“Shadow of Night” is the sequel to Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches and forms the second book of the All Souls Trilogy. I had mixed feelings on the first book, but I’m pleased to report that this one was much better.
I received a signed copy of “Shadow of Night” while I was at Book Expo America earlier this summer. It was one of the longest lines that I stood in during the entire conference.
The book begins when Diana and Matthew travel back in time to Elizabethan England in order to find a witch who can help Diana understand her rather unique magical abilities which seem to defy all known rules. They also seek the Ashmole 782, a manuscript which promises to explain the origins of witches, vampires, and demons. Of course, living in the 1500s is easier said than done, and Diana must face many challenges in order to adapt. This encompasses everything from dressing and speaking to dealing with Matthew’s friends from the time, most of whom are famous intellectuals.
It’s the little things that make this book endearing, such as the author’s decision to portray Christopher Marlowe as a total asshole, or the fact that my favorite old manuscript of all time makes an appearance (the Voynich manuscript, which is to this day indecipherable. I like xkcd’s assessment). Even though I still had a lot of problems with the book, it was a fun read. I love the idea of a book about an old manuscript, and the literary/historical references made me smile.
During the first book, one of the biggest problems that I saw was the repetitive description of every detail of Diana’s life. While “Shadow of Night” still has a high level of detail, it is relevant and helps to build the atmosphere of Elizabethan England. What was unnecessary while reading about modern Oxford works well here, and it helps to create a complex picture of the past. I’ve always enjoyed reading about Elizabethan England, and this book was no exception. It was neat to see it from Diana’s perspective because she is a historian whose preconceived notions about the time period clashed with the reality.
I wish that Harkness would have given a bit more explanation/thought to the topic of time travel. You can travel back in time and even change things to a small extent, but nothing major happens as a result. It is possible to discover the presence of time travelers based on historical anomalies, such as when a locket that Diana possessed in the past turned up in the future, or when Matthew’s father left a note in a book so that his wife would find it after he was already dead in the present. The time travel paradox aspect of the book could have been explored in a bit more depth, as Diana and Matthew did spend a great deal of time in the past and should probably have made more of an impact than they did. Then again, we didn’t see much of the present in this book, so maybe they did and it just hasn’t been explained yet.
If you liked the first book, then by all means continue with the second. I think that it’s the better of the two, and I’m looking forward to reading the third whenever it’s released. Again, this isn’t high literature, but it’s an enjoyable read if you like the idea of a story that revolves around an old book and don’t mind some cheesy vampire romance.