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Sunday, January 23, 2011 9:04 am
Otherworldly reading
Posted by: Kaite Stover

The book group crystal ball post of a couple of days ago is incomplete.

One book I left out is A Discovery of Witches,witches bowing in February from debut novelist Debora Harkness. This rich and mesmerizing story of a scholar witch who tamps down her powers in pursuit of academic success and the vampire geneticist who falls desperately in love with her will remind readers of the romantic longing of Twilight, the engaging story telling of Harry Potter, and the intriguing literary mysteries of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

The unlikely pair of magical creatures is in pursuit of an enchanted manuscript, Ashmole 782, that has been hidden in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library for centuries and could contain the demise of three strains of otherworldly beings–witches, vampires, and daemons. It’s a book everybody wants and unfortunately, no holds are allowed.

A Discoverpossessiony of Witches is reminding me, in so many good ways, of other literary fantasy novels that discussion groups have liked. The academic setting and devotion to the power of literature brings to mind the elegantly written Possession by A.S. Byatt, the tale of two English scholars who grudgingly join forces to track down the secret romance between two Victorian poets. Their bookish discovery could mean career success for the two young teachers and career demolition for entire literature departments.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke also springs to mind for the careful attention to the history of magic (caught in delightful footnotes) as well as the exceptional world building of an England in the Napoleonic Era clandestinely using magic to fight the wars.

Fans of storytelling that takes accepted myths and legends and gives them a new contemporary bent will make the connections between American Gods or Adanenansi Boys, both by Neil Gaiman.

For big fans of the magic element in A Discovery of Witches I’ll be offering up The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes and The Magicians by Lev Grossman (for more on The Magicians read Neil’s post). And for readers who just love the literary esoterica there’s The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe.

It’s turning into a banner year for fantasy with the last of the Harry Potter and Twilight movies on the horizon and nudging readers to either reread or reluctantly finish those series. And while adults have always been fans of the boy wizard searching for home and family and the boy vampire searching for eternal love, they may soon be clamoring for more of the same from the grown-up reading pile. Throw a fantasy-themed book discussion (Neil can vouch for the popularity of these types of chats) and have all of these titles on hand for readers who won’t learn until the last page is turned that Harkness has planned a trilogy.

One Response to “Otherworldly reading”
  1. Karen Ehlers Says:

    I run a book club in Euless, TX called “Eclectic in Euless”. We only read offbeat, dark, twisted books. We’ve read Gillian Flynn, Joe Hill, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Louis Bayard, Justin Cronin and Cherie Priest. I was hesitant to bring out Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell since I felt it had been overhyped. God, it was a massacre. Most if not all hated it and most, including myself, could not even finish it. We’re reading “Swamplandia” for February, followed by the new Patrick Rothfuss, then the new Louis Bayard. Both authors I highly recommend for any book club.
    I find that our ‘theme’ attracts way so many members that I’ve had to close membership (it’s at my house so it’s limited seating). Glad to see there are some other book clubs out there like mine.

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