Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Review: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I understand that different genres have different rules. I get it that the noir I enjoy will spend a lot of time establishing context because context reveals character. And I get that fantasy will spend time “world-building” (a term I don’t much like since I see it as shorthand for ‘avoiding the development of character,’ but that’s a rant for another day). So I suppose romance novels have their thing, too. Getting to see the tension between two different people builds up the stakes of their eventually coming together. It makes sense.

But this book? Really?

Diana Bishop more or less accidentally recovers a book seething with magical power. She knows it from the moment she sees it, and she recognizes that its power has drawn a host of supernatural creatures all at once: her own fellow witches, a crew of demons, and a devastatingly handsome vampire. She’s done something that’s clearly overturned the order of things, and, by the conventions of every genre I know, I expect to see the repercussions of that…

Instead, we get her going to yoga with her new vampire/possible boyfriend. (Yes, yoga, where the witches, demons, and vampires all hang out doing downward-facing-dog at the same time as at least some of them are scheming after this powerful book.) And we get her discussing interior decorating of the vampire’s “new” 500-year-old home. And we get her assuring her friends that she’s not falling in love with this charismatic creature.

I confess, I made it only about a quarter of the way through this one. I wouldn’t ordinarily review something I’d read so little of, but I needed closure of some sort, and it was either write this or read the rest, and I just can’t see doing that.

The writing her is stunningly clunky. Most of it’s narrated in the first-person, and it comes littered with what we “in the business” sometimes call ‘information dump.’ That is, we get long digressions that fill us in on what happened earlier. A skillful writer – and I know there must be skillful paranormal romance writers – knows how to break up backstory, how to reveal it slowly as part of the ongoing narrative. This feels like cut and paste.

And then, every so often, we get a clumsy third-person chapter that brings us up to speed on how the vampire sees things differently. He’s drawn to her, of course, but he’s confused in his feelings. Does he love her for her mind? For her link to the powerful book? Or because he wants to eat her?

My wife’s family has a saying “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.” That is, don’t disparage something others enjoy when you know you can’t enjoy it yourself. But here, with all that simply isn’t working, I can’t help myself. How this is a major release – which should total almost 1500 pages when the whole trilogy comes out – is beyond me.

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