Review: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Published by Viking Adult
Released July 10, 2012
584 pages
Where I got it: E-galley received from publisher via NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★☆

Description (from Goodreads):

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.

The second novel in a trilogy is usually the weakest, in my opinion. That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed Shadow of Night as much as I did. In fact, I think this book was much stronger than the previous A Discovery of Witches. Placing the plot in the past worked for me, and there were much less of the useless pretentious activities that annoyed me in the first book, like vampire/witch yoga and wine tasting. Instead, here the small details of everyday life were a way of placing the reader into the past and making it come alive as an actual setting.

Harkness does a great job of staying true to the historical period while maintaining a fantasy plot. As a history professor (at my alma mater!) and expert on science and magic in Europe from 1500 to 1700, I knew I could count on her to accurately portray the facts of history. For example, when Diana and Matthew first arrive in Elizabethan England, Diana can hardly understand what people are saying around her, even though they’re all speaking English. This is one of my biggest pet peeves in this type of story: authors always seem to think that if they send somebody back in time, they’ll be able to talk with people. I was grateful that Harkness recognizes that the way English was spoken in Shakespeare’s days was vastly different than today, and Diana needs to adjust accordingly. In fact, she isn’t allowed to speak to most people for the first chunk of the book because her odd pronunciation, speech patterns, and vocabulary will give her away as somebody very strange and as a person who does not belong, thereby putting her at risk of being accused of witchcraft.

I loved that the history of the European witch hunts was woven into the plot. Also, even though some people will probably take issue with Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth, etc. being characters in this book, I didn’t mind at all. It’s fantasy, and what good is fantasy if you can’t go all out every once in a while? Same goes for the time-travel element. Yes, we all know that the slightest change in the past will alter the future in major ways. We learned that in Back to the Future. But, here Diana and Matthew are able to do many things in the past with minimal future consequences. And I was okay with that. Know why? Magic. I’m happy to just accept that magic is the answer and move on.

Shadow of Night has a lot to recommend it to somebody like me. It has a lot of what I want to read about: witches, vampires, alchemy, manuscripts, John Dee, early science. It’s a bit more adult than the last book, and now has some sexual content, which I guess will please some, but that’s not really my thing. Also, I thought that Diana and Matthew argued a bit much for me, and I could have used less of them working through their marital issues, but I’m also somebody who wants more fantasy and less reality in a book like this. Those marital issues, while good for character development, brought me down and out of the fantasy a bit. Overall, though, I loved reading this story and can’t wait to see how the series will end.

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6 Responses to Review: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

  1. Great review. I am just waiting for my copy of this book to arrive in the post. I can’t wait to get stuck into it.

  2. Jeff Rivera says:

    This looks like a charming romance book. A story of forbidden romance sounds exciting! I love the combination of fantasy and romance. You did a great review Audrey.

  3. Melissa says:

    Nice review. I just finished reading this book about an hour ago and am getting ready to write my review. Like you, I’m happy with the answer to things being “magic.” I loved the history and the famous historical figures being interwoven into the story.

    • Audrey Audrey says:

      That’s going to be my answer to everything from now on. “Why are you late for work!?” “Magic.”

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