Shadow of Night Deborah Harkness
592 Pages, Hardcover
Series: All Souls Trilogy #2
Release Date: July 10, 2012I received an advanced copy of this for my Kindle from NetGalley. (Yay!)
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
Let me just say that if I hadn't been reading the first book, A Discovery of Witches, on my kindle, I would have thrown the book across the room when I finished. Somehow, I didn't know that it was the first of a series (I guess I just wasn't paying attention), and I was SO MAD that it ended in such a cliffhanger. At the time, I was feeling frustrated that every thing I was reading was part of a series and I had picked it up to just read one book. Despite that, I was very happy when I was able to get my hands on this one. I didn't feel the need to throw a book at the end of this one, but I'm not 100 percent sure if that is to this book's credit or not.
I didn't not enjoy this book. That's terrible grammar, but it's accurate. I enjoyed reading it, I never felt as if I didn't want to finish it and it maintained my interest throughout. I really do like the premise of the series. The forbidden romance between different creatures, the mystery and possibility surrounding Ashmole 782, the focus on the genetics of creatures---all these things are what have kept me reading.
However, if I had to boil Shadow of Night down into one word it would be "heavy handed". This book needed an editor that wasn't afraid to tell Harkness to ease up on the name-dropping and stick to the story. The first third of the book felt mostly unnecessary as it was filled mainly with references to major Elizabethan characters such as Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. The best characters were the ones she made up: Phillipe, Gallowglass, Annie, and Jack. Don't get me wrong, Tudor England was always my favorite time period to study in school. But Matthew's relationship with all these characters felt overly convenient and just an excuse for Harkness to get to play with favorite literary and historical characters. I understand that she had to establish Matthew's importance in Elizabethan society, but why did they even go to that time period in the first place? I thought the idea was they were trying to hide, but Matthew takes Diana to a time and place where they are hunting witches! It makes no sense.
My other major problem is that literally nothing pertaining to the main story arc happens until about half-way into the book. Yes, I do think that it was necessary to establish the romance between Diana and Matthew, since their coupling happened so fast in the first book. Insta-love is a pet peeve of mine---and this book is just RIFE with it. However, I can set that aside---some books have it and let's just move on from there, after all some people really love that and that's fine. But to dedicate 50 percent of the book to the romance and then never throw any obstacles in their way? I mean, the biggest conflict between them is that Matthew is acting angsty and Diana can't figure out why. Come on, give me something that will cast some doubt over the relationship (for longer than a paragraph!). Ugh! I get it, they are in LURVE and NOTHING will break them apart. Flashes of Twilight.
Having said that, once Diana FINALLY starts learning about her abilities and they go looking for Ashmole 782 the book took an upswing. This is the part of the book where all the questions you had from A Discovery of Witches finally start to be acknowledged and answered. I don't want to give anything away, as this is what makes the book worth reading, but I did enjoy Harkness' take on witches' powers (especially the weaving/thread ideas) and the few secrets revealed about Ashmole 782.
It just wasn't enough. This is a problem that happens all the time with series: many authors do not know how to properly pace the flow of information. You don't have to give it all away in the beginning, but you can't hide it all until the end either. We need just enough information so that the story retains suspense but still MAKES SENSE. Yes, it IS a difficult and delicate balance, but the ability to do that right sets the best authors apart. Unfortunately, Harkness did not accomplish that in this book. Everything that moves the plot forward happens at the end of the book, and truly the plot barely moves. And in an attempt to create a cliffhanger ******<spoiler alert>we find out something terrible about Emily, but we are given zero indication about what happened other than it had to do with the birth of the daemon/witch baby plot arc that was briefly touched on in the first book. I literally had to stop reading and backtrack through the book because I thought I had skipped something, that I had somehow managed to forget a major plot point, or that my copy was missing pages. Nope. It made no sense, and seemed to only be included for shock value and an attempt to create a cliffhanger, which seriously annoyed me. Tell us what happened and leave Diana's reaction to it for the next book. I'm invested in Diana, as both books have been centered on her. It's Diana's reaction that will make or break my heart, not Sarah's.</spoiler alert>******
If the reviews on Goodreads are any indication of how this book will be received with a wider audience, then most people won't be bothered by these weaknesses. Readers who are already heavily invested in the romance aspect of the book will most likely love it. Readers who are more heavily invested in the fantasy aspect will probably be left feeling frustrated. I would recommend Shadow of Night to people who loved the first book.