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Shadow of Night: Book Review

July 31, 2012

Shadow of Night: Book Two of the All Souls Trilogy
Deborah Harkness
Penguin Books

Sassymonkey posted a terrific review of Shadow of Night, just as I finally decided I needed to read it. I’d failed to get my hands on a copy at BEA, the library list was miles long, and I just cracked and bought it on Kindle. And then zoomed through it, staying up late and reading on my lunch break. Although her review pretty much covers everything I was thinking, there are a handful of things I would add. Including, after the cut, an excerpt that I couldn’t resist including.

As with reading A Discovery of Witches, the world of witches, vampires, and daemons was so well constructed, with an interesting intellectual mystery, that it grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. I know it continues into a third book, but I think things wrap up decently enough with this second volume that I’m not frantic to read the third.

Most of the book is set in 1590, as they’ve gone back in time to search for Ashmole 782, a mysterious, possibly magical alchemical text that might hold answers to the connections between witches, vampires, daemons and humans.

With a nice balance of historical characters and created ones, as well as her unique mythology, Harkness has written a pretty terrific historical novel. In addition to dealing with the warring factions between creatures, Diana Bishop, 21st century witch and scholar, has to deal with trying to masquerade as a 15th century lady, and avoid getting burned as a witch. Finding dresses that fit her tall frame, hiding her accent, negotiating what her relationship is, and can be, with Matthew and his status as a nobleman and vampire. And then there are her witch powers to contend with, as she begins to learn the extent of what she can do. Much of the book felt like an exploration of the possibilities of the setting and the characters. Kit Marlowe, mercurial and jealous, makes an excellent demon. I loved getting a sense, through Diana’s historian-turned-participant eyes, of the time, atmosphere, food and fashion. Diana’s frustrations learning to write with a quill, trying to figure out an Elizabethan housewife’s duties, meeting wonderful and wry Mary Sidney, and then Queen Elizabeth, petty, and petulant though powerful and terrifying.

Matthew changes too, transplanted back to his past. In the first book, I’d been annoyed with the romance that develops between Matthew and Diana. Rolling my eyes and grumbling about another romance with a stupid vampire. When did fangs and bloodsucking and brooding get sexy? It’s not sexy! Also, I liked Diana’s fierceness, her curiosity, her intellectual competence, and felt like the power dynamic shifted when she fell for Matthew.

But, being back in his own past, among friends and family, has Matthew acting to the manor born. Diana tries to get him to talk about it, in 21st century lover fashion. What I found particularly interesting was there’s also some examination of what it would actually mean to be in love with a preturnaturally strong creature, and a possessive one, to boot, whose ideas about men and women were shaped by the 16th century. And then there was one scene, which not only won me over to their romance, it made me laugh out loud.

Putting it behind a cut because it’s long.

from page 425

“You don’t seem to want to feed on me.” There had been no indication that Matthew wrestled with such an urge, and he had flatly refused his father’s suggestions that he take my blood.
“I can manage my cravings far better than when we first met. Now my desire for your blood is not so much about nourishment as control. To feed from you would primarily be an assertion of dominance now that we’re mated.”
“And we have sex for that,” I said matter-of-factly. Matthew was a generous and creative lover, but he definitely considered the bedroom his domain.
“Excuse me?” he said, his eyebrows drawn into a scowl.
“Sex and dominance. It’s what modern humans think vampire relationships are all about,” I said. “Their stories are full of crazed alpha-male vampires throwing women over their shoulders before dragging them off for dinner and a date.”
“Dinner and a date?” Matthew was aghast. “Do you mean . . . ?”
“Uh-huh. You should see what Sarah’s friends in the Madison coven read. Vampire meets girl, vampire bites girl, girl is shocked to find out there really are vampires. The sex, blood, and overprotective behavior all come quickly thereafter. Some of it is pretty explicit.” I paused. “There’s no time for bundling, that’s for sure. I don’t remember much poetry or dancing either.”
Matthew swore. “No wonder your aunt wanted to know if I was hungry.”
“You really should read this stuff, if only to see what humans think. It’s a public-relations nightmare. Far worse than what witches have to overcome.” I turned around to face him. “You’d be surprised how many women seem to want a vampire boyfriend anyway, though.”
“What if their vampire boyfriends were to behave like callous bastards in the street and threaten starving orphans?”
“Most fictional vampires have hearts of gold, barring the occasional jealous rage and consequent dismemberment.” I smoothed the hair away from his eyes.
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation,” Matthew said.
“Why? Vampires read books about witches. The fact that Kit’s Doctor Faustus is pure fantasy doesn’t stop you from enjoying a good supernatural yarn.”
“Yes, but all that manhandling and then making love . . .” Matthew shook his head.

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