Author: Deborah Harkness
Publication Date: 2/8/11
Publisher: Viking Adult
Blurb(GR): A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together. Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break
Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.
Review: This book kept me hanging on just enough to stop me from abandoning it. I’m not really sure who this book is aimed at; it’s a very pedestrian, traditional romance wrapped up in a nearly 600 page, painfully slow tale filled with history and science. It’s a bit like a Hallmark card wrapped up in an encyclopedia. The history and science buffs will be turned off by the cheesy center, and the romance lovers will resent having to wade through pages of endless description and detail just to get to the good stuff. And speaking of “the good stuff” – there isn’t any. If I am going to struggle my way through a sappy romance, the least I would expect is a good sex scene!
The female lead is Diana, who is a highly intelligent woman and well respected in her field. She’s also the daughter of two powerful witches who were murdered when she was seven years old. Traumatized by their deaths, she turns her back on magic and devotes her life to study. When she accidentally pulls a heavily enchanted manuscript from the Bodleian library and is somehow able to open it, she draws the attention of the supernatural communities. Matthew, a biochemist vampire with many secrets and motivations of his own, seeks out Diana to investigate.
The main thing that turns me off about this book is the cast of characters. Matthew will be startlingly familiar to any reader of paranormal romance. He’s a perfect physical specimen, with vast wealth (including several ancient homes which he built himself), a guilt-inducing past, and a tendency to be an overly protective, patronizing control freak. He also likes to name drop famous historical figures that he’s known, drone on and on about wine and spout obnoxious lines like, “Will you never wait until I help you?” And, despite being alive for 1,500 years, he apparently still thinks that women are incapable of feeding and clothing themselves or knowing when they’re tired (Don’t worry, he’ll give you sedatives without your knowledge if you try to disagree). He’s the kind of guy who says, “I might not be able to control myself if you step away” after a first kiss, then spends the rest of the book avoiding consummating the relationship, because “there’s plenty of time” even though at this point the characters have become very committed. Diana is the otherwise intelligent woman who acts like a child whenever she’s in his presence. She has to be bullied and bated into using her powers, and saved time and time again by Matthew. Despite Matthew’s continual marveling about how powerful and strong she is, her strength is barely in evidence.
This book needs some serious trimming. This author is clearly a very bright, intellectual woman and she has a ton of ideas. I just wish she hadn’t put all of them in this one book. She manages to cram in alchemy, paranormal groups, magic, evolution, mythology, medieval knights, politics, DNA testing, yoga, and wine tasting, not to mention time travel before this book is done. There are also four chapters (out of about forty) that are written in third person following Matthew, instead of the first person (Diana) perspective that’s used for the rest of the book. It’s as if she feels the need to show the reader absolutely everything that’s going on, everywhere. This book would have been so much better if she had kept a few ideas in reserve. Some of the topics, like the wine tasting and the yoga,
serve no purpose to the story, except perhaps to make Matthew seem even more pretentious.
I did enjoy much of the science and history, but there were too many niggling little scientific inaccuracies to keep me spellbound. For instance, Matthew has apparently mapped the DNA of enough witches and other supernatural beings to be able to locate and identify markers of different magical powers, not to mention create a map of the different lineages of witch families. However, he is somehow unable to use the same information to determine whether the different supernatural groups (witches, vampires, and daemons) are genetically related. For all of the author’s vast intelligence, I’m not sure that she really understands evolution either. I’m not one who typically nit-picks stories on the technical details, but this book is so agonizingly slow and the sappy romance is such a turn off for me – I found myself focusing on the little details more and more.
This book is absolutely not for me. However, if you are an intellectual person with a love of sweet, "courtly love" type romances, and macho-man heroes, then I think you might like this one.