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[books] A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2012-01-09 03:41
Subject: [books] A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Security: Public
Tags:books, klog, reviews
I just finished reading Deborah Harkness's A Discovery of WitchesPowells | BN ], a December, 2011 release from Penguin. It was interesting and a fair amount of fun, but definitely had that 'mainstream author writes fantasy without being aware of the history or tropes of the genre' feel. All the same, and perhaps because of that, Harkness' take on witches and vampires was sufficiently divergent from the classic patterns to be interesting.

Also interesting to me in terms of my own reader reactions to this book was my realization about halfway through that the genre tropes Harkness is working within are more tied to romance than fantasy. Which explained the female witch protagonist's constant fainting and passing out and needing to be carried about hither and yon by the male vampire love interest. That wouldn't fly in a strong female fantasy character, but it is a trope (or subtrope or something) of romance.

What I really did like about the book was that much of it was set at Oxford University, and the sense of scholarship and history in the book is very strong. Our heroine is a historian specializing in the traditions of alchemy, and Harkness really made me believe that in a big way. She acted like a historian, thought like one, talked like one. Harkness' own scholarship in writing the book was certainly deep enough to be utterly convincing to me. Her interweaving of history with the plot was fascinating.

This book was a lot of fun. It's the first third of a trilogy, so very little of the plot is resolved at the ending, but that's life. Worth the read.

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fjm
User: fjm
Date: 2012-01-09 12:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Deborah Harkness wrote a very good book on alchemy and herbalism. Which may be why I was disappointed in the fiction because it wasnt' a patch on that.
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shui_long
User: shui_long
Date: 2012-01-09 20:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Deborah Harkness is an academic historian, who has professional knowledge of Oxford - and, as you say, it shows. [I can't verify her description of a Fellow's set at All Souls from personal experience, nor climbing over the gate to go rowing at dawn, but she's certainly got the Bodleian absolutely right...]
I am definitely looking forward to her next book, which is going to be rather more of a challenge to her historical knowledge!
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mmegaera
User: mmegaera
Date: 2012-01-10 01:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Which explained the female witch protagonist's constant fainting and passing out and needing to be carried about hither and yon by the male vampire love interest. That wouldn't fly in a strong female fantasy character, but it is a trope (or subtrope or something) of romance.

Speaking as someone who's been reading romance for the last thirty years or so, I am inclined to strongly disagree with you that this is a trope of genre romance.

Maybe of the Twilight series, but that's not genre romance.
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