A magical Discovery
A Discovery of Witches sends
author down a different path
By Andrea Downing Peck A CHILDHOOD THAT sparkled with the romance of her parents’ Friday-night candlelit dinners for two seems an unlikely genesis for a novel about witches, vampires and demons, but author Deborah Harkness credits her parents’ nearly 50-year mar- riage with providing the romantic undertones for A Discovery of Witches. Born and raised in a suburb outside Philadelphia, Harkness witnessed her mother and father demonstrating the beauty of true love. “I still watch them in utter amaze- ment and think how do you keep some- thing so special alive for so long, but hey really have,” says Harkness, who is divorced. “That had a huge impact on the way I wrote the book. Books and love really are magic. That’s magic in the world today.” Harkness, a 46-year-old historian of science and medicine at the University of Southern California, also drew upon her well-honed storytelling flair and expertise in medieval alchemy when crafting her debut
novel, which is filled with magic and sorcery.
Harkness, whose writing talents first were dis-
played in two scholarly works and an award-winning
blog, “Good Wine Under $20,” did not set out to pen
a novel. Instead, her goal was to answer a question
that clawed at her after walking through an airport
bookstore in the fall of 2008 as the frenzy over the
publication of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series
reached its zenith.
“The bookstore was full of books on ghosts,
witches, vampires, demons and things
that go bump in the night,” Harkness
tells The Connection from her home in
Los Angeles. “I thought, ‘What would
our modern world look like if those old
beliefs about the world and how it
worked were true?’ ”
Searching for the answer, she
imagined the conversations that might
take place if these mystical creatures
inhabited today’s world. What would a
human being say to a witch living next
door? What would a vampire discuss
with other participants in a yoga class?
Once eight or nine pages were filled with dialogue, she realized she was heading down a new literary path.
The book begins in contemporary England,
where the heroine, Diana Bishop, a historian and
descendent of the first woman executed at the Salem
witch trials, unearths an ancient alchemy manuscript
in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.
The elusive volume’s discovery thrusts the reluctant
modern-day witch into a scrum of vampires, witches
and demons, all of whom want to get their hands on
the long-lost document.
Harkness uses her 20-plus years of training in
science and history to present vivid details from a
1,500-year span. “It isn’t historical fiction, in that it is
not set in the past,” she says of her 597-page novel,
“and yet it is historical fiction in the sense that it is
just full of history.”
Harkness, who studied at Oxford as a graduate
student, embroidered the characters in A Discovery of
Witches with snippets of her own personality and
interests. Matthew, a vampire, embraces her passion
for fine wine; Matthew’s son, Marcus, shares her irrev-
erence and love of sneakers and popular music; Diana
not only mimics her occupation but also enjoys row-
ing, yoga and tea.
sn p u
t s. w
After a career steeped in facts, Harkness enjoys
the freedom that writing a novel provides. “In history,
when you don’t know the answers to something you
look it up,” she says. “In fiction, when you don’t know
the answer to something, you make it up.”
Shadow of Night , the sec-
These days Harkness is busy adding to Diana and
Matthew’s unique love story. Shadow of Night, the sec-
ond novel in the All Souls trilogy, will be published
Despite her newfound second career,
Despite her newfound second career,
Harkness has no plans to abandon the class-
room. “I can’t imagine not teaching,” she
says. “I love to share history with stu-
dents, especially students who come out
of high school thinking they hate his-
tory. I love to change their minds.” C
s c tu e
COSTCO HAS 50 COPIES of Deborah Harkness’
A Discovery of Witches with signed bookplates
to give away. To enter, go to Costco.com, search
for “JanBookPick” and follow the instructions.
Or print your name, address and daytime
phone number on a postcard or letter and send
it to: Deborah Harkness, The Costco Connection, P.O. Box 34088, Seattle, WA 98124-1088.
NO PURCHASE, PAYMENT OR OPT-IN OF ANY KIND IS
NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN THIS SWEEPSTAKES.
Purchase will not improve odds of winning. Sweepstakes is sponsored
by Penguin Group, 375 Hudson St., New York, N Y 10014. Open to legal
residents of the U. S. (except Puerto Rico) who are age 18 or older at the
time of entry. One entry per household. Entries must be received by
February 1, 2012. Winners will be randomly selected and noti;ed by mail
on or before March 1, 2012. The value of the prize is $16. Void where prohibited. Winners are responsible for all applicable federal, state and local
taxes. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received.
Employees of Costco or Penguin Group and their families are not eligible.
Signed book giveaway
I’M NOT SURE why, but I
will read nearly any book
about witches. Unfortunately, not all of those books are
created equal. Fortunately,
this month’s Book Buyer’s
pick, Deborah Harkness’ A
Discovery of Witches, reminds readers of just how
high the bar is set, and
The story begins with
Diana Bishop, who comes
from a long line of witches,
discovering a long-lost
alchemical text. The book’s
reappearance lures all kinds
of witches, vampires and
demons to her library, but
Diana is the only one who
can break the book’s spell.
One of the joys of this
novel is reading about the
operating freely in today’s
world. (You may never look
at the person next to you in
the checkout lane the same
way.) Equally compelling is
the author’s obvious know-
ledge of history, which
peppers the plot. I’ve little
doubt that most readers will
become as enchanted by
this debut novel as I am.
For more book picks,
see page 49.
Andrea Downing Peck is a freelance
writer from Bainbridge Island, Washington.