My attempt at a book jacket summary:
Diana Bishop does not practice magic. Except, when she really needs something off a high shelf or her washing machine is broken. But who’s counting?
Born into a family of talented witches, Diana has rejected a magical education in favor of traditional academics. Now an Oxford professor, Diana spends most of her time dedicated to research, fending off incessant invitations from the local coven, and trying to tamp down any shred of her magic ability. The aunts who raised her, Sarah and Em, wish Diana would open herself up to her magical abilities, but why would she want to open herself up to that world? Afterall, magic is the reason her parents were killed when she was a child.
Diana’s life is soon upturned by a lost enchanted manuscript, a community of witches, daemons, and vampires, and a dangerous romance with tall, dark academic who also happens to be a 1,500-year-old vampire.
Diving back in with A Discovery of Witches
I recently decided to dive back into Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy for the third time, having read them twice when the first and last books were released several years ago. Now that A Discovery of Witches is being adapted for TV, I thought it was a good time to revisit the story and revel in my excitement. This time around I decided to purchase the Audible version of the books so I can listen in the car or while I’m doing design work. As much as I love a traditional paper book, I’ve been able to move through more of my reading list this year than any other by incorporating a few great audiobooks into my life.
I’ve done my best to not go into too much detail, but forgive me if there is a [SPOILER] or two.
There’s something I’ve always loved about a good fantasy novel that blends magic and history, and this series delivers both. The first novel, A Discovery Of Witches is easily my favorite of the three in the All Souls Trilogy. There’s intrigue over a lost manuscript, a healthy dose of lore about witches, vampires, and daemons, and a bit of romance. I love getting to know each character all over again, nerd out on all of the fun details about Oxford and the Bodleian Library, and think wistfully about becoming a member of the Bishop family so I can hang out with Diana’s aunts and all of the ghosts at the Bishop house. The budding relationship between Diana and Matthew is also kind of fun at this point as they are just getting to know each other.
That being said, the second book is a different story.
To be perfectly honest, I have wanted to chuck the second novel, Shadow of Night, against the wall at some point (or 8) every time I’ve read it and listening to it produces the same effect. Though well-written, the character development in this volume always leaves me heated. After time-walking to the 15th Century, Matthew settles into a misogynistic role as head of house in a truly unattractive way. He spends the bulk of the book secreting Diana away in his home where she can’t be seen or heard, allowing his male friends to treat her poorly, and making ill-fated decisions about her magical training that he has no business controlling.
Diana, in turn, walks into the 15th century and leaves her backbone in the 21st century. More often than not, she chooses to respond to Matthew and his demands meagerly and submissively, allowing herself to ignore Matthew’s mental (and sometimes physical) abuse throughout the most of the book. I really despise the changes in both Matthew and Diana’s characters in this book, finding their interactions toxic and their relationship anything but romantic. I am very interested to see how this era of their relationship is adapted for the TV series and openly hope for some changes.
The third in the trilogy, The Book of Life, is significantly better than the second and I feel that the secondary characters are given the chance to really shine in these pages as they’re well-fleshed out and have interesting backstories. I particularly enjoyed Diana’s aunt Sarah and their community of witches, as well as Matthew’s family members, Gallowglass, Isabeau, and Fernando. Diana also begins to come into her own in this last book. After returning to the 21st century, she begins to take charge of her magic and find some semblance of balance in her relationship with Matthew, who let’s be honest, I still haven’t really warmed back up to after book two.
If I were rating these books solely on the romance, I would give the series a whopping zero. It follows a similar vein as other damsel romances such as Twilight or 50 Shades of Gray. Strong, capable woman meets damaged, but sexy man and falls into a possessive co-dependant relationship. Hard pass.
I devoured the other themes in the book, eating up the descriptions of magic, historical details, and the backstories of all of the well-developed characters. Deborah Harkness does a beautiful job writing characters that have well-defined personalities and quirks, both charming and intolerable. I would be thrilled to read any spin-off series, should she ever choose to write one…cough…Gallowglass…cough.
What are you waiting for? Start reading!
If you’d like to check out the Audiobooks for the All Souls Trilogy, you can find them at the following links: A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. If audiobooks aren’t your bag, you can grab both the Kindle editions and classic paper editions of these books on Amazon.
If you’ve read any of the All Souls Trilogy, I’d love to hear your thoughts! What did you think of each book? Are you anxiously awaiting the arrival of the A Discovery of Witches show now? If you haven’t read the series, what are you particularly digging this fall? For some more inspiration, check out my best reads of 2017.
What’s in my current reading stack?
As always, I have a stack of books (be it paper, Kindle, or Audio) that I’m making my way through at the same time. I’m enjoying a couple of quick-listen audio books while I do design work, How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flynn. My bedside paper novel at the moment is Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, and the fella and I are slowly picking away at the Harry Potter audio series by J.K. Rowling while we’re in the car. I’ve likely read and/or listened to them around two dozen times so far (I like an annual revisit), but it’s his first time and I’m really enjoying nerding out on all the follow-up questions from him.