Adapted from the 2011 historical-fantasy novel by the American scholar Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches is a contemporary love story set against the backdrop of Oxford academic life. The world features modest numbers of vampires, witches, and daemons living among humans but hiding in plain sight.
When the brilliant historian, Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) discovers an ancient manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, she’s tossed into the middle of a deadly mystery that leaves her crossing paths with the enigmatic vampire, Mathew Clairmont (Mathew Goode) and forces her to acknowledge her magic heritage.
I don’t like vampire stories. I really don’t like vampire stories. Neither do I like stories about contemporary witches or daemons, especially seemingly civilized ones. So, yes, I hesitated in the beginning. However, the series left me captivated just about 15 mins into it.
Okay, let me back up a bit.
A Discovery of Witches is and isn’t your regular “The Originals” kind of series. It does patronize a number of stereotypical character and story arcs though.
- A naive witch, who turns out to be innately very powerful, effortlessly or mistakenly casting spells other witches who have been practising for years can hardly manage.
- The protagonist stumbling upon an artefact, a book, an ancient item… that throws them into a whirlwind of mystery and adventure.
- An innately powerful witch whose parents were murdered by fellow witches. You didn’t hear Harry Potter from me.
- A forbidden interspecies relationship. Two lovers pushing against all odds toward something much greater than them, perhaps a desire or a prophesy, something that could very well doom them: Twilight. The Vampire Dairies.
The list goes on.
Still, the series manages to feel very original, giving the feeling of one watching a blend of “The Originals” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. Or maybe the comparison only manages to do the setting, but not the uniqueness, of this series justice.
I will just point out a few of the things I really love about this series.
The connection between Diana and Mathew is, I dare say, the main strength of the show. Palmer and Goode’s spectacular acting made that connection so potent that I couldn’t help but suspend my bias against vampire/witch stories. This is what happens when the adaptation of a great novel is well done.
I also love the fact that the witches, in spite of their powers, seem more or less feeble against the vampires. At least that’s what the series has led me to believe. I mean, it’s highly possible that I might be wrong. The remaining four episodes of the first season will tell.
Lastly, stories about interspecies relationships between a vampire and a human or a witch often convince us from the onset that the vampire isn’t going to harm their lover. So we watch such movies with great comfort.
A Discovery of Witches, on the other hand, is unapologetic in characterizing Mathew as a vampire that could kill what he loves. Thus, I am in constant fear for Diana, especially after Mathew had to literally hunt that poor deer to mellow his craving for Diana. Not that the hunting helped very much.
Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed what I have seen of this series so far, and I can’t wait for the next episode.