In the opening pages of A Discovery of Witches Yale history professor Diana Bishop, on a summer research trip to Oxford’s Bodleian Library, encounters a 17th-century alchemical manuscript sealed by magic. Descended from a long line of powerful witches, Diana can feel the powerful spell at work as soon as she touches the book.
Despite her surprise at receiving an enchanted volume from the Bodleian’s stacks, her trepidation at what might happen if she opens it, and her unwillingness to use her inborn magical ability, Diana doesn’t simply return the book to the call desk. No, that would be too easy. Despite the possibility that the book, once opened, may be trouble, Diana opens it anyway–and yes, trouble (and the plot) ensues.
I don’t know how many times I picked A Discovery of Witches up, In the months following its February release, looked at it–and put it back, unbought. On the surface, it looks like the kind of novel I’d eat up with a spoon. Academic setting? Check. Historical mystery? Check. Magic existing in a contemporary setting, yet unseen and unrecognized by normal people? Check. Over 400 pages? Check. It’s like a recipe for my favorite flavor of literary crack. But despite all that, I didn’t cave in and buy it until early June, and once I got it home it sat unread for nearly two months.
I mean, look–I snapped up Lev Grossman’s The Magicians last year without a flicker of hesitation. I didn’t even bother to finish reading the dust jacket flap; I just knew immediately that it was a novel that could have been custom-written to my tastes (and it exceeded all my expectations). I’m even counting down the days (three!) until the release of the sequel, The Magician King. I also picked up Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf (and reviewed it last week), despite not being a “dog person”–I simply had an odd hunch that it would be worth reading, followed it, and was rewarded with a howling good time.
I’ve got this odd, intuitive book-sense, in other words. It’s an uncanny knack for picking up on which books will be good and which will…not. And I really should have listened to that book-sense each time I picked up A Discovery of Witches and debated whether to buy it, because, like Diana Bishop, I seemed to know just by touching the cover that it was going to be–well, okay, not trouble. Just a massive goddamned disappointment. Continue reading