Sunday, 14 October 2012

Book Review: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night is the second part of Deborah Harkness's All Soul's Trilogy. The series certainly isn't one that I would universally recommend and this review is probably best suited to anyone that read the first part, A Discovery of Witches and is undecided about reading whether to read Shadow of Night.

My main frustration with A Discovery of Witches was the really unsatisfactory ending. After wading my way through 500+ pages, I was frustrated to find the story stopped almost mid-air. I realise the book is part of trilogy meant to be read in sequence but I feel strongly that each book should work as a standalone piece too. As you would probably anticipate, Shadow of Night picks up exactly where A Discovery of Witches ends and, yes, unfortunately this book also suffers from a lack of satisfying ending.

Shadow of Night is a fantasy novel, weaving historical figures and events into the tale of time-travelling, star crossed lovers, Matthew the 1500 year old vampire and Diana the spell-bound witch. Deborah Harkness manages to keep the characters believable rather than ridiculous, however, this isn't always consistent and at times I found the dialogue really absurd. On more than one occasion, the 'love scenes' between the two main characters stray into Mills & Boon territory which really detracts from the rest of the book. If you're going to write about a vampire and witch having sex, it's probably not the best moment to become too coy. For a pair of creatures, the couple have a surprisingly vanilla sex-life!

Whereas A Discovery of Witches was mostly set in the present, the plot of Shadow of Night plays out in late 16th Century Europe with the occasional tie-in to the present. At times, the narrative is griping and I found the depiction of Elizabethan London and Prague during the rule of Rudolf II very entertaining, even if I can't vouch for the historical accuracy.

There's a reasonable amount that unfolds over the 574 pages but I suspect that if you're not a devourer of books, you could get a little bored in parts. There's more history than science in this second novel and probably more focus on character development and romance. There was sufficient repetition for me to suspect that they could have cut at least 100 pages without compromising the story and my preference would have been for greater focus on Diana developing her magic. I will admit that I found it overly schmaltz and at times the brooding vampire/academic Matthew was reduced to a character better suited to Dawson's Creek.

Despite the flaws, overall it was an entertaining read and if you made it all the way through A Discovery of Witches (and you can face another frustrating non-ending) I would recommend it. I suspect I am never going to feel fully satisfied by the first two books until I read the final part of the trilogy.


  1. Whilst I know precisely what you mean about the lack of endings, and the ... er ... stupidly coy bits, I have really enjoyed reading both of these. There's just enough "proper" science and historical detail to make it feel like you're not reading a book meant for either teenagers or idiots, which is nice. Also, I love the way she brings the scents of the ages to life.

    I devoured both books very quickly, but a few people I've recommended it to since have thought I was insane, so it's very definitely not for everyone.

    But, I suspect the third book will be the decider as to whether the trilogy as a whole has been worth it or not. I prefer to see the endings of the two previous books as "cliffhangers", it keeps me sane ...

  2. I am currently still reading "Shadow of Night" and I agree with your anaylsis of the two books. Discovery of Witches was entertaining but left you hanging at the end with no resolution to the story. Shadow of night is dragging a bit and I was hoping they would focus more on Diana developing her magic but it feels more like a history lesson. i was disappointed to hear there is no real ending to this one either.

  3. I haven't read this, but its always frustrating to me when authors don't realise that a trilogy is a series of three stories, rather than a single story divided into three parts. (Could easily apply to series of more than three as well, of course.)


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