Summary: In Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar and unwilling witch Diana Bishop unwittingly calls a bewitched alchemical manuscript. Wanting nothing to do with sorcery, she returns it to the stacks, but it stirs up an unseen beacon, attracting supernatural entities, including the vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. As the bond between Diana and Matthew grows beyond academic, they attempt to determine why she is able to call upon such a powerful and supernatural lost treasure, and just how far her powers extend. Unfortunately, more sinister forces are curious as well.
Review: I’m always a little weary when the review (a la Goodreads) compares the book to Twilight, as I give an involuntary shudder every time I remember the Team Jacob t-shirt I owned that is probably now collecting dust in a forgotten discount pile at Goodwill. That being said, I was initially surprised by the beauty of this book. I was enraptured with the obvious research and thought Harkness put into Diana’s work, which is research centered around the history of alchemy, and I enjoyed Diana as a main character. Although she’s descended from powerful witches tracing back to Salem and is powerful herself, she has decided to make her own path without magic, and has been successful in doing so. She has a long list of credentials and degrees, each more impressive than the last, and she’s a likable character, seeming strong and intelligent. I became even more intrigued when she pulls a mysterious ancient manuscript from the bowels of the library that acts as a beacon for surrounding supernatural creatures. If this doesn’t intrigue you, don’t worry, because this is only Plot Line #1.
Then, along comes Matthew Clairmont, a centuries-old vampire and once Frenchman. Enter Plot Line #2 – the cliched supernatural romance. Matthew is initially attracted to Diana because of the manuscript, but then he is attracted to her because of her blood, looks, and power… then her personality, maybe. He is Edward Cullen – pretentious with his wine and yoga, wealthy beyond measure, broody enough to make a hormonal teenager annoyed, and demanding to the point of dictatorial. Unfortunately, this makes Diana Bella Swan, which is to say she becomes a spineless, defenseless, and sometimes selfish woman, oblivious to her surroundings and the way her decisions affects her loved ones.
That being said, the secondary characters are incredibly memorable. Diana’s eccentric aunts Em and Sarah, as well as the Bishop’s quickly changing home, are probably my three favorite characters in the book. Meanwhile, Matthew’s clan includes his vampiric and brilliant “children” Miriam and Marcus, his sophisticated and elite mother Ysabeau and her maternal housekeeper Marthe, and his demonic and Scottish best friend Hamish. In addition to this team of supernatural do-gooders, Harkness always introduces the “villainous” members of the Congregation, a political leadership group made of members of each supernatural species, that is more concerned with keeping tradition than the rights of their constituents. Sound familiar?
Unfortunately, with their relative introductions come several more plot lines: the mystery behind Diana’s parents’ deaths (Plot Line #3), the dying out of the supernatural species (Plot Line #4), the Congregation investigating Diana’s ability to pull out the Ashmole manuscript (Plot Line #5), the investigation of Diana’s DNA as ways of understanding her power (Plot Line #6), and the threat of an all out war between the supernatural species (Plot Line #7). Although all compelling plot lines, none of them are elaborated on very much, and they are so thinly connected that it begs the question: why even mention them at all? My hope is that these plot lines will be resurrected/expanded upon in subsequent books.
Overall, Harkness is an incredible writer in the sense of detail, but she still needs to work on putting together the story as a whole. Matthew and Diana’s romance was tepid at best, and their inability to focus on one issue at a time was aggravating. There is an additional plot line introduced in the last few chapters of the book that reads like Harkness took a scene out of Twilight and placed it in there, just for funsies. Considering this book is about 600 pages long, and I have had this recommended to me from various sources, I expected something more and found it lacking in more ways than one. However, I do intend to read the rest of the series, in hopes that Harkness’ ability to simply think will coincide with her ability to focus… or in hopes that she gets a new editor.