Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer, Hacksaw Ridge, Warm Bodies) is a historian studying at Oxford. She is also a powerful witch trying to deny her own heritage. Her magical powers are inherited from family lines she can trace back to Salem. But she refuses to use them because her parents were both murdered when she was a young girl, and magic reminds her of their death.
Then, during her research at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, she calls up an ancient, bewitched—and long-missing—manuscript. This attracts the attention of the entire magical community, including the enigmatic vampire Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode, Downton Abbey, The Crown). Matthew is trying to solve the looming threat of his species’ decline and approaching extinction.
His alliance with Diana to find the book before it falls into the wrong hands leads to romantic attraction and breaks an ancient agreement between the magical species.
A Discovery of Witches is being touted as a Twilight series for grownups, but I don’t like the comparison. First, the “grown up” part of the comparison changes the entire story: the stakes are higher, and the action is more intense. The characters are not growing into their personalities and lives, they’re already mature, capable and powerful beings. (Read: fully functioning females who make decisions independently from their boyfriends) The cast is unique and immensely talented (read: no long, moody stares). The show is also significantly sexier, scarier, and more stylish than the Twilight films.
he British and Italian backdrops are put on gorgeous display. The Bodleian Library, the site of many Harry Potter scenes in the first three movies, was my particular favorite.
In some ways, A Discovery of Witches has more in common with another book-to-TV-series, Outlander. Both have a similar recipe for love: Despite all the supernatural and political obstacles in their way, an extremely old-fashioned man and a very modern woman fall hard for each other and commit for life.
In Outlander, Jamie Fraser is an 18th-century man, but he’s educated and has an open mind, so he’s able to adapt to Claire’s modern sensibilities. A Discovery of Witches’ Matthew Clairmont is a few centuries older. He was born around 500 A.D., got turned into a vampire 37 years later, and has roamed the earth ever since. But he didn’t remain stuck in his original era. He has turned into a true Renaissance man. Adapting to each century, he’s been everything from warrior to healer, scientist to spy, all of which makes him the ideal suitor for Diana.
I like The Discovery of Witches series for many of the same reasons I love Outlander. First, the magic makes sense to me historically and intellectually, which is of paramount importance to THIS reader. Almost as important, I like both the main characters and the supporting cast. The acting is nuanced and keeps my interest. I admit, Jaimie Frazier’s accent and depth of facial expressions won me over immediately, while Matthew is more of a slow burn, but they’re now both imprinted on my mind.
The first episode of A Discovery of Witches did seem a bit chaotic, with a lot of scene-setting in a short time frame, but keep watching. I think by the time Season One ends, you’ll be impatiently looking forward to the next year. Good news! The series has already been renewed for second and third seasons, and is expected to roughly follow the second and third books of the trilogy.
A Discovery of Witches season 1 is available to stream in full on Sundance Now and Shudder.