by Kathleen Costa
It begins with absence and desire.
It begins with blood and fear.
It begins with a discovery of witches.
—A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Dr. Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) is a visiting research fellow at Oxford University set to explore prized manuscripts connected to her academic research into alchemy in the seventeenth century. She also comes from an extraordinary family of witches, with the distinction of being a direct descendant of Bridget Bishop who, in 1692, was the first to be executed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. However, her own magical talents are less than stellar, and she refuses to practice to the anguish of her aunt. Since age seven, after the grisly murder of her parents, she was raised by her maternal aunt Sarah (Alex Kingston) and her partner Emily Mather (Valarie Pettiford). She refuses to practice magic, shuns much of the coven gatherings, and has spent her adult life in normal academic pursuits. Although there are a few accidental manifestations of her magic, Diana has brought to light a manuscript many creatures would kill to possess, and the surprising connection between this manuscript and Diana puts her and her family in grave danger.
Professor Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode) is a highly-respected geneticist, member of the Royal Society, and a fifteen-centuries old vampire. His family, De Clermonts, is an ancient line, extremely wealthy and powerful. The patriarch, Phillipe, died tragically during World War II, the matriarch Ysabeau (Lindsay Duncan) lives a relatively quiet life in Sept-Tours (Seven Towers) castle in Auvergne, France, and his brother Baldwin (Trystan Gravelle) is the head of a secret organization, The Congregation, whose purpose is to keep the existence of creatures hidden from humans at any cost. Matthew has now chosen not to fed on the blood of humans, often hunting wild game to quench his thirst. But Diana’s presence has stirred him deeply…he feels a power within her he is unable to ignore. And, the book she has seen may hold the key to his existence as a vampire and the continuance of his kind.
The Ashmole 782 manuscript, once owned by Elias Ashmole, has long been sought by witches, demons, and vampires for centuries. The contents of the book are a topic of supposition, and for some strange reason, Diana, who can’t even control her magic, was able to “call it up.” Touching the book, she sees three folios have been ripped out. Then lights flicker and go out, words first invisible appear, moving on the page and onto Diana’s hands, and every creature in the area felt it, reacted, and are now deeply curious about Diana. Thus introducing the dark and handsome vampire Matthew to the mesmerizing blue-eyed witch Diana and setting in motion treachery, turmoil, centuries-old feuds, kidnappings, and murder. But, the deep connection between vampire and witch, will transcend time in order to attain the mysterious book that may hold the key to their very existence.
A Discovery of Witches earns 5++/5 Magical Manuscripts…Epic, Brilliant!
My fascination with the legends and lore of witches and vampires, especially within the realm of realism, is also a passion. I seek out books, movies, and television programs and documentaries to satiate my passion. This eight-episode mini series, based on the first book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, is extremely well-adapted and at the very top of my all-time favorite list. The absorbing tale includes the dramatic search for an enigmatic manuscript, revelations about the murder of Diana’s parents, true depth of Diana’s unique powers, and the turmoil, jealousy, and power struggle within the creature community. More importantly, the story focuses on a highly prohibited relationship between a witch and a vampire. Lines are drawn, alliances formed, prejudices are re-evaluated, and centuries-old grudges are fueled, but the deep romantic intimacy between Matthew and Diana is visceral and a bond no one can break. BRILLIANT!
The main cast is excellent, as if the story was written with the physical appearance and manner of Goode and Palmer in mind. Their strength, independence, and connection is real and supports their unique and visceral nature. The supporting cast epitomizes the demeanor and personalities of their characters from low-key and subtle to outright evil. Big thumbs up for Trevor Eve’s portrayal of Gerbert D’Aurillac, the vicious vampire attempting to destroy the De Clermont family and usurp power. And to Lindsay Duncan (Ysabeau de Clermont) who’s brilliant as she stands strong in support of her children, but softens when she recognizes her prejudices may need to be reviewed. Kudos on costuming…I want Diana’s blue coat!
An important secondary character in any visual medium is the setting. My favorite are the areas in and around Oxford University with its courtyards, cafés, and pubs. (Side note…the inside of the Bodleian Library is a set since filming there is prohibited); the exteriors of the beautiful Sept-Tours, De Clermont family castle, is actually Monselice Castle in Italy; “Ah, Venice” was prominent with its real backstreets and canals; Bishop’s upstate New York farm and Matthew’s Scottish highlands were filmed in Wales. With a brilliant cast, costuming, and gorgeous sets whether real or on a soundstage, A Discovery of Witches is an epic masterpiece!
ALERT! Before airing the finale in season one, it was announced that there would be a season two and three setting casting directors on a search for a plethora of new actors. Currently in production, season two is based on book two of the trilogy, Shadow of the Night, transporting Matthew and Diana to the sixteenth century searching for clues to the mysterious manuscript and seeking a brilliant witch to help train Diana who has discovered some unique and powerful skills. When will it air in the U.S.? Not sure of a specific date. I assume sometime in 2020. I’m on the edge of my seat!
Be a Fan of the Series!
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You can also stream A Discovery of Witches on the streaming service Sundance Now.
All Souls Trilogy By Deborah Harkness
Facebook — Author Deborah Harkness
Website — Deborah Harkness
My introduction to Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy came from the A Discovery of Witches mini series, and when I had a niggling feeling the title sounded oddly familiar, I checked my iPad only to discover I had already purchased the first book! Thrilled beyond description, I immediately started reading, finishing it before the mini series concluded. Compelling. Engaging. Epic. The debate on whether the book or movie is better is legit, but it is important to note that no movie or television program is able to incorporate every character and every scene, so reading Harkness’s work was the in-depth I craved. I didn’t stop there. I purchased Shadow of Night and The Book of Life and became so engrossed reading well into the night, only pausing due to the lateness of the hour. Well-written. Entertaining. All-time favorite. I loved Harkness’s writing style, rich description, well-developed characters, and especially her take on witch and vampire lore. Below are the links to my Goodreads reviews…enjoy!
ALERT! Deborah Harkness has penned another book incorporating many of the All Souls characters, but focusing more on the story of Marcus MacNeil (In the mini series, it is Marcus Whitmore, Matthew Clairmont’s vampire son and lab colleague). In Time’s Convert Marcus meets Matthew on the battlefields of the American Revolution, and circumstances cause Matthew to “turn” Marcus setting him on an eternal, uneasy journey. Check out the audio version brilliantly narrated by Saskia Maarleveld.
Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.