A Discovery of Witches (unfinished)

A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness

I don't know. I just don't know. This is one of those books where a connection with the writing seems to be thisclose … but not quite made. The buildup has been excruciating; I would much have preferred even just a little more forward motion in the plot to what I have instead: an awareness of how much spandex the main character owns and the tale of every time she's gone rowing.

I get it. I do. Diana Bishop is from a very old family of witches in a world where there are, including witches, three types of "creatures", the other two being vampires and daemons. Witches are pretty much what you think and are born so, and vampires are pretty much what you think (except no fangs? Then how…?) and are made, and daemons … are weird brilliant creatures which pop up unexpectedly in otherwise completely human families, start showing signs of what they are in puberty (of course), and, if they're lucky, find out what they are before they self-destruct. Okay.

Diana, however, is different. This is not just because her parents were both very powerful witches (the term being unisex), or because she's a Bishop, a family associated with witchcraft since Salem. She's different because she blames magic for the deaths of her parents when she was very young, and as a result has determined never to use her own considerable power. Never mind that it's not something that can be punished ("My parents died because of you! Bad magic! Bad! I'll teach you!") or that can really be contained (she finds herself making exceptions or simply using it unintentionally several times a year – she keeps obsessive count). Never mind that having spurned training she has basically turned herself into a loose cannon and a danger to herself and others (powerful but untrained? Never good). Never mind that every. Single. Non-human. Around. Her. tries to tell her what she's trying to do is a Very Bad Idea, and no matter how much she protests she's not using her power (much) they won't leave her alone. She won't use magic, and that's that, darn it. Well, just this time, but never again! Well… no, really, that last time was it!

Frankly, she's driving me up a wall.

I'm all for occasional irrational behavior in fictional characters. It helps them feel more real, and which makes them interesting. Makes them human. (Ironically.) However, if the character in question is a main character (and in fact the person with whom the reader is sharing headspace), and the irrational behavior is so irrational as to actually be just stupid, that may still be realistic but it stops being interesting and becomes frustrating.

And see, it's the whole "humans vs. creatures" thing I'm not entertained by. I know; in Harry Potter it was all wizards and poor blind helpless powerless muggles, but somehow reading Rowling made the reader feel like part of the wizarding world. I doubt there are too many Potterites who haven't, even if just in the back of their minds, pondered which House they belonged in (Ravenclaw; maybe Hufflepuff) or what their patronus would look like (a beagle, or maybe a horse). You're not a muggle while you're reading Harry Potter. Here, though, I feel very ordinarily human, and it's not a good feeling. We're so stupid. (Silly? Sure it is. But however silly it may be, it isn't fun.)

It's not fair to this book that so many books written (mostly, I think) later but encountered sooner feature vampires who must learn to control their appetites around the squishy and vulnerable and delicious women they come to care about as something other than dinner – but the fact remains that there is Matthew, every sense at attention as Diana realizes she has a tiny bleeding cut. How strangely familiar.

I made it to 43%, and … honestly, as Diana learns that she's not just powerful but just about all-powerful and continues to use abilities she didn't even know she had with no harm to herself or others … I have too much else I'd rather be reading. Maybe someday I'll come back to this.