Author: Deborah Harkness
Series: All Souls Trilogy #2
Date: July 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction, Paranormal
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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.
After the whirlwind of genres that the first book in the series gave us, I was thrilled to learn the second book would dip into one of my favourites, Historical Fiction. I wasn’t disappointed, as the story took us to Elizabethan England (one of my favourite time periods) and seamlessly incorporated famous historical figures like Christopher Marlowe and Queen Elizabeth I herself. However, as much as I loved being in Diana and Matthew’s historic world, the book moved slowly. While I loved some aspects of the cross-genre writing, the best part of the book for me, the plot, suffered as a result.
What I can say about this book is that it’s smart. Details are meticulously researched. I enjoyed how out-of-place Diana worked hard at speaking, writing, dressing and behaving in correct 16th Century fashion. I loved the flash forwards that showed how Diana and Matthew’s foray into the past left traces on the modern day. Harkness also brings to life into the science of Elizabethan alchemy (a precursor to modern chemistry) and the menace of the witch-hunts going on during that time.
The book isn’t just all details and history though. Diana and Matthew’s foray into Sept-Tours and meeting Matthew’s deceased father Philippe was full of heart and great character development. I felt their struggles and learned to admire their devotion to each other. There was no “will-they-won’t-they” here—they were firmly committed to each other. They argued like a normal couple and resolved their differences in a mature way. It was great to see a marriage of equals and them working hard to gain the love and respect of their respective families and friends.
However, I felt this section stalled the plot and impatient me wanted to get to the gist of the book as soon as possible: when we left Diana and Matthew at the end of the last book, they time-weave (time-wove?) back into the past in order to learn more about the mysterious Ashmore 782 and Diana’s abilities. As there are so many plot points in the book, it’s hard to find the right balance. For the mystery-solver and para-sci-fi geek in me, what I wanted read about the most was origins of witches, vampires, daemons and their powers. In that sense, the romance almost ruined it for me. I did enjoy the funny sections though, especially the trip to Prague, which felt almost like a comedy-sketch! Seriously, what genre can’t Harkness write in?
Putting all those gripes aside though, when we get to the reveals, I was thoroughly impressed. Harkness has created a carefully crafted paranormal system, with its own hierarchy and rules. When we finally discover what Diana’s powers are, it manages to fit seamlessly into the world but remained surprising at the same time. And it was the same when we discover the truth about Ashmole 782.
Naturally we are left with another nail-biting cliffhanger and a shocking ending. I honestly can’t wait for it to all come together at the end, because I do think the last book will be phenomenal.