Summary: (Taken 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.
Thoughts: After having enjoyed A Discovery of Witches (review here) so much, it goes without saying that I was thrilled to be able to get a review copy of the sequel. Now, I know that the previous book in the series got some mixed reactions. Many people loved it, primarily for the “vampire romance” aspect. Many others hated it for the exact same reason, vampire romance being a thing that’s not so much bordering on overdone as really overdone. Me, I liked it because of the depth of the characters, the historical research that had gone into the writing, and the fact that I finally found a female protagonist in a romance novel that I could actually relate to. Rather than being a wilting flower, or the tough-ass woman that really just needs a man to soften her and find her tender vulnerable heart (blech!), Diana is an academic who doesn’t take crap from anyone unless there’s a damn good reason, devoted to her research, living on her own as an independant woman who doesn’t need a man to complete her. She’s complete on her own. It was nice to see someone in that position who cared more about their research notes than getting a date.
This is not a short book by any stretch of the imagination, and I should warn you right now, if you dislike historical fiction, you’re probably going to find yourself disliking this book. Nearly all of it takes place hundred of years in the past, as Diana and Matthew have time-travelled back to find out more about Diana’s powers and the Ashmole manuscript. Harkness also throws in any number of historical and famous figures, allowing Diana to meet old friends of Matthew’s, such as Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare (though Shakespeare is really more talked about than seen here), and that’s just to start with. Not knowing much about the personalities of many of these historically-important figures, I can’t say whether or not she did them justice, but I admit that it was a little uncomfortable to read at times, playing fast and loose with famous people of the past.
More uncomfortable, however, was Matthew’s overbearing alpha-male qualities in this book. Now, he did have a good point when he stated that if Diana wants to be the image of an Elizabethan woman in society, she’s going to have to learn how to just follow orders from her husband without question, and I can respect the situation, but that didn’t make it any less wince-worthy to see the way that even in private, Matthew seems to be one of those men who knows better just because. He expects a partnership from Diana, yet has no problem with telling her what would be best for her, what she ought to do, etc. Thankfully, there are times when he steps over the line and Diana verbally beats him down for it, which was a pleasure to read, but Matthew’s attitude was very difficult to handle at times.
For what was ostensibly a historical paranormal romance, this book had surprisingly little explicit sex in it. It did have some, and for those who are big on blood-play in their vampire novels, yes, it had biting too. But most of the book was centred not on the relationship between Diana and Matthew but on finding Ashmole 782, the exploation of alchemy, and trying to fit into a society so very different from what Diana is used to. The amateur anthropologist in me was very happy to see all the little nuances of daily life that Diana had to face in the past. Beautifully done, and a real pleasure to read.
This was a very strong continuation of the All Souls trilogy, and though normally paranormal romance just isn’t to my taste, I’ve gotten so tangled up in the well-developed characters and their quest that I won’t be passing over the chance to read the third and final book in the series when it’s finally released. The first two books have been hefty reads, but enjoyable ones, and provided you can tolerate Alpha-Male Syndrome in your male romantic leads, then I definitely recommend this book to those who are looking for a good intelligent romance to keep them company.
(Provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.)