Book Review: Shadow of Night By Deborah Harkness

 When I first met Diana Bishop, I wasn’t impressed. Other than being a renowned historian, with blue light emanating from her fingertips at really odd times, I didn’t find her particularly exciting. You know how some characters have charisma? they invite you in with their charm and befriend you, so much so, that you want to leap into the book and be a part of their journey. This was not it. I liked that she was athletic, that she seemed in control of herself – well, initially, anyway, oh and I really liked it when Diana Bishop the historian was at work. Her intelligence is her best character feature when the book begins.  When she met Matthew De Clermont, her carefully controlled demeanor slid into somewhat of a weakened version of herself, sort of a whimpering mess, as she fell in love with the thousand-year old vampire/scientist. It made certain parts of the book seem like excerpts from Twilight than that intellectual blend of alchemy and mystery. It didn’t mean that I stopped reading, quite the opposite, I could not stop.

When ‘Shadow of Night’- book 2 of the trilogy – came out, I dropped world war 2 and literary artistry to stay up late into the night with some chocolate. The characters have grown; Harkness has developed them into likable protagonists, given them each a role,  a strength for each other to depend on and in the vampire’s case, flaws. Lots of them, I like flaws. That’s what makes a character endearing somehow. That he had rage – not really a good quality to possess, although, it is beside the point of course –  in this case, is important. His character is in much need of some gripping quality to it. Gone is the mild, older version of Edward Carlisle, instead, Matthew builds a much older, wiser, gentle and raging, possessive and paternal character. You almost believe he could be human – until he kills.

Diana has grown on me immensely. I like her now, and I have a feeling I will like her even more, with the final book. She is strong, in control and suffers no-nonsense. There is a subtle, let’s get on with it attitude to her, which engages the reader’s intuition and mind. She sorts out quite a few characters, including Matthew’s strong, giant-like father and Marlowe, of course. If you think his mother Ysabeau was a challenge for Diana, you’ve got to read this one. Matthew’s father is like no other. Diana’s challenges are many, but, there is a fragility to her that is part of her essence. As her powers grow, so does she.

The book  begins at the end of Discovery of Witches, no surprises there. They were about to time walk into the past anyway. Their travels take them to Elizabethan London. Imagine my joy. As they come to terms with the era, and Matthew quite happily slips into the Matthew of the past – I was slightly confused here, somehow the 16th century Matthew is displaced by the time-walking modernists-  what happened to the other Matthew? they do manage to change history, a bit. Well, there are two warnings from Matthew’s friend Hamish- in ‘Discovery of Witches- who cautions Diana saying ‘ the Matthew she travels with in the present, will not be the Matthew she knows in the past. It was a warning to the reader as well.  As I mentioned before, we are privy to Matthew’s deepest secrets and they are not pretty. At the same time, he is completely different; strong and sometimes protective, sullen, belligerent and silly. He does not exude the same passion for Diana that he did in the first book. Did I like the change? not so much.  We also meet previous characters, but they are just a glimpse – Diana’s aunts, Marcus- Matthew’s son and Ysabeau, Matthew’s mother.  The introduction of Gallowglass is perhaps the author’s ace in the whole book. I love Gallowglass. He is Matthew’s nephew and right hand man, in so many ways. When he calls Diana “auntie,” there is something slightly comical as well as sweet. He is a tender vampire and protects Diana, when it is Matthew who should be doing so. Even when  Diana is slightly nonplussed about her ability to survive in this somewhat terrifying past, he makes it better, just by being in the book. Meeting Matthew’s set of unconventional friends on the other hand is every reader’s joy. I completely enjoyed the quick, if not, must be mentioned exploration of the relationship between Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe and Will Shakespeare. Marlowe’s  non-human character aside- I mean you’ve really got to remind yourself of the fantasy element in the series to understand  how Harkness takes liberties with all of them, particularly Queen Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh – you are right in the middle of history and aware that you are meeting Christopher Marlowe. Possibly the least likable man in the book and sheer genius.  I do think the author wanted it that way. There is a madness to him, which is appropriately tied to his daemon personality. He is one of Matthew’s best friends – well, sort of- as a result, he does not take too kindly to Diana. The writer Marlowe, was more interesting to me as he struggled with his craft, the expected references to Shakespeare’s theft of Marlowe’s work, was as delightful.

Out of the blue it seems, the sudden discovery of Ashmole 782, draws attention away from everything that is exciting and at the same time, away from the relationship drama between Matthew and Diana, which is a brief but necessary respite. Diana, in this instance is meant to be looking for a witch to tutor her. She finds not one but many, who are willing. All with incredible powers of their own. Goody Alsop is one such witch. I wanted her on my side. Along with her ‘shadow; fetch, she is the wisest person I met in the book, it was she, I wanted tutoring me, her wise words meant more to me than any other witch. Even Matthew, as stubborn as he is here, had to stop and listen. I do wish Harkness left details of Ashmole 782 to the final book, then again, I’m sure the discovery was intentional as were all the details, that suddenly seemed to engulf the entire second book. While I enjoyed this second installment, I am hoping the author ties it all together beautifully in the final book. I would like to be less frustrated and more excited when I am done.

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9 thoughts on “Book Review: Shadow of Night By Deborah Harkness

  1. I haven’t read it, but I listened to the writer speak at a book store last year. it’s been on my to-read list since. from what you’ve said I think the protagonist is heavily based on the writer.

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    • Thanks so much for stopping by. That’s interesting. I don’t know much about the writer except what I’ve read on Goodreads etc. that’s definitely a different perspective and something to keep in mind when I read the next installment.

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  2. MM, in many ways, I must admit, I feel like I read through you. Rather, my time for reading is so limited, but you give such fantastic summaries and descriptions of the books you’re reading, that I feel I’m reading them, too. So, question, can I count them in my 50/50 challenge? No? Darn. Life isn’t always fair, is it?

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    • I love that you feel this way Monica. That’s what I want you to feel when you read my reviews. Thank you so much for saying so. When I read a book, I want the author to invite me in. Aha, well, I’m all for including them in your 50/50 challenge, except that you might need to read the end of the book to gather it all together. Not fair at all, you’re right. A reader sent me a link to some still shots of Colin on set, which I am not going to publish. I can e-mail them to you – if you’d like.

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  3. I’m tempted to read it but worried. I too found the characters only partially filled out. They were ironically shadows of people, and I was endlessly frustrated with their repetitive actions.
    But you have me tempted. I love the premise, I was just so disappointed with the delivery. I’ll have to think about this one.

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    • I love what you have said. Firstly, thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment on my review. What did you think of the end of Discovery of Witches? I found the repetition tedious and the Twilight-type sections – silly. I did love the passion Matthew had for Diana, of which he seems to have none this time around – it’s more about his other stuff. Having said that, I mentioned flaws in my review. I feel it is the one thing Harkness did right in this book. It is interesting because of the historical aspect, however, if you’ve read Diana Gabaldon, this pales in comparison. In terms of fantasy fiction, it’s written well.

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