Shadow of Night
Published 2012 592 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
Historian Diana Bishop, descended from a line of powerful witches, and long-lived vampire Matthew Clairmont have broken the laws dividing creatures. When Diana discovered a significant alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, she sparked a struggle in which she became bound to Matthew. Now the fragile coexistence of witches, daemons, vampires and humans is dangerously threatened.
Seeking safety, Diana and Matthew travel back in time to London, 1590. But they soon realise that the past may not provide a haven. Reclaiming his former identity as poet and spy for Queen Elizabeth, the vampire falls back in with a group of radicals known as the School of Night. Many are unruly daemons, the creative minds of the age, including playwright Christopher Marlowe and mathematician Thomas Harriot.
Together Matthew and Diana scour Tudor London for the elusive manuscript Ashmole 782, and search for the witch who will teach Diana how to control her remarkable powers...
Shadow of Night is the follow up to Deborah Harkness’ bestselling paranormal romance thriller A Discovery of Witches. Since this is the second novel in a trilogy I’d recommend reading A Discovery of Witches before starting Shadow of Night. The first book introduced Diana and Matthew’s forbidden interspecies (witch/vampire) romance, established the importance of the missing enchanted alchemy manuscript Ashmole 782 and acquainted readers with a current day world where daemons, witches and vampires live in a slow decline amongst humans.
Shadow of Night builds further on all of that. It commences from the exact point where A Discovery of Witches left off – at the point where Diana and Matthew magically travel back in time to find Ashmole 782 and get Diana some magic lessons in Elizabethan England, a time when witches had more power than they do in the current day. For this reason it is a very different to book to the first instalment (which read like a modern day paranormal romance thriller) since it is set entirely in Elizabethan times and reads more like a historical novel than a paranormal thriller.
Before we get further into the review I think it’s only fair to establish to a couple of facts about my reading preferences which may have coloured my judgement when it comes to my opinion of Shadow of Night. Firstly, I generally don’t like historical novels set outside of the Victorian/Edwardian or early 20th century time periods and I especially dislike Elizabethan time settings in particular. Secondly, I detest time travel storylines outside of anything but the sharpest futuristic science fiction novels. These things will have effected my judgement, so if you aren’t afflicted by a loathing of the Elizabethan period or time travel plotlines and you liked A Discovery of Witches I think it is fair to say that there is no reason why you wouldn’t like Shadow of Night just as much. Get the book, enjoy reading it… and feel free to ignore the rest of my review.
However, I am afflicted with these predilections and therefore found Shadow of Night a very difficult book to warm to. Its predecessor was eagerly devoured within a couple of days of receipt, Shadow of Night seemed slow by comparison. I liked it well enough when I was physically reading it but as soon as I put it down I had little inclination to pick it up again and continue with the story. The first half of the book dragged interminably. The first 50 pages seem to be solely dedicated to Diana’s inability to write in a convincing handwriting style without blotting her copy book and similar trivia. The next 50 pages aren’t any more interesting. Whilst I praise the author’s dedication to historical accuracy, too much trivial historical detail spun out at great length reduced the book’s interest level down to the reading equivalent of watching paint dry in places.
The paranormal thriller part of the plotline is slow to gain momentum. It finally starts to take a firmer shape around the middle of the book and from then on there is much more paranormal intrigue and action to keep readers engaged. We finally find out the secret of Diana’s powers and the trail of Ashmole 782 is discovered, with Diana and Matthew travelling across Europe to the court of Rudolf II in Prague hot on the manuscript’s heels. Their return to the court of Queen Elizabeth in London brings with it a dramatic climax that is finally worth the long time it took to get there. Diana and Matthew’s relationship continues to develop nicely through out the story and Matthew’s vampire family get to make an extended appearance – characters that are sure to be revisited in the trilogy’s final installment.
The upside of all that trivial historical detail is that the author brings the Elizabethan era to realistic life. While most authors concentrate on the political drama and intrigues of that time Deborah Harkness also brings us the minutiae of every day life – food, clothing, customs and household management – nothing gets left out. By the end of the Shadow of Night it feels almost like you’ve lived the history yourself. But my greatest criticism is that I would have rather felt like I’d lived through an exciting paranormal thriller…
As ever, feel free to ignore my prejudices – read the book and make up your own mind. If you like historical fiction and you enjoyed A Discovery of Witches then there is really no reason why you wouldn’t like Shadow of Night just as much… or maybe even more!
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