Buyers Beware!: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah HarknessPosted: April 8, 2012
Once upon a time, many years ago, I was working at a pediatric office to pay my way through university. One of my colleagues said to me, knowing my love of reading, “Hey, have you heard of this book called Twilight? You should read it, it’s amazing.” She told me it was about vampires and my thoughts immediately went to Anne Rice’s stories of Lestat and all that really scary stuff that you can only read in the daylight. So I said noooooo waaaaay, I’m not reading about vampires. Eff that s%#t. But she promised me it wasn’t scary and that I should pick it up. So I did.
Jump ahead circa now and this is my feeling about vampires: I want to be one, or rather, I want Eugene to be one so that I can have one of those really impossible romances that eventually leads to me also becoming a beautiful and invincible vampire that fends off evil to protect everyone she loves. Yes, that’s right. Furthermore, I’m a big fan of Young Adult fiction and unabashedly so. When it’s good, it’s really good. And even when it’s not good (i.e., the writing in The Hunger Games is not the best quality) it’s still good! But by now I have read all of the Twilight books, seen all of the movies, and there has yet to be another book to come my way to get me drooling like an obsessive fanatic over every page.
Given this very important lead-up of background information, you can understand my excitement while walking Charlie through Ramsden Park one day when I came across an advertisement on a bus shelter for a book called A Discovery of Witches whose tagline read “Twilight for adults”. Now give me some credit, I was of course a bit skeptical. Anybody who has read and loved Twilight knows that is a redundant catchphrase because Twilight is for adult readers…and young readers, and everything in between. But I knew the point they were trying to get across and I wondered, could this be my next great read, that elusive thing that comes only every 3 books or so to engross me and make me turn off my phone and avoid the TV? I could only hope. With great excitement and anticipation I purchased my copy and headed home to curl up with my new find. I noticed the wealth of praise for the book listed on the back cover and inside cover, glowing by any comparison: “One of the most exciting books I’ve ready in years” and “delightfully well-crafted and enchantingly imaginative”.
I am 136 pages in. My opinion? I’ve been hosed. All of those marketing and PR people over at Penguin have done their company proud, because I really did think that at the very least, this would be an engrossing read, if not the best book in years that is also delightfully well-crafted. Sadly, it is neither. I had an inkling this might be the case only a few pages in, so I’ve used a bookmark as while plodding through it rather than dog-earing my pages. (I realize most of you think it’s a terrible crime to bend the pages of your book but to me, it is the sign of a well-read and well-loved book, as witnessed by the treasures lining my shelf with yellowed, bent and crumpled pages–evidence of my voracious appetite that I could, unfortunately, not muster for this strange book.)
It seems that Harkness is writing for an even younger audience than the Twilight series is aimed for, with a bashful 30-something witch and vampire, nervous as school children around each other, and such chaste, 1950′s-esque dialogue and scenes that made my skin crawl. Every few pages I found myself going back to figure out what had just happened because some new terrible thought or creature would be introduced and then without any closure or understanding, the story would trail off to another terrible thought or creature alighting on the page. Disjointed, I believe they call it. And what’s worse, there’s not much in the way of fresh and new ideas (imaginative? I think not) some being recycled from other similar stories, or from traditions of witches and vampires that are fairly commonplace, resulting in a hodge-podge of Twilight-y things, like vampires being overprotective (been there…) that don’t seem to work. In fact, the only “new” thing I came across in this book was the idea of “daemons”, creatures invented by Harkness with ADHD tendencies that are not the devil or even devil-like, do not really do anything bad as far as I’ve seen, just can’t concentrate and are really creative and look like humans. Wha?????
So I brought down my expectations and thought, hey, at best it’s reading to help you fall asleep at night. I was doing okay with that premise for a few days until yesterday on the subway, I landed upon this exchange (scene: witch inviting vampire over for dinner and discussing how she can take care of herself and doesn’t need his minions to protect her…sound familiar?):
“What do you eat?” I whispered, my face flushing.
“I’m omnivorous,” Matthew said, his face brightening further into a smile that made my heart skip a beat. …
“Oh, one more thing,” I said, turning my back. “Let Miriam do her own work. I really can take care of myself.” …
“I’m not leaving until you’re out of my sight,” he said, looking at me in disapproval.
“Vampires,” I muttered, shaking my head at his old-fashioned ways.
Really?! Lame-o. I pictured this as if it were played out on a screen in front of me and almost gagged. Cheesy, without any redeeming qualities, especially keeping in mind that at this point we don’t even know why he’s so protective over her. In fact, I’m not even sure he knows himself.
It was at this point that I gave up, took out the book mark, and located the Indigo receipt in order to attempt a return purchase where I will most certainly have to lie and do battle with the skeptical cashier when they ask me if the book is used. Perhaps it’s not fair to judge a book without finishing it, but I’ll take my chances.
So, my friends, for those of you in the market for your next great, guilty-pleasure read, this unfortunately is not it.
The hunt continues!