If you’d never heard of A Discovery of Witches until recently, or you’ve heard a bit about the books but haven’t read them, you’ve come to the right place. The books (and upcoming TV show) have been in the headlines and the subject of many a Twitter chat recently. With that in mind, here is a guide to the All Souls Trilogy, where to start with these books, and what the scope of the universe is right now.
The nice thing about this universe is that it’s actually relatively small for right now. There’s enough to lose yourself in for a little while, but it’s not so expansive that it’s daunting to jump into. But if you wait too much longer, there will be so much A Discovery of Witches content that it might seem a bit overwhelming.
The original trilogy
A Discovery of Witches is a novel by Deborah Harkness, first published back in 2011. It features a scholar named Diana Bishop who is researching a long-lost manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. She finds the manuscript, due to her witch heritage, which attracts the attention of Matthew Clairmont, a 1,500-year-old vampire. It’s a fantastical story that’s perfect for those who swoon over wood-paneled libraries. Harkness builds an incredible world full of all kinds of magical creatures. The two follow up novels, Shadow of Night and The Book of Life round out the trilogy and the story of Matthew and Diana.
If you’re just wading into The All Souls Trilogy universe, I definitely recommend you start with these novels. They’re rich and imaginative, and it’s fascinating to watch Diana come into her power and struggle with expectations and the restrictions of being part of a magical world. This universe feels lived-in like it’s thousands of years old with a long history. We, as readers, are just stopping in for a brief story along the way.
These books are long — about 600 pages each — but once you pick them up, you’ll be hooked.
The expansion of the universe
But! If you want the full experience of The All Souls Trilogy, then don’t just read the original book. The World of All Souls is a fully illustrated companion guide to the trilogy. People have swooned over how detailed this book is, and how much it reveals. If you like knowing all the nooks and crannies of the world you’re exploring on the page, you definitely should pick this up.
The fact that the trilogy is complete doesn’t mean that author Deborah Harkness is finished with the All Souls universe, though. There’s a new book coming out, set before Matthew met Diana and embarked on their epic love story. It’s called Time’s Convert, and it will be released September 18.
This novel takes readers back to the time of the American Revolution when Matthew met Marcus MacNeil, a young surgeon working the battlefields. When Matthew finds Marcus dying of a fever, he offers to make Marcus a vampire, and thus immortal. Marcus jumps at the chance to live. But his transformation isn’t easy, and he has trouble adjusting to his new world.
The really exciting part of Time’s Convert, though, is that part of it takes place in contemporary times when Marcus has fallen in love with a human named Phoebe Taylor. She accepts Marcus for who he is and decides to become a vampire as well — but there are challenges that they don’t foresee.
Marcus is a character introduced in the All Souls Trilogy, so it will be interesting to revisit his backstory and see it told in more detail. The real key here is that the contemporary part of the story, though, gives us a chance to learn more about Matthew and Diana after the events of the last book. Readers are really hoping we see the couple again and learn what they’re up to.
The television show
This is really why everyone has been in a tizzy about A Discovery of Witches lately. There’s a TV show in production (it’s been in development for something like six years and is finally scheduled to air this fall) and Entertainment Weekly just ran a picture of Alex Kingston and Valarie Pettiford as Diana’s lesbian aunts. (Diana is played by Teresa Palmer).
Between the news that Alex Kingston is playing a lesbian witch and the casting of Matthew Goode as Matthew Clairmont (the news of which has been out for awhile, but people are just figuring it out now, apparently) has everyone freaking out over the show and asking themselves WHAT ARE THESE BOOKS?
The catch, though, is the show hasn’t been picked up yet in the United States. It will air on Sky in the UK starting this fall. Given how excited people are about the show, it’s likely it will find a home somewhere for those interested in watching on this side of the pond.