*WARNING: SPOILERS – ADOW SEASON 1 AND BOOK 1 OF ALL SOULS TRILOGY*
The alchemical child in Ashmole 782, the Book of Life.
It begins with absence and desire.
It begins with blood and fear.
It begins with a discovery of witches.
Each episode begins this prophetic mantra, a message which Rebecca Bishop left in a letter for her daughter Diana. We don’t get the letter in the TV adaptation – neither do we get the yoga classes nor Matthew’s wine cellar nor the ghosts at La Pierre and the Bishop house nor Diana’s blue electric fingers. It’s impossible not to compare the book and show to each other, but I won’t moan about the stuff they left out.
The book is nearly 600 pages. The show has a budget and eight 45-minute-long episodes. With that in mind, there’s no denial that A Discovery of Witches is astonishingly impressive.
In fact, the show has a quality that I almost never see in an adaptation. They capture the essence of a story beautifully while telling it in a different way, using the pace of a television show, pieces from several book scenes occurring in the same TV scene, environmental story-telling and the atmospheric music.
The essence of All Souls is three-fold. One, it’s a love story between Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) and Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode). Two, it’s a mystery about a powerful, enchanted manuscript – Ashmole 782, AKA The Book of Life – that has been missing since 1859. It may explain the origins of all four species (humans, vampires, witches and daemons), it may hold the witches’ first spells, no one knows for sure. Three, it’s a war about something as old as time: freedom. Freedom to be and freedom to choose. Among the vampires, witches and daemons, prejudice, hate and fear largely govern their relationships to one another. Vampires and witches are fighting over the upper-hand and daemons are pushed to the sidelines, left to their own devices and with little help to understand their own magic.
And let me just add that despite the high stakes, ADOW brings a sense of humor as well.
Of course, the strongest element of ADOW is the energy the actors bring to the screen. Teresa Palmer and Matthew Goode completely embody their characters. Palmer portrays the complexities of Diana with conviction, displaying intelligence, passion, curiosity, power and vulnerability in each episode. There are also moments when the show seems to give Diana more agency than the books did. Watching Goode as Clairmont is such a delight, because he truly carries himself as a creature who has walked the earth for centuries. It’s admirable (and sometimes scary) what Goode does with his facial expressions when Clairmont slips into his vampiristic nature, whether he’s smelling a glass of wine or prowling or simply listening to his surroundings.
Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode) and Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) in episode 2
The show-runners used the reading material wisely and expanded the world of All Souls in ways the book didn’t do. One way they did so was revealing more details about Nathaniel Wilson and Sophie Norman. In the book, Diana briefly meets Agatha Wilson (Nathaniel’s mother) and reluctantly promises to remember the daemons’ need for the Book of Life… “when the time comes,” whatever that means. Then there’s little to no mention about Nathaniel and especially not Sophie until they show up at the Bishop house. It feels really out of the blue; the show, however, takes the time to introduce the daemons and to create tension until fellow daemon Hamish Osborne finally takes them to Diana and Matthew.
Another change the show brings is how they portray their antagonists. Understandably so, because in the book, we see characters like Peter Knox, Gillian Chamberlain and Domenico Michele mostly through Diana’s point of view. TV shows obviously offer more flexibility in the POV. Now I’m a sucker for villains, so it sends me over the moon when people make the effort to create antagonistic characters who are also well-rounded and empathetic. Making Gillian Diana’s friend felt a little stand-off-ish at first (knowing what she’s like in the book), but I got quickly over it. Her actions being a betrayal rather than the ones of a spy works really well for the story.
Satu Jarvinen (Malin Buska) in episode 1 of A Discovery of Witches
I could go on about the villains, but I want to focus on my favorite character Satu Jarvinen (Järvinen in the book) played by Malin Buska. In the book, Harkness shows her to us once during a long, gruesome torture scene whereas the adaptation writes Satu as a parallel to Diana. She has her own (anti)hero’s journey as she joins the Congregation and faces other powerful creatures. Unlike Diana, Satu loves her powers, she’s proud of them and she embraces them. She also wants learn more about magic and yearns for more power. Even though she commits cruel acts (i.e. killing a human without a second thought, kidnapping Diana), she takes enormous risks for the betterment of witches, such as forging an alliance with the ferocious vampire and Congregation member Gerbert of Aurillac. It’s easier to understand why Satu becomes so angry when Diana refuses turn her back on Matthew. Not to mention one can’t help but love Satu the moment when she frees the fortune-teller Meridiana from Gerbert’s thrall.
Seeing what Satu can do makes me wish magic was real and that I was a witch.
Allow me to leave you with these words by Matthew Clairmont… or Matthew de Clermont as he’s actually called and a name that I personally prefer. I don’t know if this paragraph is from either of the two other books or something the show-runners added, but I like it.
Once the world was full of wonders, but it belongs to humans now. We creatures have all but disappeared. Daemons, vampires and witches, hiding in plain sight, fearful of discovery… ill at ease even with each other. But, as my father used to say, “In every ending, there is a new beginning.”