Harkness follows up the first book, “A Discovery of Witches”, about the adventures of Diana Bishop, witch, and Matthew de Clermont, vampire. Diana and Matthew are pursued by enemies for multiple reasons. First, Diana found a dangerous book called Ashmole 782 at the Bodleian Library. This book contains secrets about the origins of witches, vampires and daemons, and their adversaries want it. Second, the romance between Diana and Matthew (witch and vampire) is forbidden. A group called the Convention is the source of the wicked adversaries, and made a few runs at killing Diana in the first book.
The third reason is the theme of “Shadow of Night” – the development of Diana’s witchly powers.
In Book II, Diana and Matthew are on the run. The storyline includes two tired, threadbare literary devices: time travel and a treasure hunt.
In spite of this, Harkness’s creativity and historical story-weaving keeps it interesting. The traits, magical powers, and internal politics of the vampires, witches and daemons provides fascinating details as Diana and Matthew romp through the late 16th century in Elizabethan London, with a side trip to Prague. The fast-paced action, plot twists, and intrigues keeps the reader going through this lengthy book. The time travel involves another literary device well on its way to becoming a yawn factor – I call it the “Forest Gump Syndrome.” The main characters meet darn near every significant historical individual that lived in that time and place, including Doctor John Dee and Queen Elizabeth I herself.
The “Forest Gump” device is overdone but the fun factors rescue the book from becoming a dull recycling of literary clichés. The characters are more finely developed than in Book I, and a variety of obstacles and challenges continually tests their growing bond of love and intimacy.
The book is organized into six sections; each focuses on a part of their journey through time from the autumn of 1590 to the summer of 1591. A few brief chapters here and there keep the reader linked to characters and concurrent events in the present as evidence (like a book, and magical and personal objects) from Diana and Matthew’s visit to the 16th century start turning up in the 21st century.
In the final section, the lovers are reunited with the contemporary time-line. They gather at the de Clermont fortress in France for what looks like a magnificent show-down in the final installment of the trilogy. Diana is loaded for bear and Matthew was already plenty dangerous. Readers can anticipate that plenty of mystic butt will get kicked in book three.
Book trilogies are tough to write. Consider the middle volume of any trilogy, from “The Two Towers” to “The Girl Who Played with Fire.” The middle book is swamped with critical back story and lots of details and threads that won’t be resolved until the final book. The writer has to spin out the plot, pad the story as necessary without belaboring it, and keep readers interested enough to return for the third helping.
In spite of the clichéd story-telling devices Harkness uses, “Shadow of Night” is a very readable Part II, enough so that I’m savoring the idea of Book III. Well done! Recommended for readers who like a mix of magical realism and historical fiction with a bit of detection thrown in for spice.
~Review by Elizabeth Hazel
Author: Deborah Harkness
#2 of the All Souls Trilogy
584 pages, $28.95