This is a book that has the magic of Harry Potter and the academia of Oxford. If for no other reason than the fact that it made me miss Oxford, I would love this book. Fortunately, there’s a lot more to love than that. Deborah Harkness manages to add the depth that only a determined researcher can add. I wasn’t surprised when I found out that she is a history professor. I can’t honestly picture anyone else researching quite as much as she did for this book. Between tying together America, Great Britain, France, and Venice throughout 1, 500 years worth of history, she had her work cut out for her. I think she succeeded.
This book is so chock full of historical, nerdy, alchemical, magical goodness that it practically shimmers. It is clear that Deborah Harkness has researched the heck out of it. We have quotes from Darwin, Giordano Bruno, and Machiavelli. There are beautiful Arab names for horses ridden by French nobility so old that they rode in the Crusades. There are descriptions of alchemical illustrations and metaphors that read more like poetry than anything else. Heck, the fact that she knew that truly old manuscripts are shelved with the spines in to protect their delicate bindings made me so happy I practically squealed. Plus, I totally want to check out Matthew Clairmont’s library.
Diana Bishop, a young scholar of the history of alchemy and a descendant of the Salem Bishops, is spending her time in the Bodleian (a library where I could happily live). While there, she calls up Ashmole 782, a text that she wants to look at briefly to see if it’s worth further study. After she sends it back, it is made clear to her rather quickly that it was an important book as daemons, vampires, and witches of all sorts start to make trouble.
Against all paranormal and occult propriety, Diana ends up getting help from Matthew Clairmont, a tall, dark-haired vampire who happens to also be a brilliant geneticist and a knight. We see them go from enemies to friends to a whirlwind romance. The question in this book as far as there relationship goes for me wasn’t whether they would become lovers, it was whether they would survive the backlash. A powerful, but spellbound, witch in love with a powerful vampire, the scion of an ancient family, being together does not bode well for keeping humans ignorant of the occult underworld.
Really, I never knew how deadly academia could be.