In defense of junk-food novels: A Discovery of Witches


I’ve just finished A Discovery of Witches.

I was a bit worried diving into this one, because I’m the type of person who tends to lurk around the interwebs and read all the comments (I wouldn’t recommend it). This means I also have a bad habit of poring over book reviews on Goodreads. For this book, it was an outright poisonous war between those who absolutely hated it or absolutely loved it.

In retrospect, I really need to stop reading reviews before I read a book. It sounds a bit counterintuitive, but it kind of sucks to have preconceived notions in your head going into a book. Luckily, the Goodreads war didn’t manage to persuade me from not reading this book.

So here’s the thing: This is definitely a junk-food novel. And that’s OK.

The book begins with scholar Diane, an aficionado of all things alchemy, checking out a document — the fabled Ashmole 782 — at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. But when scores of daemons, witches and vampires begin to show up at the library, cue supernatural antics and unraveling mysteries.

There were some parts of it that were decidedly Twilight-esque (the feminist in me cringes a bit at certain points, etc.), but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t voraciously devour all of the Twilight books in middle school. So if you’re already into that series, you’ll be into this book. If you’re not, you might still be into this book. The cringe-y moments weren’t enough to make me put the book down ever, and although Diane isn’t the most fascinating character off all time, she’s not awful.

Another issue a lot of people had with this novel is that it’s slow, or the plot just repeats as supernatural creatures continue to plague the protagonist with annoyance. However, I’d argue that this isn’t a flaw. I’m the type of person that goes into a book to get lost for a long time, and I’m in no hurry. Constant hoards of creatures causing a main character grief is basically the plot to Buffy, which is the best show ever created, so come on.

The plot is definitely what drives this book. I don’t find myself particularly drawn to many of the characters, though there are a few who won me over (shout out to Em and Sophie). But I feel like Deborah Harkness definitely did her homework with all of the fun, intriguing details into history, magic and lore. I love her imagery of how books smell, how estates look, or how Diana feels when she uses magic, and what that magic looks like. At some points I feel like some aspects are dragged out while others happen far too quickly, but it wasn’t too bad.

Immediately after I finished this book, I had two urges. One, I felt the need to read a nonfiction book to make up for the indulgence I just allowed myself. If you need a hard reset on your nonfiction game, this could be a good in-between book.

And two, I reached out and grabbed the second book in the series, Shadow of Night. I’ll read that while I pick out a new nonfiction title. Maybe a memoir.

But just remember there’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating chocolate cake every once in a while, just like there’s nothing wrong with reading junk-food novels here and there.

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