Discovering a discovery… of witches


If you’ll pardon the pun, I’m a sucker for vampires. So when I saw Sky were doing a series based on Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches books, I was intrigued. The books themselves seem to have passed me by; I’d heard of them but never read any of them, and I’m not sure why. Whether I’d want to after watching the series, I’m not entirely sure. And there’s a couple of reasons for that.

The first is that once you see something on the TV it can be hard to come to terms with a different version of it, even if that version is the original, and even if the differences are slight.

More to the point, if the series was a faithful adaptation of the books, then I’m not sure they’d be my cup of tea. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the series, because I did. There’s lots to like about it, not least the overall concept of the three divisions of magical ‘creatures’ – vampires, witches and demons – all fighting to be top dog while quietly being pushed out of existence by us humans. There are also some great performances, including Matthew Goode as vampire-with-a-heart Matthew Clairmont, and Owen Teale and Trevor Eve chewing the scenery as chief witch and chief vampire respectively. It’s also gorgeous to look at, with some pretty actors and equally pretty settings including Oxford, Venice, and a terrifically crenellated castle in France.

But I also found things I wasn’t keen on. Everyone is so terribly reserved. The dialogue (and there’s a LOT of dialogue) is delivered in flat monotones that defy all passion and emotion. I can understand the vampire characters talking like that, if only to demonstrate how old and cold of heart they are. But surely the other characters should sound modern and ‘with it’, in order to provide some contrast. Instead, every character sounds like every other character, no matter whether they’re a fourteenth century vampire or a modern-day demon with a high-powered job. The lack of contrast makes it hard to appreciate the very real conflict between Matthew and his on-off love interest, supposedly feisty young witch Diana. Rather than screaming at him or baffling him with the latest slang, she simply resorts to the same dry, level platitudes. It’s a shame, and a huge missed opportunity.

There was also surprisingly little action in a series that’s supposedly about a bunch of people with, at the very least, unusual powers. Most scenes simply consisted of two or more characters standing around talking to one another. We got the occasional glimpse of Matthew or one of the other vampires running very fast, and an occasional taste of witches waving their arms around in order to cast spells, but mostly it was just the talk. And dancing. And then more talk.

And I could be missing something, but I couldn’t see what the demons brought to the mix, other than as a balance to the other two sets of creatures. It may well be different in Ms Harkness’s books, but here they appeared to have no special characteristics, no powers, no reason to be demons as opposed to ordinary human beings. Having watched series like Lucifer and Constantine recently, I expected them to have their own hotline to hell, or be able to fry unsuspecting humans. Or something.

So, will I be watching the second series, when it eventually airs (possibly later this year)? Well, despite all of the above, I probably will. The first season ended on a colossal cliffhanger and it’ll be nice just to find out what happens to Matthew and Diana, and whether they can come back from that. But there was enough to like about series one to at least try it again, even if I do have to listen to some of the dialogue with my fingers in my ears. But (with apologies to Ms Harkness) I think the books might be a step too far.


2 thoughts on “Discovering a discovery… of witches

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  1. To answer your question, ‘demons’ are rather ‘daemons’, in a sense that they are creative creatures, nothing to do with hell. Creative like in fashion (Agatha) or computers (Nathaniel) for example.
    I’ve read the 3 books of the trilogy, and there will be much more about the daemons later on.

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