By Holly Tucker
I have long been impressed by Deborah Harkness’ work. Deborah is a historian at the University of Southern California and – like me – works in early-modern science. Her work on Renaissance alchemy is thoughtful, detailed and fills a vital gap in scholarship on this important but at times seemingly impenetrable subject (The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution and John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature).
So imagine my surprise when I learned that she was coming out with a novel! A Discovery of Witches chronicles the experiences of a historian of alchemy (sound familiar) who also happens to come from a long line of witches. On a research trip to Oxford, Diana Bishop stumbles on a manuscript that promises to unlock secrets long hidden. Secrets that pit witch covens against vampires in a race to learn the truth of their existence.
Now before you groan and say, “not another vampire book,” you’re just going to have to trust me. You have never read anything quite like this. I received an advance reader in the mail the day before Thanksgiving (the book released last month). I barely moved for three days as I plowed through the book. Thank goodness we didn’t have plans for the holidays!
Deborah and I had a chance to connect by phone not too long ago. We talked about what’s like to be a historian writing fiction, what books she recommends for people wanting to learn more about witches, and why alchemy is so much more than turning base metals into gold.