The second book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness was a bestselling hit just as A Discovery of Witches, the first in the series. Shadow of Night went on to win the GoodReads Choice Award for Best Paranormal Fantasy in 2012. While the first book was urban fantasy, this second book takes a turn into historical fiction as our two main characters are sent back in time to medieval Europe to find a book.
In A Discovery of Witches (spoiler alert), Diana Bishop, an American witch from a powerful family line, came in contact with a long-lost manuscript while at Oxford University. The other creatures of night (daemons, vampires, and other witches) felt its presence and went looking for Diana and the book, but she was unable to call it back in the library. When her life was in danger, Matthew Clairmont, a level-headed vampire with a background in molecular biology, took to guarding her. Naturally, they fell in love which is against the code of ‘creatures’. To find the book and stay away from the Congregation who rule the creature world, they traveled back in time to medieval Europe to find the book and also find a tutor for Diana.
Shadow of Night begins just as Diana and Matthew have literally stepped back in time, ending up in Matthew’s home in Oxfordshire called Old Lodge (Matthew is over 1,000 years old so the past is where he has connections), a place she had visited in modern times. It is the 16th century and Matthew’s home is also where the mysterious School of Night likes to congregate, since Matthew seems to be at the helm. Christopher Marlow – famed poet and daemon, George Chapman – poet and human, Thomas Harriot – scientist and daemon, Sir Walter Raleigh – poet and human, and Henry Percy (human and not a member of the School of Night), are at Old Lodge and wondering why Matthew suddenly has no beard and is with a witch using an unfamiliar accent. He has no choice but to tell them all and enlist their help.
They have three goals while in the 16th century: Find Ashmole 782 in its entirety (the mysterious ancient manuscript that was missing three pages in the future), find a witch to teach Diana, and hide from the Congregation who forbids inter-creature relationships. Through a series of events, Diana and Matthew travel from Oxfordshire to France, and from London to Prague. Their journey is beset with a host of historical figures such as Queen Elizabeth, Shakespeare, and the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II.
Diana had been spellbound by her parents when she was a child, but never knew why. It is apparent to every witch she comes in contact with that Diana is a spectacularly powerful witch, but she is unable to perform the simplest of spells. Her parents had spellbound her before they died because they knew she wasn’t an ordinary witch but a weaver. Weavers are able to create their own spells, control the elements, and more. And, as we discovered from the previous novel, she’s also a rare time spinner – hence, their move to the past. Weavers are extremely rare and are the only witches to have familiars – and, of course, Diana’s familiar unveils itself and explodes into the forefront as the coolest witch-pet ever. With the help from a coven of witches, Diana is released from her spellbound state and taught to weave her own spells.
Matthew has his own set of problems such as meeting his deceased vampire father face-to-face, his desire for Diana’s blood, old ghosts that continue to haunt him, and an insanely jealous daemon who intends to destroy Diana. But Diana is by his side every step of the way, so much so that Matthew’s father Philippe succumbs to her graces and lovingly accepts her as his official daughter. But with a warning.
“Mark me well, Diana: Lives will be lost because of your love for my son. Some will sacrifice themselves. Others will die because someone must, and it will be for you to decide if it is you or them or someone you love. So you must ask yourself this: What does it matter who deals the deathblow?”
This was after Diana delivered her first kill in self-defense, and said upon her open regret.
There were a lot of immediate changes in the second book when compared to the first. A lot of critics likened the novel to Twilight, especially the relationship between the two main characters and the vampire’s hesitation to – uh – get physical. In this second book, we finally get down and dirty with a Harlequin-style historical romance, complete with way too many layers of clothing to unwrap. Also added in were a few pages of dialogue about the stereotypical vampire romance books.
“Most fictional vampires have hearts of gold, barring the occasional jealous rage and consequent dismemberment.” I smoothed the hair away from him eyes.
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation,” Matthew said.
Another change is with Diana in general. She’s a lot stronger in this second novel. It seems as if she was always exhausted in the first book. Although she’s wearing corsets and all types of garment control items, she’s the one wearing the proverbial britches in this book.
Like its precursor, Shadow of Night is a tome. So much happens that’s its difficult to convey any type of meaningful synopsis. There’s a wedding, adoptions, resurrected ghosts, dragons, a golem, and a few things that I’ll decline to mention so as to not spoil the big revelations. The author seems to follow a a similar path (with the first book) by using a damsel-in-distress scenario near the end.
The best part is the historical milieu that only Deborah Harkness could pull off. The setting was rich in sight, smell, and taste, saturated with notable figures and events from history – the time period descriptions flourished with authenticity. The reader lives through a slice of captured history to the fullest extent. That part, admittedly, was incredible.
Be warned, there are a lot of new characters introduced and it got horribly confusing at a few points, most notably when they went to Prague. Out of the new characters, my favorite is Matthew’s loyal nephew Gallowglass – a steadfast protector of Diana. And I’m excited to learn that he is in the next book as well.
Shadow of Night is filled with deep magic, in fiction and in prose.
Shadow of Night
by Deborah Harkness