GOODREADS SUMMARY: Deborah Harkness exploded onto the literary scene with her debut novel,A Discovery of Witches, Book One of the magical All Souls Trilogy and an international publishing phenomenon. The novel introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782.
Now, picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending,Shadow of Night plunges Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan London, a world of spies, subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night that includes Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. Here, Diana must locate a witch to tutor her in magic, Matthew is forced to confront a past he thought he had put to rest, and the mystery of Ashmole 782 deepens.
Deborah Harkness has crafted a gripping journey through a world of alchemy, time travel, and magical discoveries, delivering one of the most hotly anticipated novels of the season.
(This review assumes you are familiar with the first book in the series)
First, let me say this was a good book. It really was a good read. The second book in the All Souls Trilogy, Shadow of Night is the much-anticipated follow-up to the first book in the series, A Discovery of Witches. I read A Discovery of Witches before I started this blog and if I were to go back in time and post a review, I would give it 4.5 howls. I really did love the story of a reluctant witch and her forbidden romance with a centuries old, yoga-practicing vampire. The world was a fantastic blend of the supernatural and the academic, and it had a cliffhanger of an ending that left me desperately wanting to read the next book in the series. My expectations were sky high and the only reason I am giving Shadow of Night a lower rating is that, perhaps, those expectations were too high. While Shadow of Night has me, once again, desperately wanting to read the next book, as an individual novel, it felt more like a bridge intended to join together the exciting beginning with what I hope will be a thrilling conclusion.
One of the novel’s strongest points is the development of the relationship between Diana and Matthew. Using Diana’s skill as a “timewalker”, they are thrust back to Elizabethan England where Matthew had powerful ties to the Congregation, the Knights of Lazarus, and Queen Elizabeth herself. Diana comes face to face with the layers and layers of secrets and tragedy that make up Matthew’s dark past. They face these obstacles together, learn to truly trust one another, and become a stronger couple. It was wonderful to finally learn more about the mysterious Matthew and see his relationship with Diana deepen.
There was a great moment where Harkness gives a wink to the genre by acknowledging the recent craze for vampire romances. Diana tells Matthew about the way vampires are depicted in popular fiction – sex, blood, and overprotectiveness. Matthew can’t understand the appeal of being manhandled and then making love. Diana says,
“You’ve manhandled me, as you so charmingly put it. I seem to recall being hoisted into your arms at Sept-Tours on more than one occasion,” I pointed out.
“Only when you were injured!” Matthew said indignantly. “Or tired.”
“Or when you wanted me in one spot and I was in another. Or when the horse was too tall, or the bed was too high, or the seas were too rough. Honestly, Matthew. You have a very selective memory when it suits you. As for making love, it’s not always the tender act that you describe. Not in the books I’ve seen. Sometimes it’s just a good hard—“
Before I could finish my sentence, a tall, handsome vampire flung me over his shoulder.
“We will continue this conversation in private.”
“Help! I think my husband is a vampire!” I laughed and pounded on the backs of his thighs.
It was a great light moment between Matthew and Diana who are usually so intense you want someone to crack a joke. And I love the nod to the genre that helped create this world.
Another strong point is the secondary cast of characters. We finally meet Phillipe, Matthew’s father, the fearsome but quite generous man whose ghost looms heavily in the first book. We also meet Gallowglass who was one of my favorite characters. If anyone deserves an All Souls Trilogy novella, it’s Gallowglass. He is Matthew’s nephew with a past of his own, loyal and willing to put himself on the line for his uncle and “auntie’s” safety. I loved his ferocity and his strength in standing up to Matthew when he needed it. Harkness created a great enigmatic character in Gallowglass and I hope to see more of him in the next book. Another wonderfully creepy creation is Father Hubbard – the vampire godfather of supernaturals in Elizabethan England. He believes in vampires, daemons, and witches living as one big family. To do so he requires allegiance and a taste of blood. And don’t think of setting foot in London without his permission. He and Diana strike a bargain at the end of the novel that makes me think we will see more of him in the next. And, finally, Benjamin, Matthew’s son, was only hinted at in this book. But he casts a big enough shadow that I think we will see more of him in the future. All of these new characters were fantastic additions to the All Souls cast and as sides are being taken for the final showdown in the next book, I really look forward to seeing what Harkness does with these wonderful creations.
I also loved the brief chapters that take the reader back to the present. Matthew and Diana can’t go back in time and not expect to impact the future. Ysabeau and Marcus make efforts to collect all the evidence that places Matthew and Diana back in 1590 – portraits, books, a telescope. Not only was it fun to see where these objects from 1590 ended up in the present, but it was nice to have moments with favorite characters from the first book.
For me, the book’s weakest point was too big to ignore. Diana and Matthew go back in time in order to achieve two goals – to teach Diana how to control and call upon her substantial power as a witch and to find Ashmole 782, the mysterious and powerful manuscript that started this whole adventure. But the novel spends very little time on either of these activities. I expected to go back in time with the couple and watch while Diana learned how to wield her power while also learning more about Matthew and his past. I thought they would have a more thrilling experience as they searched for the manuscript. Instead, I would say these things take up maybe 20% of the book while the majority of it centers on Diana grappling with becoming a woman of the time, interacting with famous personages from history, meeting new people, and taking care of the household. Harkness is a scholar and a historian. I am sure putting her two main characters in 1590 England was like being a kid in a candy shop. We meet Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth and Rudolf II the Holy Roman Emperor just to name a few of the famous historical figures in Shadow of Night. And while these interactions are fun and clever…I cared less about them than seeing the overall plot develop with regards to Diana as a witch and the manuscript itself. Perhaps if the scope of the book were less ambitious, the novel would have been more successful. For me, Shadow of Night would have been more successful had the focus been on what made the first book so wonderful – Matthew and Diana and their struggle to uncover the secret of the manuscript.
Shadow of Night is a good book – well-written, erudite, and with a wonderful cast of characters. However, it misses the mark in that it spends too much time on historical detail and not enough time on the overall plot of the trilogy. That being said, I can’t wait to get back to Matthew and Diana in present day Sept Tours as the family gathers for the final showdown with the Congregation. I have faith that the final installment in the trilogy will take me back to what I loved about A Discovery of Witches.
Now for the giveaway! The publisher, Viking Adult, is providing a finished copy of Shadow of Night PLUS some great All Souls swag – six buttons, each displaying an alchemical symbol (and you will discover the meaning of each symbol as you read the book) in addition to a very cool Ashmole 782 temporary tattoo! Enter your information in the Rafflecopter widget below for your chance to win!
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