Mature not moody...Sophisticated not childish... This is supernatural fiction for those with IQ's over 110.
It would be easy to push A Discovery of Witches as Twilight for grown-ups; but that would be do it an extreme injustice. The truth of the matter is that the Twilight series was never particularly well written, which wasn't particularly cause for concern because of its intended audience. A Discovery of Witches however, is firmly aimed at the adult market and Harkness demonstrates a sophistication and literary finesse that is often lacking in adult fiction.
Diana has turned her back on her witch’s heritage, focusing her talents on dissecting alchemic manuscripts and artefacts and playing human. In her early 30’s, her efforts to set aside her relative celebrity as the last of the Bishops have been successful for the most part, and the supernatural world offers minimal interference in her everyday life. With her head stuck in the proverbial sand, it is no surprise that eventually her magical roots find a way to resurface; and when she inadvertently stumbles across an ancient and powerful alchemic manuscript, Diana doesn’t realise what it means. With every kind of otherworldly creature alerted to the reappearance of the lost manuscript; Diana is suddenly very much the centre of attention. Along with other witches and daemons, a 1500 year-old vampire called Matthew is intent on discovering the secrets of the manuscript. What follows is a tentative orchestration of a prohibited courtship that is both adorably clumsy and absurdly captivating.
Harkness harnesses her scholarly and intellectual skills to bring a real sense of authenticity to this, her first fiction novel. In fact, such is the quality of the narrative; it will surely overcast any of its contemporaries. Not merely a fanciful supernatural romance; A Discovery of Witches intellectualises their existence, theorising on the role of genetics, DNA, evolution and extinction; as well as contemplating the pervasiveness of racial prejudices and segregation. If there is an Achilles heel, it comes in the depiction of daemons throughout the centuries as individuals in the guise of human geniuses and child prodigies (think Einstein, Newton, and Mozart etc...): whilst it works as an explanation, it is the only area where the author appears less industrious and inventive in her writing.
Overall, we cannot give Harkness’s debut fiction title enough praise. It is quite simply stunning. Blending fact and fiction, history and present, delicate courtship and tempestuous tantrums, understanding your identity and losing yourself: it is a beautiful work of fiction that fastens onto your heart and feeds your mind. In other words: probably perfection.
Unfortunately for most of you, you'll have to wait until February to get your hands on a copy.
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012