Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Review: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Yesterday, I reviewed Deborah Harkness's first novel A Discovery of Witches. Today, I'm telling you about Shadow of Night, the second book in Harkness's All Souls Trilogy. If you haven't read either title, I suggest you click over to my review from yesterday before continuing to read below. My review of Shadow of Night contains some unavoidable spoilers for the first book. If you don't mind, read on! I just like to give fair warning, as I detest spoilers myself.

A bit about the book: Time travel is a perk of the fantasy genre, and in her latest book Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness makes excellent use of this convention. At the end of A Discovery of Witches, main characters Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont found themselves under attack by creatures of all sorts. After Diana requested a manuscript linked to the history of witches, vampires, and daemons in the Oxford library, she became an instant target.

In Shadow of Night, Diana and Matthew time travel back to the year 1590 in order to escape their current-world problems. Additionally, they hope to find some clues about Ashmole 782, the much-sought-after manuscript that began it all. As they travel to various locations in Europe, Harkness weaves a tale of love, mystery, and history all bound into one.

Why you want to read it: One reason I hailed A Discovery of Witches as a must-read rather than just another story full of vampires is because of Harkness's highly intelligent storytelling. She is not simply one more author throwing her hat into a genre because it seems like an easy sell. Instead, Harkness is gifting the world with a complex, well-written trilogy of books. Shadow of Night is a fantasy tale on par with The Lord of the Rings, not one of the many poorly-penned vampire series that popped up in the wake of Stephenie Meyer's success. If it seems like I'm repeating myself, I probably am -- but I just don't want these books lumped in with all the others.

Shadow of Night is rich with the European history in which Harkness is an expert. Even the title refers to Matthew's circle of friends, the real-life group called the School of Night. Members (both from history and from Harkness's novel) include explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, playwright Christopher Marlowe, poet George Chapman, and scientist Thomas Harriot, among others. Harkness brings these staid characters to life in the pages of Shadow of Night, no small feat in my opinion. Although historical fiction is never my first choice, in Harkness's hands it becomes fascinating. Harkness also populates her novel with other historical figures, including Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare himself.

The bottom line: History weaving and brilliant writing aside, in Shadow of Night Harkness has spun a tale that would capture the attention of almost any reader. The love between Diana and Matthew becomes much more complicated and deeper on every level. The plot is involved and intertwined delightfully with historical figures and events, including the growing fear surrounding witchcraft that results in trials and persecutions all over the world. And finally, there is the growing mystery surrounding Ashmole 782, which continues with a vengeance in this second book in the series. Harkness hasn't yet set a date for the third novel to be released, but suffice it to say I'll be reading it!

About the author: Deborah Harkness is the author of one previous novel, A Discovery of Witches, and two non-fiction titles. She has been a scholar of history for more than twenty years, working in various college and library settings. She is currently a professor at USC, specializing in European history and the history of science. You can find more information about her books by visiting her website, adding her on Facebook, or following her on Twitter.

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