A Discovery Of Witches: A Novel

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A Discovery Of Witches: A Novel

by Deborah Harkness

Penguin Publishing Group | December 27, 2011 | Trade Paperback

A Discovery Of Witches: A Novel is rated 4.4545 out of 5 by 11.
Book one of the New York Times–bestselling All Souls trilogy—"a wonderfully imaginative grown-up fantasy with all the magic of Harry Potter and Twilight” (People)

Deborah Harkness’s sparkling debut, A Discovery of Witches, has brought her into the spotlight and galvanized fans around the world. In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and a descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, deep in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont.

Harkness has created a universe to rival those of Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova, and she adds a scholar's depth to this riveting tale of magic and suspense. The story continues in book two, Shadow of Night, and concludes with The Book of Life, coming from Viking in July 2014.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 592 pages, 8.38 × 5.5 × 1.22 in

Published: December 27, 2011

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0143119680

ISBN - 13: 9780143119685

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from AMAZING! I bought this book a while back and it sat on my shelf for a while. I wish I had read it sooner. It is so good and a really fast read as it hooks you right from the start!
Date published: 2015-09-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable I really enjoyed embarking on a journey with the main character of this book. I would definitely recommend it.
Date published: 2015-01-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too Many Mundane Elements Plot: Pros: Overall, I enjoyed the novel. The magical elements are unique and capturing (though I'd like for them to occur more frequently than they solemnly did in the novel). The love between the characters is well described and the more 'adult' scenes are a nice bonus. The plot does not have any 'who dunnits', but there is a curious question that drives the story forward. Cons: I'd say a good 2/3 of the book could have been left out, however. I could tell the author was just filling pages in some areas (the non-plot developing library scenes/ yoga scenes etc.). The author stretched out describing a normal life too much, it was annoying, and i found she described to many things in-between dialogue. It would take 1/2 a page for the characters to get two short sentences in. Also, you may want to brush up on your history before delving into this book, as Harkness (a history PhD.) drops it right on you assuming no explanation is needed. I find this to be a poor quality on the author's part; you can't just assume your readers will understand or be able to appreciate the intricate historical detail (and opening up Wikipedia while reading the novel really sucks to put it informally). Fantastical elements of the book: Well imagined, well described and fun to read about. The witches' magic is different than that of harry potters'; no wand waving, but emotionally driven power that manifests quite uniquely. The vampires are typical of our society's current version; think of themselves as monsters, 'hunt' animals not people, 'superman' fast (for some reason) yada yada, nothing special in terms of fake/invented species. Demons are fantastical creatures that completely meld into today's world (I found them to be highly believable creatures:).
Date published: 2014-11-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good book I really enjoyed the book. The characters and history were very interesting all through. Read the book in a weekend, can't wait to start book two.
Date published: 2014-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific story I started this book with some trepidation since I thought it might turn out to be another "Twilight" teen read. WOW! Great book! I literally didn't want to put it down. A more complex story line than most readers get today. Not just another book where boy meets girl, girl loves boy, boy loves girl, they fight, they reconcile, the end. Loved the entire book. Heading right into book 2. PS: These are keepers. I will be reading them again in the future.
Date published: 2013-07-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Some perseverance required For me, this book averages 3/5 stars. I give the first 50% of the book 2/5 stars. The first half of the book introduced too many characters, mysteries and facts without context. It was too muddled a start for it to be interesting. That said, I persevered because this book had been given such great reviews. The latter 50% of the book really started to come together and build for me. The characters suddenly became interesting, the romance between Matthew and Diana bloomed, and the various mysteries gained the necessary cohension to keep you up late at night reading. It wasn't until the last 20% of the book that I finally confirmed to myself that I would be reading the sequel. Can't wait! As other reviewers have complained, the book builds to a cliffhanger and one really has little choice but to read the sequel. That said, the fact that the book leaves one wanting more is definitely a plus.
Date published: 2013-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Looking for a Great Summer Read? Here it is! This book was wonderful. This was very entertaining and with a different view on witches vampires and the two existing together. There is a ton of suspense and intrigue and the beginning of an interesting romance. There is a great deal of depth to Harkness’ characters. Diana is passionate and intelligent and I love a strong female character as a lead but don’t count out Matthew who is also intelligent and brings another level of excitement. Harkness’ brings another unique level to her story by giving us a different image of historic figures. A discovery of Witches is quite a long novel but it’s a fast moving story that shouldn’t be missed. If you haven’t yet read this series it’s time to get started, perfect summer read.
Date published: 2013-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome!! Truly one of the best books I've read in a really long time...can't wait to get my hands on the second book "Shadow of the Night"
Date published: 2013-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read! I couldn't put it down! I found this book on display the other day. The title peeked my curiosity, but I've been disappointed by books before and wasn't going to be fooled by the description on the back. I cracked it open and began reading the first chapter. Before I knew it I'd been reading for 10 minutes. You can always tell by the way the Author weaves a tale, weather a book is going to keep your interest. The Mystery unravels in such a way that keeps you wondering along with the main character as she uncovers the plot. I loved how the Author included science and literature and the knowledge of historical figures and events to slowly paint a picture of this incredible world. I also appreciate how the story touches on racial conflict. It may be a fictional tale, but the characters in the story are learning to fight for the right to co-exist and love whomever they love regardless of their race. I was frantically turning each page eager to see what could possibly happen next. I cheered and squealed as things began to unfold and I think I came away from it a little smarter too.
Date published: 2012-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Great...this book was so good and I can across it completely by accident and I think that I was so lucky to have found it. I loved the characters, the history and the romance. I feel in love with Matthew and Diana (they are the most adorable couple). I'm normally a romance novel reader but this book has opened my mind to so much. The history is really what kept me interested. I loved how Harkness created such an intricate story from pieces of history....I can't wait for the next book....summer can't come soon enough.
Date published: 2011-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Could not put it down!! This book is the most exciting and imaginative story I have read in a very long time. The characters are unique and as their story unfolds, I'm fascinated and intrigued by the way the author draws you into their lives. Cannot wait for Book 2 of this series....there is a Book 2, right??!
Date published: 2011-10-21

– More About This Product –

A Discovery Of Witches: A Novel

A Discovery Of Witches: A Novel

by Deborah Harkness

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 592 pages, 8.38 × 5.5 × 1.22 in

Published: December 27, 2011

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0143119680

ISBN - 13: 9780143119685

Read from the Book

Praise for A Discovery of Witches“A wonderfully imaginative grown-up fantasy with all the magic of Harry Potter or Twilight . . . An irresistible tale of wizardry, science, and forbidden love, A Discovery of Witches will leave you longing for the sequel.”—People“A thoroughly grown-up novel packed with gorgeous historical detail and a gutsy, brainy heroine to match: Diana Bishop, a renowned scholar of seventeenth-century chemistry and a descendant of accomplished witches. . . . Harkness writes with thrilling gusto about the magical world.”—Karen Valby, Entertainment Weekly“Harkness conjures up a scintillating paranormal story. . . . Discover why everyone’s talking about this magical book.”—USA Today“Delightfully well-crafted and enchantingly imaginative . . . An enthralling and deeply enjoyable read, A Discovery of Witches is to be the first in a trilogy and will likely draw considerable cross-genre interest. Its fantasy, historical, and romance genre appeal is clear, but it also has some of the same ineluctable atmosphere that made Anne Rice’s vampire books such a popular success.”—The Miami Herald“A debut novel with a big supernatural canvas . . . Its ambitions are world-sized, ranging across history and zeroing in on DNA, human and otherworldly. Age-old tensions between science and magic and between evolution and alchemy erupt as Diana seeks to unlock the secrets of Ashmole 782.”—Los Angeles Times“Harkness, an eloquent writer, conjures this world of witches with Ivy League
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From the Publisher

Book one of the New York Times–bestselling All Souls trilogy—"a wonderfully imaginative grown-up fantasy with all the magic of Harry Potter and Twilight” (People)

Deborah Harkness’s sparkling debut, A Discovery of Witches, has brought her into the spotlight and galvanized fans around the world. In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and a descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, deep in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont.

Harkness has created a universe to rival those of Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova, and she adds a scholar's depth to this riveting tale of magic and suspense. The story continues in book two, Shadow of Night, and concludes with The Book of Life, coming from Viking in July 2014.

About the Author

Deborah Harkness is the number one New York Times bestselling author of A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. A history professor at the University of Southern California, Harkness has received Fulbright, Guggenheim, and National Humanities Center fellowships. She lives in Los Angeles.

Visit www.deborahharkness.com and follow “Deborah Harkness” on Facebook and @DebHarkness on Twitter.


Bookclub Guide


Diana Bishop has spent her entire life trying to deny who she really is. The only child of two powerful witches, orphaned when she was just seven years old, Diana has rejected her magical abilities, determined to pass as human. But with her unwitting discovery of a mysterious manuscript long hidden in the archives of the Bodleian Library, Diana is forced to face the heritage she has tried so hard to forget. The power of the enchanted manuscript, known only as Ashmole 782, is both tantalizing and intimidating and she quickly sends the book back to the stacks, hoping to return to her normal life. Unbeknownst to her, she has discovered a volume that can unlock all the secrets of her world and, in doing so, has ignited a war—and made herself the prime target.

Drawing on a wealth of knowledge about alchemy and the history of witchcraft, Deborah Harkness has crafted a fast-paced, intensely readable novel of magic, adventure, and romance. A Discovery of Witches charts Diana's struggle to accept her family's magical legacy, her growing understanding of the scope of the battle she has begun, and her dangerous alliance with handsome geneticist—and fifteen-hundred-year-old vampire—Matthew Clairmont.

Vampires, known for their jaw-dropping good looks and seductive charm, aren't supposed to associate with witches, but Diana's discovery has caught Matthew's attention. Contrary to everything she has been taught and despite her initial reluctance and suspicion, Diana joins forces with Matthew to battle the dark spirits that are gathering around them. But cooperation quickly leads to attraction as Diana and Matthew begin to fall in love—an act forbidden by the Congregation, the covenant of witches, daemons, and vampires who dictate the rules of behavior for all underworld species and have the power to cruelly punish those who break them.

A complicated yet entirely relatable heroine, Diana must discover the surprising truth of her own legacy and realize the strength of her magic in order to prevent Ashmole 782 from falling into the wrong hands. Her journey, as well as her relationship with Matthew, will keep readers turning pages late into the night and have them hotly anticipating the next stage in her adventure. A world filled with enchantment and danger, sorcery and science, A Discovery of Witches is a sophisticated and smart novel that blends the excitement of a classic supernatural thriller with the intelligence that could be provided only by a respected scholar and skilled storyteller like Deborah Harkness.



Deborah Harkness is a scholar and writer specializing in the history of science and medicine. She has received numerous awards, including Fulbright, Guggenheim, and National Humanities Center fellowships. Currently a professor of history at the University of Southern California, her most recent academic publication is The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. This is her first novel.



Q. Diana is an appealing heroine, determined, accomplished, and yet aware of her own weaknesses. In what ways, if any, does Diana reflect your own experience or personality?

There are some similarities—Diana is also a historian of science, also interested in the history of alchemy, and shares some of my passions (including television cooking programs, tea, and rowing). Really, all the characters have some element of me in them. I think that's how authors create imaginary people who nevertheless feel real. The rest of Diana's character comes from a combination of qualities I admire in others, wish fulfillment, and my completion of the following statement: "Wouldn't it be great if a heroine in a book was…"

Q. How did you become interested in the intersection of alchemy, magic, and science? Historically, what do you see as the relationship between science and religion or mysticism?

In college, I had a wonderful professor who taught a class on these subjects. To kick off the class, he asked us, "How do you know what you think you know?" I've spent the last quarter century trying to answer that question. Because the world is a mysterious place and our relationship to it is not always clear, people have often turned to science, faith, and magic for answers. They help people find responses to the questions of Who am I and why am I here?

Q. You've written two well-received scholarly books. What inspired you to write a novel?

It's pretty hard not to notice the popular preoccupation with witches, vampires, and things that go bump in the night. But we aren't the first to be fascinated with these creatures. Today, we often imagine them into fantastic otherworlds, but the people I study believed that such magical beings were living alongside them in this world. So I started thinking, if there are vampires and witches, what do they do for a living—and what strange stories do humans tell to explain away the evidence of their presence? A Discovery of Witches began with the answers to those questions as I essentially reimagined our modern world through the eyes of medieval and Renaissance people.

Q. On page 72, Matthew observes that Diana sees her work as a historian as similar to that of a detective. Is this how you approach your own research? Is a novelist also a type of detective?

I definitely see my historical work as a process of detection. Historians fit pieces of evidence together and hope that they eventually form a coherent picture. Often, a historian's most compelling questions—and the most difficult to answer—concern personal motivations and why something happened the way it did. These are questions we have in common with detectives. Fiction is more like alchemy, though. You take a little of this, a little of that, combine it, and hope that something wonderful occurs so that your creation is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Novelists, like the alchemists of old, know that true creation takes time and patience, and that it's likely you will have many disasters and failures before you achieve success.

Q. What prompted you to include both first-person and omniscient narration? What does each method of storytelling contribute to the book?

Early in the process of writing the book I realized that vampires must be secretive and protective creatures. For Matthew, this means he has both a strong instinct to hide from Diana's questions and a need to protect her from threats. The only way to show that dynamic in Matthew (without making the reader very impatient with him) was to take Diana out of the picture temporarily and show him interacting with others who knew him in other ways. Since Diana is the first-person narrator, this caused some problems that omniscient narration solved. I think the combination of the two narratives works surprisingly well and gives the reader the immediacy of Diana's experience along with some answers to their questions about Matthew.

Q. Elias Ashmole and Ashmole 782 are taken from real life. Who was Elias Ashmole? Why did you base your novel on this particular manuscript?

Elias Ashmole was a seventeenth-century English antiquarian and scholar. He gave major bequests to Oxford University, including the collection of books and objects that provided the foundation for the Ashmolean Museum (which is still in operation today). Ashmole's books and manuscripts were first kept at the museum and then moved to the university's Bodleian Library in the nineteenth century. The Ashmole manuscripts include numerous rare alchemical texts. One of the manuscripts, Ashmole 782, is currently missing. As a scholar, I've done a lot of research in the Ashmole alchemical manuscripts and always wondered what Ashmole 782 might contain.

Q. There are many references in the novel to literary works and authors throughout history; for example, pages 148 – 149 include an exchange of quotes about the passage of time from writers Ben Jonson and John Milton. Do the references and quotes you've incorporated have any personal significance for you?

These are two authors I admire and enjoy, but the passages had no special meaning for me until I wrote A Discovery of Witches. A good romance needs a combination of tension and common ground, however, and I wanted books and literature to provide that for Diana and Matthew. A little homework in the literature of Diana's period of specialization provided the perfect sentiments for that scene.

Q. What was your inspiration for the concept of the Congregation and its trinity of daemons, witches, and vampires?

Both came from my desire to imagine extraordinary creatures into our modern world. I reviewed ancient and medieval ideas about the organization and creation of the universe and was struck by how many of them use organizing principles based on the numbers 3, 4, and 7. Four species of creatures—daemon, human, vampire, and witch—were soon central to the novel. But I was still troubled by the problem of how humans could be surrounded by such beings and not know it. The Congregation was useful in resolving that issue because it's an organization dedicated to preserving and protecting daemons, vampires, and witches from the majority of the population—which is human.

Q. From the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula in the nineteenth century to the current Twilight series, vampires have always fascinated the reading public. What is the appeal of the occult novel? What kind of freedom from the ordinary does it provide, both for readers and writers?

Vampires are relative newcomers among the supernatural creatures who have fascinated readers. The word "vampire" wasn't even used in English-speaking countries until the early eighteenth century. Before that, readers were far more interested in ghosts, devils, witches, daemons (and demons), and exotic hybrid creatures like dragons and the basilisk. The appeal of all these creatures—and vampires, too—is that they help to explain the inexplicable. Readers and writers are given the opportunity to suspend belief and wonder How do I know there aren't witches? and even more important What if there are?

Q. When writing a novel that involves the supernatural, it's necessary to create a framework for that invented world, a set of rules to maintain consistency and credibility. How difficult is it to establish that kind of structure and to faithfully work within it?

As a historian of science, I study the changing ideas that past generations have had about the world and how it works. Throughout history, most educated people believed in a theory of creation that was essentially alchemical; for example: some combination of opposing elements resulted in new life if subjected to the right celestial and terrestrial influences. This was entirely logical, given their understanding of the world and how it worked. A number of ancient and medieval worldviews helped me create the logic and structure of the world of A Discovery of Witches. Once those were in place, I found them very helpful in imagining what could (and could not) happen in it.

Q. Diana and Matthew's story ends on a mysterious note. What do you see as the next step in their adventure?

Diana and Matthew have known each other only for forty days. That's not much time to get to know someone and fall in love. Besides, falling in love is rather easy compared with staying in love and growing into a relationship. The next step of their adventure will begin just where their last step left off—and the adventure will involve all kinds of new discoveries about themselves, each other, and the creatures who share their world.


  • Diana's mother says that fear is "the strongest force on earth" (p.5). What does she mean? Do you agree?

  • Early in the novel, Harkness describes the typical personalities and physical traits of daemons, witches, and vampires. If you could be any one of these beings, which would you choose and why?

  • Who is the Congregation? Is it a force for good or a force for evil?

  • What happened to Diana's parents? What were they trying to hide?

  • Diana studies alchemy, which she defines as a type of "science with magic" (p. 73) used to explore and understand unexplained phenomena. Do you use astrology, fortune-telling, or ESP to provide a deeper understanding of events in your own life?

  • Why is Diana and Matthew's love forbidden? Have you ever loved someone whom your family or friends thought was inappropriate? How did their reaction influence your feelings?

  • Most of the book is told from Diana's perspective, yet a few chapters are written in the third person. Why? What feature or purpose unites those chapters?

  • Diana and Matthew travel back to the sixteenth century. If you had the power to time walk, as she does, what period in history would you visit?

  • In chapter 31, Diana remembers the bedtime story her mother told her as a child. In what ways does that story foreshadow the events of Diana's life?

  • Harkness presents the use of witchcraft not only as an otherworldly ability but also as a part of everyday life; for example, Diana uses a spell to fix her washing machine. Which example of the novel's blending of the magical with the mundane did you find most entertaining or creative? If you could use magic in your daily life, what would you use it for?

  • Look at the last page of the book. What is the significance of the blood and mercury? What is the reason behind the sense of relief felt in the house? What does the last sentence of the book mean?