Thursday 28 June 2012

Review:- Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

You may have read my half -formed, slightly incoherent mini-review of A Discovery of Witches recently. After lots of procrastinating, I finally got around to reading it and loved it so much that immediately I finished, I went on a search to find out who was the UK publisher of the sequel, Shadow of Night, which comes out on July 10th. One very cheeky email to the lovely publishers, Headline, later, and a copy was in my possession, for which I am still a more than a little squealy and incredibly grateful!

Following my total failure to write a coherent synopsis for A Discovery of Witches, I'm going the lazy route and borrowing the synopsis from Goodreads for Shadow of Night:
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
Like A Discovery of Witches, this book dragged me in from the very first page and didn't let go until the last. I know that it was easy reading partly because I had only just finished the first installment and so didn't have to do the 'remembering what happened in the first book' dance, but I think that even without this the transition from one book to the next would have been seamless. Harkness creates her world so well that she doesn't need to do a bulk recap of what happened in the first book - she just incorporates things into the story as she goes and it's brilliant. 

I like to be balanced in my reviews, but there really wasn't much I disliked about Shadow of Night. One of my favourite things about it was the way in which historic characters such as Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh were incorporated into the story and were so well developed that they were completely believable. Marlowe, otherwise known as Kit, a daemon, was actually one of my favourite characters. Again, like in the first book, there were few characters in this novel who were inherently bad - Kit, among others, made some incredibly bad choices, but all the time the reader is given full knowledge of how he came to make them, and so you can feel sympathy towards him, which I much prefer to the effort of having to hate characters entirely all the way through.

One of the few flaws in A Discovery of Witches was that it assumes you will believe in a lot of things - magic among them - which are logically unbelievable in twenty first century society. While it didn't take me long to get over that and move on - I am a die -hard Harry Potter fan, after all - taking all of that back to an Elizabethan setting, where such things as magic and alchemy were believed in by the masses and surrounded by an air of mystery, gives it an even stronger feeling of possibility. This feels like a world which could exist, and that's one of the major beauties of fiction for me - there is so much possibility. Just because something (as far as we know) doesn't physically exist, that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist at all. As long as somebody can imagine something, it exists, and when that imagination is shared with other people then to some extent it becomes a part of society - how many people secretly believe Hogwarts exists somewhere? 

I have to say though that I do wish people would stop comparing this series to Twilight. It is just so much better. For one thing, there is nothing about either of the two main characters which annoys me in anything like as profound a way as I hated Bella Swan by the end of the Twilight series. Also, the plot of the All Souls Trilogy is just so much stronger so far, and has so many more layers. There are hidden aspects, and Harkness is continually tripping the reader up with unexpected twists, quite aside from the fact that she effectively has two seperate casts of characters; one from the first book, and another for this book, and she manages to keep the first lot active throughout Shadow of Night, while not allowing them to take over the story from the second set of characters, who are far and away strong enough to carry the story on their own. So far there is nothing gratuitous about the plot of these books. Everything that is in there is there for a reason and it's brilliant to watch it all tie up. 

The ending of this book, like the ending of the first, manages to both complete the story, so every book so far has been a story in itself, but is also a total cliffhanger which makes me so annoyed that I'm going to have to wait who knows how long for the next installment. My advice to you if the Twilight comparisons are putting you off like they were me, is to just ignore them and go and read both A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night as soon as you possibly can. 


  1. Have you seen you've been quoted in the paperback of Shadow of Night?