Posts Tagged With: a discovery of witches

“Shadow of Night” by Deborah Harkness

“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  I love the idea of a book about an old manuscript, and the literary/historical references made me smile.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.

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Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

“A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness

I purchased the book “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness after meeting the author at BEA and receiving a signed copy of the next book in the All Souls Trilogy.

Normally I’m wary about vampire books, but I decided to take a chance on this series because I’ve heard so many good things about it.  It helps that the vampires are nerdy scholars with a penchant for old documents, so it makes their faults more forgivable.

Diana Bishop is a witch who’s doing research at Oxford’s Bodelian Library.  Her family is very powerful, but she doesn’t like to use magic because she feels like it nullifies her own professional accomplishments.  One day Diana comes across an enchanted alchemical manuscript that’s been missing for a very long time.  Her discovery draws the attention of a bunch of vampires, demons, and other witches, all of whom have a vested interest in the contents of the book.  One such individual is Matthew Clairmont, a vampire scientist who is fond of fine wine.  Even though relationships between vampires and witches are strictly forbidden, she finds herself falling in love with him.

The relationship dynamic between Diana and Matthew didn’t appeal to me right away.  Matthew is a bit controlling, but not in a good way.  It’s more of an Edward Cullen I-watch-you-in-your-sleep type deal, which is not sexy but definitely prosecutable as breaking and entering, especially when the individuals involved aren’t dating yet.

It gets better (and less creepy) as the book progresses and the two become an established couple.  The two of them weren’t completely hopeless, and there were aspects of their relationship that I did enjoy, such as the fact that Diana and Matthew are intellectually matched and can have intelligent conversations with each other.  My favorite part of the book was Diana’s reaction to being shown Matthew’s collection of books that he had accumulated over the centuries:

“Imagine what you’d have if you’d been buying books for centuries,” Matthew said with a shrug that reminded me of Ysabeau.  “Things pile up.  We’ve gotten rid of a lot over the years.  We had to.  Otherwise this room would be the size of the Bibliotheque Nationale.”

The scene reminded me of the part in “Beauty and the Beast” where the Beast shows Belle his library, and that gesture IS sexy (unlike, as I’ve noted, breaking into a girl’s apartment and watching her sleep).

It’s obvious that Matthew is a stereotypical hot vampire character who is supposed to represent the ideal male.  He doesn’t have any depth of personality, but rather seems to be more of a sexual/romantic fantasy insert.  I’m not terribly distraught about that because it is summer and I enjoy the occasional romance if both characters are endowed with functional brains.

The biggest problem that I had with this book is that it needed a better editor, particularly one who could help to chop it down to about half of its length.  The author has a tendency to ramble and to include every little detail of Diana’s daily routine.  I don’t need to know every time Diana changes clothes, especially considering the fact that all of her clothing is pretty much the same.  I don’t need to know when she eats, drinks, sleeps, does yoga, goes rowing, etc.  There is so much excessive detail about Diana’s life that I half expected to have to read about her changing her tampons and/or pooping.  It’s too much, and it doesn’t further the plot in any meaningful way.

I like the idea of a book that revolves around an old manuscript.  It makes my inner librarian happy.  When I started reading I was expecting something more like Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian.”  This wasn’t quite like that, but the setting appealed to me nonetheless, and the book did contain a lot of literary and historical references.

I have mixed feelings on this book.  There were a lot of things that didn’t work for me, but at the same time it was still entertaining enough to finish.  It took about 350 pages for the plot to pick up, but once it did I had a hard time putting the book down.  Despite its faults, it’s a decent summer read, and I’ve already started reading the sequel.  I’ve got high hopes for “Shadow of Night” because many of the problems that I had with “A Discovery of Witches” were confined to the first half of the book, and I’m expecting that the second book will jump right into the story.  I’m also looking forward to seeing Harkness’ level of detail in the second book because it’s set in Elizabethan England, which is one of my favorite time periods to read about.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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