she was seven years old, Diana has eschewed her witch ways and shunned her innate magical abilities. However, when a sparkly research manuscript on the upper shelf catches her eye, Diana uses magic to retrieve the document. When she touches the enchanted manuscript, “it lets out a small sigh.” Diana notices a shimmer emanating from the text, as well as three pages missing. The document is revealed to be a long-lost spell-book called Ashmole 782, which is filled with occult messages and secret spells. Diana opens the pages and unwittingly summons hordes of witches, vampires, and daemons to the Bodleian Library.
Dana is constantly watched by those interested in Ashmole 782. Vampires disguised as humans populate the library and monitor the activity of Diana and her newfound spell-book. One such watcher is Matthew Clairmont, a debonair vampire who is also a biochemist, neuroscientist, and Fellow of All Souls. Matthew intends to get closer to Diana because he believes Ashmole 782 holds a powerful secret regarding the survival of witches, daemons and vampires. Diana and Matthew spend a lot more time together, enjoying meals, wine, and yoga at his residence, Old Lodge. Diana telephones her aunt Sarah, who raised Diana after her parents died. Diana tells Sarah of a wizard named Peter Knox who threatened harm when he was denied Ashmole 782.
Another witch, Gillian Chamberlain, informs Diana that her parents were not killed by humans as believed, but instead by witches for harboring secrets. Diana is shaken by the threats made by Peter and Gillian and enlists Matthew’s help. The two dine, share fine wine, discuss their family histories, and fall in love. Matthew confesses he’s roughly 1,500 years old and believes the race of vampires, daemons, and witches are rapidly dying out. Matthew gives Diana a blood test in order to examine her magical powers. Diana meets Matthew’s vampire son, Marcus, who eventually protests his father’s romantic involvement with a witch. Marcus refuses Matthew’s ploy to not inform Diana of The Congregation, a nine-part panel (three witches, three daemons, and three vampires) outlawing romantic relations between different creatures. In order to protect Diana and allow her a chance to study another alchemical document, Matthew brings her to Sept-Fours, his vampire mother’s French chateau.
At Sept-Fours, Diana meets Ysabeau de Clairmont, Matthew’s unwelcoming mother. Ysabeau tries to dissuade Diana’s interest in Matthew, but Diana’s romantic feelings persist. The results of Diana’s blood test are revealed, showing the young witch to have myriad magical abilities. It’s also revealed that Diana has been preordained as the only witch with the power to open Ashmole 782. Diana sees Matthew working on a draft of On the Origin of Species, noting that he was in correspondence with Charles Darwin regarding the DNA of various creatures. Matthew continues to woo Diana, but their forbidden love remains unconsummated throughout the novel.
Diana is abducted from the Sept-Fours garden by a witch named Satu, who wants Diana to abandon Matthew and expose her magical secrets. Diana is imprisoned in an oubliette, where she is haunted by the ghosts of her parents. Matthew, his brother Baldwin, and Ysabeau help Diana escape from the oubliette. Ysabeau arranges for the couple to stay with Sarah in Madison, New York. There, Diana finds one of the missing pages from Ashmole 782. Diana is stunned to learn that the Ashmole 782 page infers that she could potentially bear Matthew’s child. It is believed vampires and witches could crossbreed in order to better ensure survival. While it could very well start a war among with Congregation, Diana is willing to start a family with Matthew by whatever means necessary. During her stay at the magical Madison house, Diana also receives a note from her mother explaining that Diana’s magical abilities will lead to a special destiny.
One of these special abilities is “timewalking,” which Diana inherited from her witch-father, Stephen Proctor. Matthew is attacked by Juliette, a vampire sent by the Congregation. Diana uses magic to subdue Juliette, but Matthew is left gravely wounded. Diana feeds her blood to Matthew to heal him but is drained in the process. In order to evade further attacks, Diana and Matthew must timewalk to a safe place so they can continue examining Ashmole 782. Diana procures three items required for her and Matthew to timewalk: a chess piece with the goddess Diana’s image engraved on it, a pearl earring, and the original draft of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. As the novel concludes, Diana and Matthew travel safely to London circa 1590. Sarah burns a book noting Diana and Matthew’s whereabouts in order to protect their hidden destination.
A Discovery of Witches has been called “wonderfully imaginative” by People, “romantic, erudite, and suspenseful” by O, The Oprah Magazine, and “delightfully well-crafted” by The Miami Herald.