A Discovery of Witches

by Deborah Harkness

Rating: ★

Man, this was a mistake.

To try and reconstruct how I even came to be reading this, I think 1) I originally picked it up from the secondhand bookshop thinking it might be a popular-but-decent read in the vein of Strange & Norrell and 2) when I actually started reading it, I had it somewhat mixed up in my head with something else (though I can't now figure out what that book's actual title is), and didn't really read the cover, which should've altered my expectations.

Anyway, enough excuses. This is crap. To detail all the ways it is crap would be too much effort, but if you'll excuse the feeble outline I can point out that the novel opens with a barrage of extremely clunky first-person exposition, which it doesn't ever really stop hitting you with, and then manages to tumble into a series of ridiculously overblown romance novel cliches (he's strange, he's dangerous, he's so clever, he's super super rich, he's so classy and old fashioned, look at his cool car, oh he's so in tune with my needs) whilst doing the bare minimum to maintain any pretense at a plot. Both the main character and her stalker love interest act like spoilt children the entire time, and everyone else bows to them because they're dangerous psychopaths who think nothing of resorting to violence for posturing reasons, even with lifelong friends and family. If there weren't nearly 700 pages of it I'd wonder if it was meant to be a parody, but no satirist could spin this out so long (and apparently it's a trilogy).

The best I can say is that the book is not actually hard to read, with short digestible chapters, and some of the plot elements (history, alchemy, genetics) could have been quite interesting if they were really at all involved in why the book was written. This is, essentially, a sort of pornography. If you're coming looking for that, I guess this is fine, but for any other reader it is trash.