A Discovery of Witches

by Deborah Harkness

On the relationship between science and magic:

“I saw the logic that they used, and the death of a thousand cuts as experimental scientists slowly chipped away at the belief that the world was an inexplicably powerful, magical place. Ultimately they failed, though.  The magic never really went away.  It waited, quietly, for people to return to it when they found the science wanting.” 

— A Discovery of Witches, p.73.


A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES is the first book of a trilogy and tells the story of Diana Bishop, daughter of two powerful witches, whose lineage can be traced to and through the witches of Salem. Despite her heritage, Diana is inept, untrained and in denial of her power.

While doing research in Oxford’s Bodelian Library, she comes across an enchanted book of great interest to witches, vampires and daemons. Fear and attraction swirl within her when she meets Mathew Clairmont, an ancient vampire and modern day physician and scientist.

As their relationship unfolds, they run afoul of rules forbidding cross-species relationships, the Congregation that governs nonhuman species relationships and activities, and inter-species rivals who claim the mysterious book in the Bodelian.

For most of us, fantasy offers an escape into another world.  It can be narcotic, but it can also be a way to try on other solutions to conflicts, other perspectives on society or ways to explore powers impossible in ordinary life.

Bruno Bettelheim’s 1976 book THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT suggests that the darkness of traditional Brothers Grimm fairy tales the chance to deal with their worst fears in a distant, symbolic way that allows them to grow and prepare for the challenges of life.

Perhaps the anxiety of our times and the lack of religious mooring in society has led to the explosion of interest in vampires, occult mysteries such as Jim Butcher’s DRESDEN FILES or Neil Gaiman’s novels?

The Author

Harkness is a well-regarded historian of science and medicine, according to Wikipedia, and has studied alchemy, magic and the occult.

She teaches European history and the history of science at the University of Southern California. She is the author of the nonfiction books, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy and the End of Nature (1999) and The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution (2007).

A Discovery of Witches is her first work of fiction and the first book of her All Souls Trilogy. The final book in the series, The Book of Life, is due out in July 2014.

Born in 1965, Harkness is the daughter of an American-born father and a British-born mother.  She grew up near Philadelphia. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College, a master’s from Northwestern University and a doctorate from the University of California at Davis. Additionally, she has studied at Oxford University.

She sold the movie rights to Warner Bros producers Denise DiNovi and Alison Greenspan.


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