"Together we lifted our feet and stepped into the unknown." (From the thrilling sequel to the New York Times best seller A Discovery of Witches) 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' cliff-hanger 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.
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Whew; I liked this, but it took perseverance to get to *liking.* I don't just mean because of the 600 pages (24.5 hrs), and I'm not alone with my endurance problem -- even some of the professional critics confessed to wanting to skip ahead, jump over some of the fettering details. They justified their confessions by, in the end, giving Shadow of the Night a shining review. For me, that was the trick to *liking*...sticking it out to the end. I almost unplugged half-way through, which would have been regrettable. So, before you get discouraged by: the mass of characters (so many that the text book includes a glossary of characters), or the tediousness of tea and wine (Harkness at one time wrote a blog about wine), or the seemingly pointless conversations, the contrived events, and other minutiae of Elizabethan England...Hang in there.
When they say this one picks up where A Discovery of Witches left off -- they aren't kidding. If you have not recently read (or reviewed) the first book (D of W) you will probably be lost in a torrent you can't get out of. Diana the "reluctant witch," and Matthew the "vampire-scholar," continue their urgent quest for the ancient alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, which is said to contain critical secrets about the inhabitants of this book: vampires, witches and demons/daemons (tomato/tomahto - I googled it). The as-of-yet-unwed couple time travels (by way of Diana's limited witching abilities) to 1591 -- a troublesome landing spot -- Matthew is a devout catholic in Protestant England, and next door in Scotland they are burning witches. Diana, in and out of a yards of petticoats, stealthily searches for a much needed witch-tutor (Goody Alsop was great), while Matthew attends to one of his many secret roles; their actions constantly watched by dangerous cabals and covetous eyes. There are 3 sections to this book: Matt and Di's actions in 16th century England, France, and Prague, with a brief (and sudden) jump back to the 21st century at the end of their hunt in each location, to explain the impact of their actions (in the *past*) on the present. This little section also updates the present-time reactions of the Conventicle and the Congregation to either defend or thwart the couple's progress in finding Ashmole782.
The title refers to an actual 16th century poem by George Chapman that referrences the heretical The School of Night, and several prominent historical figures, William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, even Queen Elizabeth I (does Harkness hint at a royal relationship years earlier with Matthew?). Harkness, a professor of history at USC, uses her knowledge and writing skills to embellish the story with copious details and some clever alterations of some of the significant historical figures. Obviously a great amount of research and attention went into this book. Still, even appreciating the authentic rich scenes and the new presentation of history, the overreliance on details becomes very weighty, and some good editting would have easily helped keep the middle from dragging without cutting any of the story. As for plot...aside from some pretty hot vampire on witch action between shopping, lessons, and secret missions--there isn't much, which is understandable if you look at this book as setting the stage for the final installment (boy, it had better be phenomenal!). I especially enjoyed Matthew's father, Phillipe, and hope to read more about him, as well as SOME of the interesting characters introduced in this book.
They find Ashmole, (not a plot spoiler) no fanfare, still missing 3 pages. Some questions are answered, some vexing new ones presented. Matthew's personality is a little lost in the past, but Diana's is expanded; the couple becomes more joined. The tension between the witches and vampires builds. All in all a great set-up. Jennifer Ikeda does a noteworthy job of reading so many accents and characters. She was clearly familiar with the characters and story, and gave an enjoyable, sophisticated performance. If you have read that this is "Harry Potter for adults," or a "grown-up version of Twilight," toss those epithets aside; there is much more here than comparisons. On it's own, Shadow of the Night is intelligently written adult fare. In an interview, author Deborah Harkness stated, "There are a lot of adults reading YA books, and for good reason...I wanted to give adult readers a world no less magical, no less surprising and delightful, but one that included grown-up concerns and activities. These are not your children's vampires and witches." If you liked Discovery of Witches, if you can appreciate carefully setting up the final act--you'll like this. In hind-sight, after the final book is released and so many details justified or explained, I'll probably like it even more, but since I can't time travel back and change my rating, I'll stick with a glowing 3* for now and hope for 5* with a fantastic conclusion of the All Souls Trilogy.
This is a beautifully written series so far. Deborah Harkness takes you right into the 16th century. The plot is complex but not confusing, and the narration is excellent. The variety of accents Jennifer Ikeda conveyed was impressive without being overly theatrical. This is a vivid, enchanting story. The array of personalities was engaging, each character seemed well thought out and had a depth that was really refreshing. If you liked the first book you will certainly enjoy this one.