Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review of "Shadow of Night" by Deborah Harkness

Description 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.

I was so excited for this book to come out. I really loved the first book in the All Souls Trilogy and have read it many times over the last year. (My review of "A Discovery of Witches" can be found here.) In anticipation of "Shadow of Night" coming out, I was going to re-read the first book one more time when I found out that iTunes was running a special on the audio book version of it. I've never bought an audio book before. Partly because I didn't think I would like them, but also because they are so frigging expensive - usually about $30. But it was only $5 while on special the month before SoN came out, so I got it. It was an amazing way to refresh myself with a book I already loved and knew so well. The woman reading it did an awesome job with all of the different accents and voices, and it was nice to hear how some of the French words and names should be pronounced. I listened to it constantly over one weekend and when I could, I read along with it. Well worth the $5, and I'll likely buy this book in audio version, too. But now, on to my thoughts of "Shadow of Night".

I have now read through this book twice, but wrote down my thoughts after the first reading. Between the two readings, I did some much needed research. But I'll get to why in a minute.

This book picks up immediately where the last book left off. Diana and Matthew have traveled back in time to 1590 and landed in Elizabethan England. Matthew believes this will be a good place to hide from the Congregation and look for Ashmole 782, the manuscript they believe is the history of creatures (though the witches believe it holds their secrets, and for Diana to learn how to control her magic. It thrusts them into a hard world, where Matthew is a very busy man with his loyalties pulled in many different directions, Diana doesn't fit in, and witches are being hunted.

We are introduced to many new characters and only have glimpses of the characters we grew to know and love in the first book. Sometimes it's hard to keep track of who everybody is. The book also changes locales, which means language changes, too. They spend a good portion of the book in England, so of course the people speak in English. But since it's 1590, the phrasing is not always as straight forward as we speak today. Other parts of the book are in France and Prague, so Harkness sometimes uses French, German, and even Latin. She usually translates what they're saying into English, but it can get a little old.

So many of the characters are historically important, and Harkness very briefly tells the reader some of their accolades, but it wasn't really enough. That's why I did some research between my two readings - to research why these people were important. I felt at a distinct disadvantage because I didn't know the historical importance and associations of the characters, but after my research, I felt much better informed through my second reading. Some of these historically important characters were difficult to keep straight. There is such a large group of them and they go by multiple names - Christopher Marlowe is sometimes called Christopher, sometimes Marlowe, and sometimes Kit. Henry Percy is also the Earl of Northumberland and is called a variety of names as well. This is in addition to Pierre, Hancock, Sir Walter Raleigh, Thomas Harriot, George Chapman, Gallowglass, and a variety of other men. There is also Queen Elizabeth I (thankfully I knew her history - the daughter of King Henry and Anne Boelyn - thanks to The Tudors!), the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolff II and all of the various people at his court in Prague. There are so many characters that Harkness lists them all at the end, divided up by what part of the book they're introduced in.

It might be easier and I'll be less likely to spoil something if I just list some of the things I loved/liked/disliked about the book.

- I loved seeing the progression of Diana and Matthews relationship. They have some obvious difficulties - hello, they're going back in time over four hundred years, they just got married after only knowing each other for a few months, they are different creatures who historically do not trust each other. They argue, work it out, and come back to each other, and come away stronger.
- I love some of the new characters and absolutely hate to see them go. But unless they are vampires, it's unlikely we'll see them again in the third book. Specifically, my favorite new character is Jack. I know everybody will love him. I also really like Annie, Mary, Henry, Goody, and even Mop. We also meet both Diana's and Matthew's fathers - Stephen Proctor and Phillipe de Clermont. Since we know from the first book that they are both deceased in the present, these meetings in 1590 are bittersweet.
- I also love Gallowglass - a new character, a vampire - that I believe we will see again. He is incredibly interesting and I believe his role in this story is much bigger than we know from this book.
- Diana's magical evolution is sometimes difficult to follow, but nonetheless, interesting. Her stunted magic was frustrating in the first book, so it's nice to see some growth and understanding.
- Throughout the book we are given little glimpses into the present, so that we might know what impact Diana and Matthew being in the past is having. I really like that. It gives us some new characters and lets us see what is happening with some of the characters we grew to love in the first book, like Sarah and Emily, Marcus, Ysabeau, and even Gallowglass.

- I was so completely turned off by the treatment of women in 1590 - men seemed very chauvinistic and demeaning toward women. Though most of Matthew's friends grew on me and eventually accepted Diana, that acceptance wasn't common back then.
- I seriously disliked some of the other characters, some new and some old - Louisa de Clermont, Kit, Gerbert, Peter Knox, Father Hubbard
- I still don't understand Alchemy, so the long passages dealing with this subject were hard for me to get though.

To go into one character I disliked a little further - I basically despised Kit from the first time we meet him. Practically his first words about Diana are, "I had no idea there was a brothel in Woodstock that specialized in overtall women. Most of your whores are more delicate and appealing, Matthew. This one is a positive Amazon." We know that Kit is attached and attracted to Matthew, so of course he's bound to be a little jealous. But his blatant rudeness and disdain does absolutely nothing to endear him to the reader. From them on, his behavior irritated me and I rolled my eyes whenever he spoke. At one point, after he had been out of the story for a while and was now back "in residence" I literally groaned out loud. I didn't want to hear anymore of his prejudiced, mad ramblings. Another time, he says to Diana, "Lady alchemists are nothing but kitchen philosophers, more interested in improving their complexions than understanding the secrets of nature." Diana says to him, "I study alchemy in the library - not the kitchen. Then I teach students about the subject at a university." Kit then says, "They will let women teach at the university?" Like it's absolutely the worst thing in the world that can happen to the future. So frustrating to continually read shit like that.

The last thing about the book that I want to mention is that I was absolutely SHOCKED by events briefly mentioned at the end of the book and I'm dying to know what happened. I literally asked out loud "WHAT? WHY?" I had to stop reading, go back, read again, and then stop reading while I cried for a bit. It will likely be explained to us in the next book, but I couldn't stop thinking about it and tearing up whenever I did. 

I highly recommend this book (and the first in the trilogy). I absolutely love them. Don't be dissuaded by some of the reviewers that compare this to an adult Twilight/Harry Potter, just because it deals with witches and vampires. Even if you loved those books, these are absolutely nothing like them, completely different. Check them out! (I've included a link to NPR's review because I thought it was so spot-on.)
NPR's Review of "Shadow of Night"

I totally forgot to include these pictures! Deborah Harkness posted them on her Facebook page and said these paintings were her inspiration for Matthew and Diana in 1590 and are featured in the story. Not exactly how I pictured them, but fun to see how the author does!

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