A discovery, that is a good word to describe what the first book was for me. It is fiction, but the kind that rings true. It is fantasy, but after reading all three books, I kind of expect in a few years time the science pages of the newspapers will publish the results of the research that is subject in these novels. Finding an article about Athanasius Kircher in the newspaper of the day I was reading the end of the trilogy only made that impression stronger.
The story starts in present day Oxford, where American historian Diana Bishop retrieves an alchemical manuscript from the Bodleian library. She is descendant of a whole line of witches, but does not want to follow in the footsteps of the Bishop family. Instead she concentrates on living a mundane live as a scientist, jogging and rowing in her spare time. This manuscript however is obviously enchanted, and she returns it immediately to the stacks. But the book has already attracted the interest of daemons, witches and vampires and a mundane life is no longer an option. Diana will have to learn more about witchcraft and magic. And about vampires, since scientist and vampire Matthew Clairmont stays close to her.
Three times 700 pages seems like an awful lot to read, and may be boring for some readers. But I loved almost every page – a few not, because of the horror on those pages. I am intrigued by the world Deborah Harkness describes. It looks so much like our world, but includes witches (not the neopagan kind that she also mentions), daemons and vampires. Harkness is a professor of history and wrote an academic publication on Elizabethan London and the scientific revolution, ‘The Jewel House’, and a book on John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature. She knows a lot about alchemical literature and she has done her homework on other subjects that play a role in the trilogy. Absolutely fascinating!
The book has been translated into Dutch as Allerzielentrilogie. See review.