Just finished reading Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness. The second in the All Souls Trilogy and following on where a Discovery of Witches left off. I enjoyed very much A Discovery of Witches. I mean, I love books and there was lots of bookishness going on – libraries, ancient manuscripts, research, shelves and shelves of books…. And, there was all the supernatural elements involved as well. Another world of creatures living amongst us, that we’re not really aware of. Witches, Demons and Vampires. Now, I wasn’t always smitten with the romance – I thought it was a little hasty but as the book ended I was eager to get on to No.2, it had a very interesting sounding premise. And, its felt like a long wait. Basically the ending set us up for some time travelling, and not just any time travelling, back to the 16th century, to Elizabethan England in search of the manuscript that will answer the question of their beginnings. So Diana and Matthew travel back to England, they only have a short space of time to recover the manuscript, intact, before they start to alter the course of history.
I mean, this really did sound very promising and I was looking forward to it, but, to be frank, it was a bit disappointing. I do like the author’s style of writing. She knows a lot about the period and I loved all the little tidbits of information. But, it was incredibly slow paced. It just felt like we sacrificed the story for the detail. By about page 250 it felt like the only thing that had happened was Matthew and Diana had travelled back in time and then had got married, again. The writing is lovely and the level and attention to detail is second to none but the story just got lost in there somehow. Now, to be honest the last 150/200 pages were pretty good and I will say that I’ll read the third book to check out the conclusion. But, in a book this size there has to be something more.
Okay, I’m not going to bang on a drum too much about this. I didn’t hate it but it didn’t, for me, live up to it’s potential. It was well written, but too much, it’s got the romance going on – but could the two of them be any more juvenile. How old exactly is Matthew after all – surely he should be a little more mature. It’s like the two of them are afraid to have a good time and just be happy. And there’s something about this whole ‘Matthew is so scary with his blood rages’ thing. In a fix he’s not really that much use.
On the good side because I don’t want to be all down about it after all. The writing is good, there are plenty of good and interesting characters not to mention a lot of historical characters (its like a 16th century almanac or who’s who)! The detail is amazing and there’s time travel – oh, actually that does bring me to something else – spoiler ahead – what is all that Matthew from the 16th century disappearing when Matthew from the here and now appears – because he can’t stay in the same time. How is that possible? I’ve never heard of that before. So, if I’m sat here tonight, minding my own business when the future me travels back in time – instead of being able to give me some solid advice I’m just going to disappear! And, how many months did they stay in the 16th century – come on, they must have made a massive impact. Perhaps we’ll find out that they actually have done in the next.
Okay, I might have been a little more critical than I intended. It’s not a bad book by any means. I suppose my biggest criticism was the lack of pace and the sacrifice of story for detail. I love detail but I want it there to give me a context for the rest of the story – not to overwhelm it or swamp it completely.
ADoW starts in Oxford in the present time, where historian Diane Bishop is carrying out research in the Bodleian Libary when she discovers an old manuscript which is about to turn her world upside down. The manuscript has been bewitched – a fact that Diane is immediately aware of as she in fact a witch herself (although she has turned her back on witchcraft since the violent death of her parents). The secrets contained in the manuscript are coveted by Demons, witches and vampires and all of these creatures are drawn to Oxford – including the handsome and forbidding vampire Matthew Clairmont – whose protection Diane will come to depend on as she starts to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and of her hidden magical abilities.
I think this is an excellent start to this series. It is packed full of detail and description and takes you through the streets of Oxford, the countryside of France and then back to Diane’s family home in Madison. There are wonderful descriptions of food and wine and intelligent writing about historical incidents and characters together with an indepth (in parts) knowledge of science. The world which DH has created is easily believable with the creatures living in a sort of harmony which has been established over the course of the centuries. I enjoyed the fact that the creatures themselves were not easily noticable – the Daemons are highly artistic, tempremental or exceptionally clever, the vampires are obviously pale, wealthy, beautiful, slighly intimidating and the witches, apart from casting spells can see the future or travel to the past – but all of them blend in and look (more or less) like normal humans. They are obviously aware of each other but humans are to a large extent ignorant of their existence (and this is the way the creatures like it – particularly when you consider that the last time the witches came to our notice there was a rather large witch hunt which resulted in a great number of their people being executed).
Matthew and Diane are of course a very easy couple to read about. Matthew is centuries old and very sophisticated. Most of the other creatures are in awe of him as he is powerful and quick to anger. Diane is highly thought of and respected in her Oxford circles. She does not practice witchcraft and does not mingle with other witches although she is aware of their presence and they seek to include her in their circles and rituals. I think their relationship is well written and manages to maintain a balance between the two and doesn’t fall into the trap of making Diane weak and feeble. On the contrary by the end of the novel Diane is quite capable of looking after herself.
The end of the story is very well conceived and I really look forward to reading the next book as it promises to be excellent.
In terms of criticisms – I think that the book is almost over detailed. Personally I like the descriptive elements but if being honest I think it could have probably been pruned a little and in this respect may not appeal to anybody looking for a fast paced, chilling or action packed novel. Also, there are a couple of areas which become a little bit overly ‘sweet’ but they are few and far between. Of course there are parts of the novel which could be compared to other stories but I think this is inevitable.
On the whole I thought this was a really well written and gripping page turner and a real achievement for a debut novel. It has a wonderful cast of characters, is descriptive, with a lovely romance and a lot of promise for book number 2. This certainly promises to be an epic series.