23 Jan 2013

"Shadow of Night" by Deborah Harkness

Since I finished "A Discovery of Witches" by Deborah Harkness in September 2011, I'd been looking forward to reading the sequel, "Shadow of Night", like a little kid looks forward to Christmas. And then the other day, it arrived in my mailbox and suddenly all my excitement vanished because what if... oh dare I write it... it didn't live up to the expectations set by the first book in what will in time be a trilogy? So I braced myself for disappointment and started reading, almost sure that I would not fall in love. 
How wrong I was (once I again - I never seem to learn) because although the first few pages were a warm-up session where I re-acquainted myself with Diana Bishop and Matthew de Clermont, I quickly settled back into the story and found as much to love in "Shadow of Night" as I did in "A Discovery of Witches". 

The story starts right where the story in the preceding book left off and if you haven't read that one, this will make little sense, I'm afraid but I will try to avoid spoilers by not explaining too much.  Matthew, a vampire, and Diana, a witch, have come to realise that in order to gain access to the mythical manuscript that might hold the key to the secrets of witches, vampires and daemons, they will have to travel back in time. Using Diana's newfound skills as a timetraveller, they journey back to 1590 where Matthew was a part of a circle around Queen Elizabeth I and friends with all sorts of notables. Even Shakespeare makes an appearance and although this could lead to some cringing, Harkness manages the staging of real historical persons in a paranormal setting much better that most. Kudos to her, I'm actually really impressed. 
The couple, whose love is illegal in the eyes of the Convention governing the Creatures (vampires etc.) are also hoping to find a teacher for Diana in this distant past. Somehow who can decipher her unruly magic and teach her how to harness it. Easier said than done.
Instead of spending a couple of weeks in the past, as originally planned, they end staying for a year or so and during this time, they accomplish an awful lot including traveling from Oxford to London to France and to Prague. I won't go into more detail here - keeping the spoilers at a minimum - it suffices to say that there is drama and romance enough for all in this tale!

Drama and romance is not enough, as we all know, and then it's rather luckily that not only can Harkness make up a great paranormal historical fiction piece, she can also write. And she has the research background and understanding of history that makes this stand out for it authenticity - yes, I said authenticity about a book with vampires in it, deal with it. 
Harkness is an inspiration in that her book is such a piece of quality work. It has obviously taken time and hard labour to produce but it has been worth it for it is splendid. The characters are fascinating and has plenty of psychological depth, the plot is well thought out and gripping and although a few too many historical celebrities have cameos, it is well-written with a mature tone to it that I find lacking in most paranormal stories. 
Summing it up, I'd say it's a triumph for Harkness. Now please go back to writing so we can have the last book in the trilogy. I can't wait!

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