Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

22 October, 2012

You may recall I was pretty impressed with Deborah Harkness’ debut novel, A Discovery of Witches about the search of a mysterious manuscript and the romance between a witch and a vampire. Yes, I had a few qualms about Diana and Matthew’s relationship but what relationship is perfect? Knowing that it was the first volume in a trilogy, I was even more thrilled to find out that Diana and Matthew would be travelling back in time to Elizabethan England and would be meeting Kit Marlowe amongst other famed historical characters. I couldn’t wait for the sequel. So imagine my frothing delight when Shadow of Night arrived on my doorstep.

Diana Bishop and Matthew de Clermont have traversed across time to Elizabethan England in pursuit of Ashmole 782, the legendary manuscript that propelled Diana towards this journey into her hidden heritage and the vampire’s arms. As a historian, Diana must use her knowledge to survive in a time and place where a woman’s role was fixed and bound by her relationship with men and where knowledge is a powerful weapon that can save her or break her. It helps that the 16th century Matthew kept a permissive household that also doubled as the headquarters of the School of Night amongst whose illustrious members were the playwright and spy, Christopher Marlowe; courtier and explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh; Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland; Thomas Herriot and George Chapman. It is also a time when the Witchfinder General is flexing his muscles and witch burnings are becoming common. As Diana and Matthew negotiate the dangers, they must confront Matthew’s father Phillipe in France, lecherous Prince Rudolph of Prague, John Dee who used to own the manuscript and Elizabeth Regina herself. Can they do so without altering the strands of time themselves? And how will they deal with Diana’s awakening and changing talents as a daughter of two powerful witches?

I really enjoyed reading Shadow of Night, even more so than A Discovery of Witches. This is partly due to it being set in an era in which we have grown familiar due to all the novels, films and tv adaptations which abound and yet with enough mystery and danger to keep us on our toes. Harkness really knows her stuff. And what I found incredible and what I loved about her novel is how seamlessly she folds her historical knowledge into her story without dumbing down, overloading her story or jeopardising her writing style. I loved all the bits about alchemy, Diana’s specialist subject, and the historical characters seemed both alive and yet accessible.

One of the things I enjoyed most was how frightening Elizabethan England could be, even for a historian specialising in that era. Because however much of an expert you are, in the end, you are extrapolating from the primary material using secondary sources and there is no real way of knowing how people lived in detail. Who hasn’t thought about going back in time, just for a little bit? It’s made me rethink it.

I am, however, a little heartbroken by the characterisation of Christopher Marlowe although what else can he be but a daemon? He is one of my favourite historical figures probably because there is so much mystery surrounding him. I wish he could have been friends with Diana. But I loved that Mary Sidney, the Countess of Pembroke, made an appearance and that Walter Raleigh cut such a dashing figure in a Three Musketeers sort of way.

Oh, and how can I not mention Matthew’s vampiric nephew Galloglass? He’s probably my favourite character in this book.

My one quibble is as before: the romance between Diana and Matthew, more specifically the character of Diana. For an independant woman in her thirties with a career and history of relationships, her vulnerability and girlishness around Matthew is disconcerting. I have no issues with her relationship with Matthew and yet I find it infuriating. And yet, this is a very small quibble in what is a brilliant second volume. Usually second volumes in a trilogy are often iffy but this was even better than the first.

I cannot wait until the final volume and am looking forward to the film adaptation. I know it’s going to be amazing but may have a few things to say about the casting. I was lucky enough to go to an event with Deborah Harkness and Christopher Fowler and she was as lovely, friendly and witty as I had imagined and had such enthusiasm for her subject it was almost infectious. And she knew my name!

Do also check out Harriet and Iris’s thoughts on the book.

I would like to thank Headline for kindly sending me a copy of this book to review.

I read this as part of R.I.P. VII.

6 Responses to “Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness”

  1. winstonsdad Says:

    seems like a great rip choice ,mix of past and fantasy seems to work ,all the best stu

  2. Oooh, I’ve had this one sitting on my Nook since July. I’m just waiting for the right time to read it. I’m really hoping to love it as much as you. Especially as you note: second books are hard. Many series I’ve ended up loving are plagued by the curse of the Second Book, which just ends up being a placeholder to give you all the info you’ll need for the big finale of the third and final book!

    I also agree with your feelings about Diana’s relationship. I want her to be stronger than she is…around Matthew she ends up coming across far younger than she really is…Excited to do this one none the less!

    p.s. found you via the RIP link-up

  3. lynnsbooks Says:

    I was a bit more disappointed with this than I thought I would be – probably because I was really looking forward to it with the promise of time travel and Elizabethan England.
    I think with this particular novel I became even more exasperated with Matthew and Diana – considering Matthew’s age he is very immature and like you said Diana doesn’t come across well as a modern woman. I did enjoy the setting and the way that the author writes about the period but for me I felt she overdid it somewhat. Clearly she knows what she’s talking about but it felt too much description and not enough content. I will still read the next book because I want to know how this will all end and again I’m now intrigued to see whether Diana and Matthew’s over-stay in 16th century London has had an impact on their future.
    Lynn 😀

    • sakura Says:

      It will certainly be interesting to see what impact their actions will have on their future. Sometime it’s difficult to reconcile expectations with what you’re reading, isn’t it? In my case, I wasn’t really sure what to expect so I ended up really enjoying the book. Like you, I’m looking forward to the next one.

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