April 2nd, 2011

witching hour

Book 34: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

UK cover
Book 34: A Discovery of Witches .
Author: Deborah Harkness, 2011.
Genre: Paranormal Romance. History of Science and Alchemy. Mystery.
Other Details: Hardback. 608 pages.

This début novel, which combines paranormal romance with historical mystery, focuses on American historian Diana Bishop, who is in Oxford undertaking research on alchemy at the Bodleian Library. When she opens an obscure manuscript it responds to her in an unusual fashion. The reason for this is that Diana is actually a witch with a powerful lineage. However, following the violent deaths of her parents when she was a child she consciously turned her back on that world. As witches, vampires and daemons sense the significance of Diana's discovery, they gather in Oxford and encroach upon her safely ordered world. Among them is Matthew Clairmont, a vampire geneticist, who is of course devastatingly handsome and rich beyond measure. Diana is irresistibly drawn to Matthew and he to her. Together they decide to unlock the secrets of the manuscript. However, in doing so they are not fully aware of the ancient covenant they will break and the dangers awaiting them.

I was so excited when I read the premise for this book, especially as its author is an academic historian with special interest in the history of science and magic during the 16th and 17th centuries. I quickly slapped in a pre-order and could hardly wait for it to arrive through my letter box. However, almost from its opening pages I realised that this wasn't quite what I had hoped for either in style or content and quickly got to the point of wanting to hurl it across the room.

So yes, I had a number of issues with the novel. Collapse )

USA cover
Having said all this, once I accepted the terms of the world Harkness had created and the plot began to develop as Matthew and Diana leave Oxford and start engaging with a wider set of characters and situations, I actually became quite engaged with the story. Also, I grew to appreciate Diana and Matthew as things became uncomfortable and more complicated for them.

Despite my reservations, I was impressed throughout at how well Harkness integrated history, science and alchemical imagery into the plot. Overall, these aspects were where the novel's strength lay for me as well as in the promise of the direction that the story is taking. In its final pages it does build up a fair head of steam. It is the first in a series (All Souls Trilogy) with no fixed date on when the second will appear though author says on her website she is hoping for a 2012 publication.

Excerpt from the book on author's website - with links to other material.
Lizzy Bennet

Books #12-13: A Royal Pain and The Goose Girl

A Royal Pain (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries #2)A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I previously found the first book in this series, Her Royal Spyness, to be a fun, light, and fast read. This book continued the adventures of Lady Georgiana Rannoch in much the same vein. However, it took me much longer to finish this book. First, a short summary.

Georgiana Rannoch, relation to the royal family and 34th in line to the throne, has quite a lot on her plate. She's still strapped for cash, working (in disguise) as a maid-for-rent for the wealthy elite. The queen has asked her to take on a frivolous princess straight from a German convent, and worst of all, she's still a virgin, and the man she's most interested in is nowhere to be found!

And of course, there's murder, intrigue, and treason!

I found this book to be much more predictable and, to be frank, boring than the first one. Perhaps it's because I read this over the space of two months and had more time to mull over the plot (I read the first book in a day and a half). In addition, I was supremely annoyed by the German princess, Hannelore. She speaks in a kind of Americanized German English, which makes her sound at best infantile and at worst mentally challenged. I realize that this was necessary to her characterization, but I've honestly never enjoyed reading dialect. However, I do make exception for well done (and essential) regional dialect, like Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hannelore's accent detracts from the work, Fleur Delacour in Harry Potter is another heinous example.

The Goose Girl (The Books of Bayern, #1)The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Goose Girl is a retelling of a lesser-known fairy tale of the same name. The original Brothers Grimm story is quite, well, grim. The heroine of the story is sent by her mother to wed another kingdom's prince. She sets off with her maid, a talking horse named Falada, and a handkerchief with three drops of her mother's blood for protection. During the journey, she loses the handkerchief and her maid betrays her, forcing her to switch places. When they get to the palace, the maid marries the prince and the princess is given the job of goose girl.

I won't spoil the ending, but you can read the original story here.

The adaptation is very faithful to the fairy tale, and adds in the bonus of giving names to the main characters. Some of the more improbable elements of the story are explained away, and Hale creates a very convincing world. The main character, Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee of Kildenree is very easy to relate to, and you end up really rooting for her.

I listed to an audio version of this book, with the characters acted out by a full cast. I must say this really added to the experience of the novel, and helped me to connect to the characters even more.

View all my reviews