Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

This review is of a book sent to me by the publisher, Viking (Penguin).

Shadow of Night is the second book in the All Souls trilogy. This is a series that begins with the discovery of a lost manuscript at Oxford’s Bodleian library, by Diana Bishop, a witch and scholar. Pretty soon, the world of daemons, witches, and vampires is following Diana, and she has to ally with vampire Matthew Clairmont, with whom sparks fly. I reviewed the first book, A Discovery of Witches here: https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg , and it proved to be one of my more popular reviews last year. This series has a lot of fans.

**** This review will have spoilers for Book #1, A Discovery of Witches!
If you haven’t read it yet, please click the icons above to read my earlier review(I do recommend you read this series in order) ****

Shadow of Night
Deborah Harkness

The Premise: Picking up right after A Discovery of Witches left off, Shadow of Night begins with Diana and Matthew’s search for two things: the elusive manuscript Ashmole 782 (in particular three missing pages), and a witch who can teach Diana how to use her unpredictable magic. With their enemies closing in on them, their solution is to use Diana’s timewalking ability to go to Elizabethan England, thinking they will find what they need there. But when they arrive, it’s clear that Diana does not fit easily in with the locals, and her strangeness during a time when witches are persecuted does not bode well. Then there are Matthew’s friends, the School of Night, and his family — all of whom are used to a very different Matthew than he is in modern day. Accepting of his new wife and the differences in his behavior is not an easy task for everyone. And this is all before Diana and Matthew have begun to do what they set out to do.

My Thoughts:  Much like A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night is a hefty volume, weighing in at 584 pages, but it has a very different feel than the first book.In Discovery, the burgeoning romance between Matthew and Diana is a big part of the story, and then the stories focus widens into a greater conflict between supernatural creatures. In Shadow, the romance and the conflict are still there, but they are impacted by the era the hero and heroine are living in. Time’s effects are felt almost from the first page, when the couple arrive at Matthew’s Old Lodge. The year is 1590 and Diana and Matthew are immediately presented with servants (vampires) and a succession of guests — all who happen to be well-known members of the School of Night. Diana meets Christopher (Kit) Marlowe within moments of their arrival, swiftly followed by George Chapman, Thomas Harriot, Henry Percy, and Walter Raleigh. These men and the time period bring out old chauvinistic habits in Matthew that Diana does not like, but it won’t be the first time in this story that Diana sees a different side of Matthew. As the story continues, his relationships and responsibilities of the Elizabethan era come up time and again. His family, his friends, his position amongst the Congregation and in current politics, all come to bear.

While being in the past is a dream for a History aficionado like Diana, she wasn’t expecting it to be as hard as it is, and she feels sorely out of place. It all starts off badly: as much as she tries, her speech and mannerisms are immediately flagged as unusual, and she has to stay hidden to keep her from raising everyone’s suspicions. There is some consolation in being able to meet a lot of historically famous people, but she’s immediately disliked by Kit Marlowe, who is insanely jealous that she married Matthew, and wants only to cause trouble for the woman who married the love of his life. Diana’s troubles are added to when she realizes that her magic is more difficult for her in the past and she needs a witch help her control her power.

This feels like a well-researched book, written with a lot of regard for history and this time period. There were interesting tidbits and scenes between Diana and the people of the past, but I think there will be mixed responses to the amount of history that infuses the book. When it was relevant to the story and to the setting, I enjoyed it, but I struggled with trying to find the plot in the parts where Shadow of Night overindulged. I do think that someone more interested in the Elizabeth period would enjoy the history lessons, I wanted the narrative to focus on the plot and I was frustrated by the added bulk. I wondered if it was really necessary for Diana to meet so many members of The School of Night, for example. They were a window to Matthew’s character as a vampire with his thumb on the pulse of history, but this could have been done without having to meet them all. I had the same issue with other characters and scenes. I felt that they weighed the story down making it move less fluidly than the last book. Transitions felt abrupt, as if the story was written in snippets and then stuck together. This is in stark contrast to A Discovery of Witches which I thought had a better balance between the action, conspiracy, and romance.

Speaking of the romance, there is something of a change in Matthew and Diana’s relationship in Shadow of Night. There is some focus on relationship bumps caused by Matthew’s personal pain and the particular stresses in being a vampire and witch in love. I enjoyed the way being in 1509 gave Diana a unique viewpoint to who Matthew was, and how this was incorporated into the story. The book is divided into six parts, each each part set in a different location. The section that involved France and Matthew’s home was particularly interesting. But, again, I had trouble following the transitions here. It seemed that in every location there was some new revelation about Matthew’s personality which added angst to the story, but they felt out of the blue. I think this was because usually Matthew and Diana seemed happy and in love until some issue would suddenly appear. Maybe the issue is that the story was from Diana’s point of view and Matthew keeps his emotions well-hidden, but the hints that there was anything wrong were too subtle for me as a reader and it made Matthew seem very inconsistent.

As for the main plot and Diana and Matthew’s goals of finding the three missing pages of Ashmole 782 and of educating Diana on witchcraft, there is some progress here. Shadow of Night answers some questions I had at the end of A Discovery of Witches, and the book flashes forward to the future/present (in short interludes between the six parts of this book), and tell the reader how it has been affected by Matthew and Diana’s trip. I liked having some sort of update on the characters we met in A Discovery of Witches and seeing some new-to-me members of Matthew’s family, so I enjoyed those interludes (I especially liked Marcus and Phoebe). I just wish that there was more to say about the series plot from this book, because overall, I felt like while there were a lot of scenes and situations, there was little forward movement in the overarching plot.

Overall: My reaction is lukewarm. I felt like Shadow of Night was the story equivalent of hitting pause on the series while the hero and heroine go off to strengthen as a married couple and prepare to go back into the fray. There is good reason for going into the past — to find out more about Ashmole 782, and for Diana to get help with her witchcraft, but once they are there, these goals faded into the background and being in the Elizabeth era came to the forefront. There was a lot of churn in this story caused by the timeline and I think a reader’s reaction to it will determine how much they like the book. While I felt some of it was necessary, I was disappointed with how much felt like chaff. I had trouble with the focus and flow of the story, and with how little forward movement there was to the series plot, and because of this, I preferred the first book over this one. I hope I’ll fare better when Diana and Matthew return to present day.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
S. Krishna’s reviews – “Harkness sets the stage for a brilliant and explosive conclusion to the series”
The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader – 3.5/5 ” I closed the book and wondered what precisely the point of everything that the characters had gone through was.”
Books Without Any Pictures – “If you liked the first book, then by all means continue with the second.  I think that it’s the better of the two”
Devourer of Books – “Shadow of Night picks up exactly where A Discovery of Witches left off and, is perhaps even the better book.”

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Shadow of Night Giveaway

Thanks to the generosity of Viking/Penguin, I am giving away a finished copy of Shadow of Night, and a specially designed “Ashmole 782” temporary tattoo and a set of 6 buttons!

Shadow of Night is the second book in Deborah Harkness’s popular All Souls Trilogy and it was just released last week (July 10th). I’m working on a review, but in the meantime, you can check out my review of the first book, A Discovery of Witches here.

The buttons each represent an alchemical symbol that you can learn more about in the book. 🙂  (click on images to embiggen).


To Enter
Just click this link and fill out the google form (I just need a name and an email)

Rules:

  • Sorry, this contest is just for U.S. addresses this time
  • One entry per person please
  • Contest ends Thursday, July 26th (midnight EST)

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches
Deborah Harkness

I received a finished copy of this book via the publisher, Viking/Penguin.

The Premise: Diana Bishop has a degree from Oxford and tenure at Yale. She specializes in the history of science, primarily on alchemy. During a research trip to Oxford’s Bodleian library, Diana requests a manuscript from the Ashmole collection: known as Ashmole 782, and when she sets eyes on it she realizes that it’s enchanted. Diana is a witch, albeit a non-practicing one.  She’s avoided magic after her parent’s death. Yet the enchanted manuscript opens for her, igniting both her powers and a storm of supernatural creatures curious about the manuscript and the person who unlocked it. First and most formidable of the daemons, witches and vampires who show up is Matthew Clairmont, a professor of biochemistry, member of the Royal Society, and vampire.

Read an excerpt of A Discovery of Witches: @Fantasy Cafe or @Deborah Harkness’ website

My Thoughts: Before starting A Discovery of Witches, I saw that it was likened to “Twilight for adults”. I spent a lot of time mulling over this while I was reading the book. I think that comparisons, particularly to a book like Twilight may do more to turn readers off than to draw them in. At first,  I didn’t think that the comparison made sense. The narrator is a witch, the setting is academia, and nothing reminded me of Twilight, except the detailed prose. I thought: “Is Twilight the first thing that comes to mind when there’s a vampire romance?”, but as I got further into the story, I began to see where the comparison came from: Matthew is protective of Diana; he breaks into her rooms while she sleeps; he feels conflicted over his feelings; the Congregation wants to keep them apart. But is this book like Twilight? Well… no, not really. There are plenty of differences between the two books, and the concepts that feel similar feel only superficially similar. In fact, I feel like A Discovery of Witches sidesteps a lot of the problems with why people didn’t like Twilight. Diana Bishop is a more independent character than I found Bella, and overall the romance felt more mature (I could see what drew these two to each other despite their age differences), and the plot itself was more complex.

The subtitle “a novel” also threw me off as to what to expect. Was this something in the literary fiction sphere, or something that is essentially a paranormal romance? While the story has a lot of historical references, the protagonists drink the finest wine and practice yoga, it’s accessible to fans of the paranormal romance and urban fantasy genres. There are paranormal creatures, a slow moving romance that is a big part of the plot, and I didn’t feel like it took itself too seriously. There is an escapist side to the writing. And when it came to history, I think the author indulged a little, because Matthew owns a Gutenberg Bible, a bound copy of “Will’s plays”, a 1795 wine from Madiera, a 500 year old Tudor Manor house, and a castle. It tickled me to run into these things though, so don’t take that as a negative.

The one aspect of the writing in this book that could be seen as negative however, is how detailed it was. A meal could be cover several pages because each course is thoroughly recounted, down to individual tastes in the wine and Diana and Matthew’s reactions to everything. If you don’t like this thick, descriptive writing, you’ll be stopping this book early.  On the other hand, if you enjoy having a really lush picture of what’s going on, this book delivers. I found the details so intertwined with the slow courtship that I felt like I was enjoying something comforting and extra-wordy that I wouldn’t normally savor in large doses: like rich chocolate.  This writing style (all 579 pages of it), makes A Discovery of Witches the kind of book you read in installments, not cover to cover in one sitting.

Most of the first half of this hefty volume is a lengthy courtship between Matthew and Diana, with the discovery of the enchanted Ashmole manuscript as the initiator. Diana is the main narrator of this story, so most of the book is told from the first person point of view, although there are a couple of instances when the story follows Matthew and switches to third person. Once it’s clear there’s something the two protagonists, the consequences of inter-species dating, Diana’s powers, and the Ashmole manuscript come to the forefront. That’s when the story widens from the focus on Matthew and Diana to the people around them. On Diana’s side there are witches, on Matthew’s there are vampires. Witches are born, vampires are made. Then there is a third race, daemons who are not the demons you typically see in paranormal fiction. These are born from humans but possess genius and/or madness that sets them apart. Once the plot thickens, I was pleasantly surprised how much enjoyed the seamless mix of action and conspiracy against the romance. The author adds secret societies, power-hungry factions, paranormal forces, conspiracies, a house with it’s own personality (I loved this house, I want to live in this house), and lots of grumpy vampires with long lives and long grudges. This looks to be the beginning of an epic battle between good and evil, and while there’s a satisfying ending to A Discovery of Witches, it is clear that there’s more. I hadn’t realized this when I got the book, but A Discovery of Witches is part of a trilogy and sets the scene for Matthew and Diana’s continued adventures.

Overall: This is a book that I think is supposed to be shelved in fiction, but it has a lot of cross-over appeal for urban fantasy and paranormal romance fans. Don’t let the Oxford setting and protagonists with long academic credentials dissuade you, this is an accessible story with a slow moving romance that’s a guilty pleasure to read, but the romance isn’t all — the story is shaping up to be a great good versus evil tale. I’d recommend this one with reservations however — there’s a lot of description and exposition in this story which isn’t for everyone. If you aren’t bothered by the writing style, then I think it’s a good one to try.

This looks to be the first in a 3 book series.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – DNF

Deborah Harkness on her book, A Discovery of Witches (w/ Giveaway)

I’m currently reading A Discovery of Witches (coming out February 8th), and hopefully my review will be out sometime next week. In the meantime, I have something special today: a few words about the book from it’s author Deborah Harkness. Viking has also generously offered a copy of the book to giveaway (US and Canada only), so be sure to scroll down for the details after reading her words.


Why does a history professor decide to write a novel about witches? It’s a good question!

Writing a novel is a mysterious process and many of my life experiences went into A Discovery of Witches. One of my favorite books as a child was Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond. The history of alchemy and magic caught my interest as an undergraduate, and I’m still fascinated by these subjects today. And, once upon a time, I discovered a lost alchemical manuscript—although it was not (so far as I know) enchanted.

A Discovery of Witches tells the tale of a reluctant witch named Diana Bishop and her discovery of a long-lost alchemical manuscript at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. There, Diana meets Matthew Clairmont: a geneticist who happens to be a very old, secretive vampire. Witches and vampires are traditional enemies, but Diana and Matthew grow closer as they try to puzzle out the manuscript’s significance. Their search for answers takes Diana and Matthew from Oxford, to his ancestral home in France, to her family’s farm in upstate New York. But they are not the only creatures who want to solve the mystery of manuscript, and their fellow daemons, vampires, and witches frown upon their unorthodox relationship. Are these just old prejudices, or is it something more?

Our culture’s renewed obsession with witches, vampires, and other things that go bump in the night has been fascinating to me as a historian. I’ve gone from needing to explain what alchemy is to having my students all nod wisely whenever Nicholas Flamel is mentioned. Parents have confessed that they’ve been staying up late to read their kids’ copy of the latest Harry Potter. Our reading habits reveal that even grownups need a little magic—with the limitless possibility, unpredictability, and even chaos that inevitably comes with it. My goal with A Discovery of Witches was to write a fairy tale that was mesmerizing but spoke to adult issues and concerns. I tried to create characters who were strange—yet strangely familiar. Many of us will recognize ourselves in Diana, who has so much power but is afraid to use it. Others will empathize with Matthew’s inability to let go of his 1500-year past—even though we have less of a past to worry about! And still more will wonder, while riding the train or sitting in a meeting, if that strange creature opposite just might be a daemon or a vampire.

It it’s magic you need this winter, I hope that you find some in A Discovery of Witches.


Giveaway details:

1. Email janicu[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES GIVEAWAY, and with “please enter me” or something like that, and that should be it.
2. One email per person please.
3. This giveaway is US and Canada only
4. This contest ends one week from now: midnight EST February 1st.

For a second chance to win, along with an excerpt of the book check out this post at Fantasy Book Cafe!