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Deborah Harkness – Shadow of Night

September 24, 2012

105. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (2012)
All Souls Trilogy, book 2

Read my review of book:
1. A Discovery of Witches

Length: 584 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Started: 11 September 2012
Finished: 21 September 2012

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? The first one was absorbing enough that I got sucked in despite being stressed out, and I was hoping that the same magic would strike twice.

History classes
don’t prepare you to live in
the actual past.

Summary: Diana Bishop, a historian and witch, and her vampire lover, Matthew de Clermont, have traveled to the past. They’re in 1590 for three reasons: to avoid the retribution of the Congregation which forbids relationships between supernatural creatures, to search for the missing alchemical manuscript Ashmole 782, and to find a witch who can train Dana in the use of her powers. However, the challenges they find are not the ones they expected. Diana soon finds that her historian’s training does not prepare her for the everyday life of a Elizabethan woman, and Matthew is forced to confront his past, quite literally. Can their relationship survive the separate trials facing each of them? What is their time in the past doing to the future? And have they just traded the dangers of the present day for the uncertainties of the past?

Review: Okay, so. I (unlike a lot of people out there) didn’t absolutely love the first book. I had some issues with it, mostly with the plotting, but also partly with the relationship dynamic between Matthew and Diana. But, on the other hand, it managed to keep me completely absorbed during a period when I was stressed out and having a hard time focusing on much of anything, especially books. And, since I have been in a similar state of mind recently, I was hoping that the sequel would work the same magic and break me out of the reading funk that I’ve been in lately.

Unfortunately, the magic just wasn’t there the second time around. Rather than kick my reading funk in the pants, I think Shadow of Night just stretched it out. There were parts of it that I liked, but it didn’t grab me to the same degree as the first one did, and I had a lot more issues with the story itself. And while I was never annoyed with it enough to give up on it, I was also never highly motivated to pick it up or read for long stretches at a time.

To break it down a little further, we’ll start with the parts of the story I liked. My favorite parts of the story were also parts that happened relatively early on. I like time travel stories, and I think it was really interesting having the main time-traveler be a historian – so that she knows (or thinks she knows) about the period, but has to reconcile what she’s been taught with what it means to actually live that life. (I thought Diana’s attitude about changing the future was surprisingly blasé for a historian, though.) Harkness’s attention to period detail really did a nice job of bringing the period to life (although how accurately, I can’t say; I got a little kick out of that piece of meta-ness.) I also liked the idea of a vampire time-traveling to a period in history that he’s already lived through once, and having the chance to re-think and re-do some of his choices from the first time around, and the dilemna of how you do that when you’re burdened with centuries of foreknowledge.

Things I thought were okay include Matthew & Diana’s ostensible reasons for coming back to the past at all. Diana’s witch training was interesting for the most part, but both it and the search for the book seemed to be forgotten about for long stretches of time, even though they were the entire motivation for coming to the past in the first place. Also, the heavy reliance on alchemy and alchemical symbolism, etc., which initially was one of the things that attracted me to the story, eventually wound up feeling somewhat tiresome, although I can’t quite put my finger on why.

Things that bothered me: Matthew and Diana’s relationship. It bugged me a little bit in the first book that he’s all “I’m a domineering vampire and am going to order you around.” and she’s all “You can’t order me around! I’m an independent woman. I’m going to get angry about it and not actually do anything about it and then do whatever you say anyways.” But in this book, when Matthew is back in a time when men are expected to be dominant and the womenfolk are expected to be pretty but silent… well, either Matthew was a million times worse, or it just bugged me a million times more. The romance angle has never been what really attracted me to these books, but it makes it really, really hard to care about whether they can resolve their trust issues and save the future of their relationship when I’m so annoyed by both of them… and their relationship issues take up a lot of the page space. Also, I am really, really tired of miraculous half-vampire prophecy-fulfilling fetuses. Ugh.

So, I don’t know. I had issues with this book that I didn’t have with the first, but even laying those aside, it wasn’t quite as good. It was slower, with less action, and a less compelling plot. There are enough interesting threads that I haven’t thrown the series over altogether, although I’m not salivating for the final book, either. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Shadow of Night starts literally seconds after A Discovery of Witches ends, with minimal-to-no recap, so it is not by any means standalone. This one is slower and not as grabbing, but still has enough interesting and original elements to be worth reading if you liked the first.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Beth Fish Reads, Capricious Reader, Devourer of Books, Iris on Books, That’s What She Read, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: We arrived in an undignified heap of witch and vampire.

“And if you really want to behave like an Elizabethan woman, stop questioning me,” he said roughly as he departed. –p. 45

“Then bed him. If it’s me you want, you’ll wait.” Matthew was composed, but it was the calm of a frozen river: hard and smooth on the surface but raging underneath. He’d been using words as weapons since we left the Old Lodge. He’d apologized for the first few cutting remarks, but there would be no apology for this. Now that he was with his father again, Matthew’s civilized veneer was too thin for something so modern and human as regret. –p. 120

“Mating a vampire is no less confining than being spellbound by witches. You’re living on your own terms for the first time, yet you’re ready to swap one set of restraints for another. But mine aren’t the enchanted stuff of fairy tales, and no charm will remove them when they begin to chafe.”
“I’m your lover, not your prisoner.”
“And I am a vampire, not a warmblood. Mating instincts are primitive and difficult to control. My entire being will be focused on you. No one deserves that kind of ruthless attention, least of all the woman I love.”
“So I can either live without you or be locked in a tower by you.” –p. 121

“I wish his good humor was more reliable. Matthew is mercurial these days. He’s possessive one moment and ignores me as if I were a piece of furniture the next.”
“Men treat their property that way.” She picked up a jug of water.
“I am not his property,” I said flatly.
“What you and I know, what the law says, and how Matthew himself feels are three entirely separate issues.” –p. 270-271

“You don’t seem to want to feed on me.” There had been no indication that Matthew wrestled with such an urge, and he had flatly refused his father’s suggestions that he take my blood.
“I can manage my cravings far better than when we first met. Now my desire for your blood is not so much about nourishment as control. To feed from you would primarily be an assertion of dominance now that we’re mated.” –p. 308

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 64: ““Oh, aye. The bastards killed me before they saved me. Fixed my bad eye, while they were at it,” Hancock said cheerfully, pointing to his gammy lid.” – malfunctioning, injured, or lame.
  • p. 210: “The oak table in the center of the room was unusually fine, less than three feet across but quite long, its legs decorated with the delicate faces of caryatids and herms.” – a supporting column sculptured in the form of a draped female figure; a rectangular, often tapering stone post bearing a carved head or bust, usually of Hermes, used as a boundary marker in ancient Greece and for decorative purposes in later periods.
  • p. 391: “After the neighborhood caught fire in the middle of the century, the emperor’s grandfather had insisted on having some way to tell houses apart besides the popular sgraffito decorations scratched into the plaster.” – decoration produced on pottery or ceramic by scratching through a surface of plaster or glazing to reveal a different color underneath.
  • p. 414: “Unfortunately, this announcement caught the emperor’s attention, and the house was flooded with medicines: terra sigillata, the clay with marvelous healing properties; bezoar stones harvested from the gallbladders of goats to ward off poison; a cup made of unicorn horn with one of the emperor’s family recipes for an electuary.” – a drug mixed with sugar and water or honey into a pasty mass suitable for oral administration.
  • p. 440: “The compendium contained a sundial, a compass, a device to compute the length of the hours at different seasons of the year, an intricate lunar volvelle – whose gears could be set to tell the date, time, ruling sign of the zodiac, and phase of the moon – and a latitude chart that included (at my request) the cities of Roanoke, London, Lyon, Prague, and Jerusalem.” – a type of wheel chart or slide chart, a paper construction with rotating parts.
  • p. 450: “Master Hoefnagel had rigged up a curtain over the chapel doors, so that all I had to do was push my way through them with a goddess’s éclat (and without spearing my moon headdress on the fabric as I had done in rehersal) and stare wistfully down at Matthew” – great brilliance, as of performance or achievement.
  • p. 455: “Having delivered his warning shot across the bow, Pistorius turned the conversation to other topics and engaged Dr. Hájek in a lively debate about the medical benefits of theriac.” – a compound of sixty-four drugs made into an electuary by pulverization and the addition of honey, formerly used as an antidote for poison.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2012 9:50 am

    Weirdly enough, I liked this one a lot better than A Discovery of Witches. It mostly had to do with the fact that I got annoyed in the first book with the incessant description of Diane’s daily routine and yoga pants, whereas in this one the detail actually added something to the story rather than just took up space.

    • October 8, 2012 10:42 am

      Grace – Hah! Now that you point it out, I guess there was a lot of yoga pants talk, but I don’t remember noticing it at the time… probably because I tend to read over paragraphs with a lot of descriptive detail too quickly.

  2. September 24, 2012 10:34 am

    Your review has convinced me I can skip both A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night without stressing over it too much. A hearty thank you! I’ll stick with Lauren Willig’s historical/contemporary series for my excursion into that subgenre of romance. They are humorous, which is always a plus for me when it comes to romance.

    • October 8, 2012 10:43 am

      Laurie – I’ve only ever read the first Lauren Willig book. I enjoyed it (despite some glaring anachronisms) but for some reason have not yet been really motivated to pick up the sequels.

      • October 8, 2012 11:30 am

        Actually, the later ones I have listened to aren’t quite as entertaining as the first!

  3. September 24, 2012 1:29 pm

    As I mentioned on twitter, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said here. I did enjoy the history as taught vs. history as lived, as well as the gendered understandings of history that appeared every once in a while. I think this may have been my favourite part of the book for the first 100 pages or so.

    After that, yes to all your frustrations: the Matthew And Diana dynamic, ugh! The alchemy, ugh! The sloooooowness! And on top of that the baby. Why do we need to give all these heroines the fulfillment of “eternal life” in their meetings with vampires and babies, as if that equals the perfect female life.

    • October 8, 2012 10:44 am

      Iris – Agreed. If a half-vampire baby is the pinnacle of womanhood, I’m doing something very wrong. :)

  4. September 24, 2012 2:35 pm

    You’re not the first one to say this book doesn’t live up to the first in the series.

    • October 8, 2012 10:44 am

      Kathy – I wonder if that’s inevitable, when the first book was so wildly popular?

  5. September 25, 2012 1:30 am

    Okay, so. I agree with you on the first book. I tried to read this one, but I gave up because it seemed like they were spending 100-ish pages doing nothing except standing around and talking. Also, I felt there was an awkward objectification of Diana happening–awkward since the book is in her POV, but the author is clearly thinking in terms of the historical men in the narrative.

    Eventually my mom told me what happened and I was like, “OMG, TWILIGHT!”

    • October 8, 2012 10:46 am

      heidenkind – I think my main problem with Matthew/Diana was how quick she was to make excuses for his shitty behavior towards her, even while she’s busy protesting how strong and independent she is.

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