A Discovery of Witches is the first installment of the All Souls Trilogy written by Deborah Harkness. It was published on February 8, 2011 by Penguin Books and has been on the New York Times bestseller list.
Warner Bros. optioned the film rights in the summer of 2011, however, that film option expired. The BBC then acquired an option for the material.
On February 8, 2016, Deborah Harkness announced that Jane Tranter and Bad Wolf will be producing a TV series, with Ashley Pharoah adapting the books and serving as executive producer. Deborah Harkness also will be an executive producer and plans to write several of the episodes.
When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy.
She returns the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer. For witches are not the only otherworldly creatures living alongside humans. There are also creative, unstable daemons and long-lived vampires who become interested in the witch’s discovery. They believe that the manuscript contains important clues about the past and the future, and want to know how Diana Bishop has been able to get her hands on the elusive volume.
Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans—and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.
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The story opens with Diana Bishop in Oxford University's Bodleian Library doing research for a keynote speech she has agreed to give in a few months about alchemical images. She called up several manuscripts from the library's holding cells, but one in particular feels different. Diana, a witch, realizes that the manuscript is enchanted, but goes against her instincts as a witch, unknowingly breaks the spell, and opens the book.
The next day, again at the library, Diana uses magic to retrieve a book from a high shelf. Diana tries to avoid using magic -- although coming from a long, powerful line of witches, the death of her parents when she was seven years old has turned her away from her heritage. After using magic to retrieve the book, Diana realizes that she is being watched by a vampire, Matthew Clairmont.
For the next few days, more and more witches, daemons, and vampires begin showing up in the Bodleian Library. As Matthew and Diana grow closer; he takes her to yoga at his house, the Old Lodge, and out to meals around Oxford.
Matthew visits in Scotland with his daemon friend, Hamish Osborne, who studied at university with him and has remained a close friend. During their conversations, Hamish advises Matthew that if he is interested in a serious relationship with Diana, Matthew will have to tell her things about himself and his life that he would rather keep secret. Matthew also explains to Hamish that he believes that the manuscript Diana called up in the library is the mysterious, missing Ashmole 782. He believes it to be an alchemical book that may contain information vital to the survival of all four humanoid species: vampires, witches, daemons and humans.
Meanwhile, at Oxford, Diana speaks by telephone with her Aunt Sarah and her aunt's partner, Emily, who raised her after Diana's parents were killed when she was seven years old. She tells them about calling up the bewitched book, Ashmole 782, and about Matthew. She also tells them about a wizard, Peter Knox, who tried to get information from her about the book in a threatening way and warned her against Matthew.
Back at the Bodleian, Diana is told by another witch, Gillian Chamberlain, that it was not humans who killed Diana's parents as she had believed, but witches, because her parents shouldn't have been keeping secret information that the witches wanted. Peter Knox arranges to meet up with Diana at the college warden's lodgings. He warns her against Matthew and is threatening toward her. Gillian's and Peter's threats convince Diana to seek Matthew's help.
After yoga together the next evening, Matthew tells Diana about his friend Hamish and about his deceased vampire sister, Louisa. They discuss that witches, vampires and daemons have been seeking Ashmole 782 for a long time. Since they need time to talk further, Diana invites Matthew to dinner in her rooms. They share a delicious meal as well as several bottles of incredible wine. Matthew shares facts about the vampire species with Diana and that he has been a vampire for more than 1,500 years. Diana shares with Matthew what she learned about Ashmole 782 when she had it briefly at the Bodleian. Matthew invites Diana to his lab so he can explain why he thinks he needs to see the book. Then, they kiss each other's cheeks and part for the night.
The next day at Matthew's lab, Matthew explains in detail to Diana what he has been studying about creature evolution and his conclusion that the world's creature species (vampires, witches and daemons) are declining. He thinks that creatures may be dying out. Diana meets Matthew's vampire son, Marcus, and sees their colleague, a vampire named Miriam. To better understand her own background, Diana asks Matthew to take samples of her blood and saliva for study. Later, they go to yoga at the Old Lodge, and Matthew invites Diana to dinner the next evening.
They have a sumptuous meal in Matthew's rooms, including rare and very old wine and malmsey. They share a passionate kiss. Matthew explains to Diana that to win his place at All Souls College, he had to write an essay based on one word "desire." He wrote about fear and desire as the primary two emotions affecting people's behavior in the world. Diana tells Matthew she has decided to recall Ashmole 782 at the library so they can try to find out what is in it. This time, the librarian tells them that it has been missing since 1859. Peter Knox threatens Diana again, and Matthew hurries her out of the library back to her rooms. Matthew persuades her to stay at the Old Lodge for safety, but before they can leave, Diana receives threatening mail, reminding her of how her parents were killed. Matthew takes care of her and Diana realizes that she now feels a strong connection to him. Matthew gives her a sedative to recover from her shock, and stays with her while she sleeps to recuperate. He realizes that he feels very protective of her, and that he needs her, but acknowledges to himself that a close relationship is forbidden because he's a vampire and she's a witch. While Diana is sleeping, Marcus arrives and tells Matthew that Diana has numerous talents as a witch, based on her earlier blood sample. Marcus sees Matthew's cold rage and reflects on the circumstances of how Marcus became Matthew's vampire son. Marcus challenges Matthew's plans not to tell Diana that the Congregation (made up of three vampires, three witches and three daemons) prohibits close relationships between the different kinds of creatures, Matthew's apparent plan to hunt down Gillian for sending the threatening mail, and Matthew's idea to take Diana to Matthew's vampire mother at their family estate in France, called Sept-Tours.
When Diana awakes, she is anxious about having been threatened and reflexively exhibits magic to protect herself. Matthew asks her to go with him to Sept-Tours for safety. She is reluctant because she needs to work on her keynote speech in the library, but when Diana's aunts call, demanding that she return home to them, and Matthew offers to let her study a rare alchemical manuscript that he has at Sept-Tours, she agrees to go.
At Sept-Tours, Diana finds that Matthew's vampire mother, Ysabeau de Clermont, is not welcoming but Ysabeau's gnarled vampire caregiver, Marthe, is friendly and helpful. Diana sees parts of the castle fortress and sleeps by herself in Matthew's bedroom. She is amazed by the beautiful and unusual alchemical manuscript. She gets a tour of the grounds, seeing the surrounding areas, and Matthew and she go horseback riding. Matthew finally tells Diana that the results of her blood test indicate that she has numerous magical abilities. Working in the study, Diana sees Matthew's notations on a first edition of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species," showing that he was in correspondence with Darwin prior to its publication and was speculating about whether the various types of creatures are different species. Matthew says that "why we're here" is the only question worth asking. At dinner, Ysabeau, Marthe, Matthew and Diana have good conversation, and Matthew dances skillfully with each of the women in turn. Back in Matthew's bedroom, Diana invites Matthew to bed, but he prefers that they court each other for a while.
After Diana and Matthew work on their computers, they go out for a walk in the gardens until they see vampire Domenico Michele. On behalf of the Congregation, he menacingly warns them that a close relationship between a vampire and witch is forbidden. Diana argues, but Ysabeau comes up and takes her back inside the castle. When Matthew returns inside, Diana shocks Matthew by telling him that she has fallen in love with him. Marcus calls and tells him there has been a break-in at the lab. Matthew impassively gets ready to leave Diana to go back to Oxford to sort it out, and to help protect Diana from the Congregation and from himself. After Matthew leaves, Diana feels abandoned, remembers how she felt when her parents died, and begins to magically emit large amounts of water from all over her body in grief. Ysabeau brings Diana back to herself by singing hauntingly. Later, Ysabeau distracts her with stories about Matthew's childhood, how Matthew married, had a child, and lost both wife and child, and how he became a vampire. The next day, Ysabeau takes Diana horseback riding with her when Ysabeau goes to hunt animals for blood. She tries to scare her into giving up Matthew but Diana is determined. In Matthew's study, Diana discovers that the Knights of Lazarus exist and that Matthew is their leader. Ysabeau tells her that witches and Nazis killed her husband, Philippe. Diana talks with her aunts on the phone and tells them she is determined to be in a relationship with Matthew.
The next day, Matthew returns to Sept-Tours. Diana and Matthew commit themselves to each other. Matthew admits that creatures broke into Diana's rooms looking for DNA samples. The creatures think that Diana is connected to Ashmole 782. Matthew and Diana stay in the same bed for the night but don't physically consummate their relationship. Diana manipulates Matthew into taking her riding while he hunts animals for blood so he can become more comfortable being himself around her. They talk about ways in which they could have a family together if they wish, such as adoption or Matthew could make a new vampire.
That night, Matthew and Diana explore each other's bodies and give each other pleasure, but still don't consummate their relationship. Matthew implies that when Diana dies, that he will be ready to cease existing too. Just before dawn, Diana wakes up to find that Matthew is sleeping, something that vampires only rarely do. He is deeply asleep but she is restless. She goes for a walk in the garden, which they thought would be safe for her, but a witch flies down over the grounds and takes her away from Sept-Tours.
The witch, Satu, tries to persuade Diana to reveal her secrets and to leave Matthew, but Diana refuses. Satu injures and tortures Diana and imprisons her in a deep oubliette. In the oubliette, Diana sees ghosts, including the ghosts of her father and mother. She is reminded of bedtime stories her mother told her about a prince who loved Diana even though she couldn't seem to fly. The ghost of her mother tells Diana that Diana is her mother's greatest secret. Meanwhile, Matthew and Ysabeau try to find Diana. Ysabeau asks Matthew's brother, Baldwin Montclair, to come and help. Baldwin and Matthew find Diana in the oubliette. Using her magic, Diana is able to fly up to Matthew, and they fly her back to Sept-Tours in a helicopter. Matthew treats Diana's severe injuries. Then, Ysabeau arranges with Diana's aunts for Matthew and Diana to travel to Madison, New York where the aunts live.
Upon arriving at the family's house in Madison, Matthew learns that the house is magical as well as haunted by ghosts. Diana introduces him to her aunts. Her Aunt Sarah is able to magically heal most of Diana's injuries. She is not able to eliminate the star and moon emblem of the Knights of Lazarus burned onto Diana's back. When Diana wakes up the next morning, she hears through the door that Matthew and her aunts are talking about her childhood and her magical abilities. Matthew asks them about Diana being spellbound, prevented from using her magic. Diana learns from her aunts that her own mother and father spellbound her until she was with her "shadowed man," to prevent her drawing the Congregation's attention to herself because of her unusual magical abilities. She remembers that when she was a child, Peter Knox had come to their home and argued with her father. Matthew starts trying to help Diana practice her magic so she can protect herself. Matthew realizes that Diana's parents cast spells to ensure that nobody can force Diana's magic from her.
The magical house delivers to Diana some papers from her parents that it had been keeping safe. There is a note that says "It begins with absence and desire. It begins with blood and fear. It begins with a discovery of witches." There is also one of the three pages from Ashmole 782 that Diana had noticed were missing when she briefly had the book at the Bodleian Library. Finally, there is a letter from her mother, explaining that her parents had always known her magical abilities were special, that the "shadowed man" and she would find each other, and that Diana had a special destiny. Her parents hoped she would discover the secrets of the Ashmole 782 page. The letter also says that Diana was born a caulbearer (the amniotic sac was unbroken).
Matthew then receives a call from Marcus, who tells him that Marcus and Miriam are flying to Madison to talk with Diana.
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While examining the Ashmole 782 page, Sarah reveals that Diana's witch father, Stephen Proctor, was able to timewalk, and that Diana has been using her ability to timewalk since she was a toddler. Marcus and Miriam arrive from Oxford to talk with Diana and show her DNA test results from a hair sample to Matthew. Miriam shocks Diana by pointing out that one meaning of the Ashmole 782 page might be that Diana could possibly bear Matthew's child. Marcus says that some significant magical abilities of Diana's appear to have been inherited from her twin brother who likely was miscarried early in Diana's mother's pregnancy with her. Miriam says that she believes vampires and witches may be able to have children together, adapting them for better survival. However, the Congregation would be against the creation of such offspring and Miriam asserts that war among creatures may result. Privately, Diana tells Matthew that she feels that her having Matthew's children is meant to be, and she realizes that Matthew is worried about protecting her and any children they may have. Back with the others, Emily, Sarah, Miriam, Marcus and Diana all agree to be led by Matthew if a creature war ensues. It would be a war for the different types of creatures to have freedom to love one another, but even more so, to participate in the evolution of creatures as species by having children together if possible and if they wish to do so. Sarah commences trying to teach magical spells to Diana but it doesn't go very well. Sarah and Matthew try to discover more about the makeup of the Ashmole 782 page. Matthew says that he is appointing Marcus as his second in command of the Knights of Lazarus and that he has told Marcus to start gathering an army.
While outside for a walk, Diana and Matthew encounter Juliette, a vampire sent by the Congregation to study Diana's abilities. Juliette attacks Matthew and Diana spontaneously uses her magic to kill Juliette, but not before Matthew is severely wounded. To save Matthew, Diana offers anything and anyone to the goddess who appears and the goddess grants her request (perhaps the Wiccan goddess). Diana makes Matthew drink her blood to nourish him and almost dies from her injuries and loss of the blood that Matthew takes. They are both able to survive and recover. However, the threat of the Congregation's further involvement causes Matthew to decide that Diana and he will have to timewalk to the past so that they can hide, search for more information about Ashmole 782, and also so that Diana will have time to learn more about her magical abilities.
Married daemons, Sophie and Nathaniel Wilson, show up at the Madison house looking for Diana. Sophie's ancestors are witches. Sophie is pregnant and her offspring will be a witch, which might cause Sophie, Nathaniel and their child to be in trouble with the Congregation. Sophie brings a chess piece depicting the goddess Diana that has been safeguarded by Sophie's family for many years. Matthew recognizes it as having been his until he lost it in a wager on All Souls' Night many years earlier. The magical house delivers a poppet to Diana containing a single pearl earring that Matthew recognizes as having been his mother's and that is from the same time and place as the chess piece. It is decided that Matthew and Diana will timewalk in a week. Matthew obtains and administers immunizations to protect Diana from diseases of the earlier time period. Diana practices timewalking into the recent past, eventually carrying Matthew with her successfully.
Hamish Osborne shows up at the house, bringing items to Matthew that he had requested from his mother, including an item that Diana will need to timewalk with Matthew further back into the past. Matthew reveals that he is appointing Marcus to replace him as leader of the Knights of Lazarus while he is away.
The day before Halloween, Hamish arranges paperwork for Diana including letters requesting a medical leave from her work and informing her conference organizers that she cannot give her keynote speech, as well as a will in which Diana decides to allocate to all of Matthew's and her children, present and future, those of Matthew's assets that he has given her. They all agree to leave the Madison house, and to meet up at Sept-Tours. Everyone leaves the Madison house except Diana and Matthew, who enjoy an evening of giving out candy to Halloween trick or treaters.
Finally, Matthew reveals to Diana that they are timewalking back to Elizabethan England, 1590. The third item they need to carry with them in addition to the chess piece and earring is an original manuscript of the play "Doctor Faustus" by Christopher Marlowe, who was a friend of Matthew's and was at his house for All Souls in that year. Diana and Matthew discover that Matthew's mother has sent a beautiful ring of hers that she had received from her now deceased husband, for Matthew to give to Diana. Matthew's mother also has sent Matthew's pilgrim's badge from Bethany.
When it's the moment for Diana and Matthew to timewalk, Diana feels their new life calling to them from the past. Matthew holds tightly to Diana, while Diana carries the three objects to help her find their way. They lift their feet and step into the unknown.
When Sarah returns briefly to close up the house, she receives a book that indicates that Diana and Matthew made it safely to their destination. She conjures a fire in the fireplace to burn the book and protect the secret of their location in time. After she leaves, the pilgrim's badge lands in the fire, releasing blood and mercury, and the commingled scents of vampire and witch. One of the ghosts in the house says to another ghost that they will "remember the past -- and await the future."