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I live on the ocean, write women's fiction, love to read so much that it's an addiction rather than a hobby (I read an average of a book a day). I live on the wet west coast so it's a good thing that I like to walk in the rain.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Monday review - A Discovery of Witches

Deborah Harkness's A Discovery of Witches is one of those books I kept looking at in the bookstore, kept picking it up, reading the back cover, and then putting it back down. I suppose - though I'm not sure I was ever conscious of this - that I was waiting for it to come out in paperback or at least trade paperback. I buy quite a few hardcover books, but they tend to be by writers I know and love - I seldom buy hardcovers otherwise.

Hardcover books are expensive. I'm happy to buy them for writers - Michael Ondaatje, William Gibson, Margaret Atwood, Suzenne Brockmann, for starters, plus other writers I love - I know I'll read and reread. I'm happy to make sure they get the best royalties possible by spending more money than I usually do on a book.

Why then did I buy this book in hardcover?

I was in Chapters one day (this book has been on the front shelves at Chapters for a very long time) and I picked it up again. This time I had gift certificates (that I'd bought for myself) and I read the back cover copy and said, okay, I could buy three paperbacks or I could put myself out of my misery and buy the book I'd been looking at for months.

It's a big book, 43 chapters, 579 pages - big, dense, complicated pages. What sold me on it? I think it was the reference in the cover copy to Oxford's Bodleian Library - a place I've dreamt about for years. It's one of those places I've always wanted to go but haven't yet managed - probably thanks to Dorothy Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane - all three of whom went to Oxford and Sayers' books are replete with references to Oxford and the library.

A Discovery of Witches reminded me a bit of Sayers and it kept me reading, even though the references to alchemy were complicated and sometimes confusing. I loved the characters and the world-building - there were witches, and vampires, and daemons - but they weren't your usual "creatures" as they call themselves. This book is filled with highly intelligent and well-educated creatures - the heroine (a witch) is a professor, the hero (a vampire - shades of Romeo and Juliet) has degrees in all kinds of things (after all, he's had a very long life). There are terrific references to history (that he's experienced). The book ranges from Oxford to Massachusetts to France.

It wasn't an easy read but it was amazing. Each character was fascinating, deep and rich and real. The world-building was the same - I never felt as if she was cheating or taking short cuts with the characters, the setting or the world-building.

So I'm sorry now that I didn't buy it earlier, but I've put it back on my TBR pile and will read it again in a few months. I know I'll get even more out of it the second time when I won't be in such a rush to see what happens, when I can simply linger over details and events, rather than rushing through them.

Definitely a worthwhile buy - even in hardcover.


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