Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches

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  • Features 43 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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A Discovery of Witches Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 65-page guide for “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 43 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Desire and Acceptance Versus Fear and Denial and Discrimination Versus Inclusion.

A Discovery of Witches is a romantic fantasy by American historian, professor, and author, Deborah Harkness. Rocketing to popularity when first published in 2011, the novel receiving a starred review from Library Journal and became a New York Times Best Seller. The story follows Dr. Diana Bishop, a spellbound witch and scholar of 17th century chemistry, whose life changes when she calls a long-lost, enchanted manuscript from the Bodleian Library. The handsome vampire Matthew Clairmont and the malevolent wizard Peter Knox are among the many creatures who covet the book. As Diana learns to accept her birthright and embrace her magic, she and Matthew fall in love. Together they face increasing danger from creatures who will stop at nothing to end Diana and Matthew’s forbidden relationship and learn Diana’s secrets. With an earnest tone and touch of humor, Harkness blends suspense, history, and romance while exploring deeper themes of self-identity, the importance of family, and the impact of prejudice.

Plot Summary

Diana is the first-person narrator for most of the book, but Harkness occasionally switches to the third person to show perspectives from Matthew and his son Marcus.

Working in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, 30-something scholar Dr. Diana Bishop requests to see an ancient alchemical text, Ashmole 782. Diana immediately knows the book is enchanted because she is witch, descended from the first witch executed at the Salem witch trials. However, she refuses to use her magic, afraid of her powers ever since her magic-user parents were killed when she was a child. Diana has proudly made her own way as a scholar of alchemy without using magic, becoming a tenured professor at Yale on her own merits. Worried, Diana returns the manuscript to the stacks.

Three magical species are searching for Ashmole 782, which has been missing since 1859: daemons, the creative geniuses who skirt the edge of madness; vampires, cold, intelligent, beautiful beings with preternatural senses; and witches, gifted with magical powers. Each group believes that Ashmole 782 has secrets specific to their species, and they do not want it to fall into hands of another group. Thanks to a centuries old covenant, it is against the rules for witches, vampires, and daemons to mix. The three species regard each other with fear, prejudice, and loathing.

Matthew Clairmont, a tall, dark-haired, handsome vampire scientist is also searching for Ashmole 782. Upon meeting Diana, he is impressed with her bravery and latent power. Matthew protects Diana from Peter Knox, a powerful wizard. Diana is drawn to Matthew and despite himself, he is unaccountably attracted to her. He guards her at the library, and they invite each other to their college rooms for dinners.

Matthew sees that Diana is possibly the most powerful witch he’s known, but she doesn’t know how to use her powers. Matthew confides to his daemon friend Hamish that he is falling in love.

Diana learns that Ashmole 782 holds a big secret. When Diana tries to retrieve Ashmole 782 from the library again, Peter Knox wants to force her to get the book for the witches. He sends Diana a photo of her murdered parents. Diana panics, but Matthew is there to support her, and Diana realizes she feels safe with him. Meanwhile, Diana’s magic begins to emerge, and Matthew understands it is tied to her emotions.

To escape Peter Knox, Matthew takes Diana to Sept-Tours, his fortress-like family home in France. Together they settle into a quiet life at Sept-Tours. Diana pledges her love for Matthew, and he vows his love for her. Their kiss makes them a married, or mated, couple in the eyes of vampires. Diana discovers that Matthew is the head of an ancient, secret organization called the Knights of Lazarus.

A powerful witch named Satu kidnaps Diana and tortures her to get her to give up her magical secrets. Diana resists, and Satu closes her in a dungeon. Diana has a vision of her mother and father explaining that they bound up her magic to keep her safe until a “shadowed man” arrived to help her free her powers. Matthew and his older stepbrother Baldwin help rescue Diana.

Needing to learn how to control her emerging powers, Diana and Matthew travel to her Aunt Sarah and her partner Emily “Em,” both witches who Matthew hopes can teach Diana. Sarah and Em overcome some of their prejudices as they get to know Matthew. Diana discovers a missing illustration from Ashmole 782. The figures in the ancient illustration resemble Diana and Matthew, who may be able to have children, even though crossbreeding between species was thought impossible.

Juliette, a beautiful, insane vampire from Matthew’s past, attempts to kidnap Diana. Juliette deals a deathblow to Matthew who begins to bleed out. Diana uses her magic to kill Juliette. Diana refuses to let Matthew die, and offers him her blood, restoring his life and bringing herself near death. Marcus saves Diana’s life.

After this attack, Matthew knows they need to buy time to protect themselves from the Congregation, and realizes Sarah is not powerful enough to teach Diana control of her powers. Diana has inherited the timewalking ability from her father. Two daemons, Nathaniel and Sophie Wilson arrive at the Bishop home to give Diana an ancient chess piece that has been in Sophie’s family for generations. Matthew recognizes it as one he owned long ago. Sophie is pregnant and her baby will be a witch. The daemons know this will violate the covenant, and they hope Diana can help them. The group forms a conventicle of witches, daemons, and vampires to stand against the Congregation and fight for the futures of their children. Matthew and Diana timewalk back to 1590.

A Discovery of Witches is the first in the All Souls Trilogy, followed by Shadow of Night (2012), and concluding with The Book of Life (2014). Time’s Convert (2019), is a sequel to the Trilogy, centering on the origins of the character Marcus Whitmore. The All Souls Trilogy was made into a British TV series in 2018, as well as numerous fan sites and podcasts.

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Chapters 1-5