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.

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I seem to be on a vampire binge at the moment and hey, I’m not complaining. But I was really looking forward to this one because not only did it have vampire, witches and daemons, it also had lashings of history of science! Deborah Harkness is a historian of science and it shows by the wealth of historical and scientific detail in this novel, but in no way did I feel overwhelmed by the facts and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

A Discovery of Witches is about Diana Bishop who, together with her maternal Aunt Sarah, is the last living descendant of the Bishop witches made famous in the Salem trials. But she is not only that, her father was a Proctor, and so she draws the bloodline of two very powerful witch families. However, after the brutal murder of her parents, she has forsaken her magical side and is now pursuing a successful career as a historian of alchemy and is currently on a research sabbatical in Oxford. It is in the Bodleian Library that she comes across a strange book that is bound by a spell which unlocks at her touch and she soon finds herself attracting the attentions of the supernatural creatures in Oxford. When she meets Matthew Clairemont, she is drawn to the old and beautiful vampire but is also wary of his intentions. As Diana finds herself increasingly in danger, she turns to Matthew and this brings them both into trouble with the ancient laws that govern the supernatural world and to shield them from discovery by the humans.

I really enjoyed this book and am only annoyed that it’s the first in a trilogy. Gah, I have to wait so long for the next one! Harkness wears her scholarship lightly and it was a pleasure to encounter a myriad of stories and theories from Giordano Bruno, Einstein, Shakespeare as well as all the history of science canon that you learn as a student. It reminded me how much I enjoyed my degree:) And I loved all the snippets of information about the crusades and the Templers, alchemy, genetics, wine and everything else that Harkness is interested in. And most of all, because Diana is a historian, there is a lot about ancient books and libraries.

Although I really enjoyed the esoteric and supernatural elements to the story (especially how Harkness brought in the Salem witch trials and the genealogy of witches), the only thing that didn’t sit too well with me was the love story between Diana and Matthew. It was a little too soppy for me and although they are both adults with previous relationships behind them, I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t consummate their relationship (maybe we’ll find out in the later books but it’s frustrating, dang it!). And the supernatural yoga scenes just made me giggle. But then these are very small niggles in what I thought was an interesting and pretty well thought-out plot.

And I cannot wait to read the sequel since I am assuming that we will get to meet Kit Marlowe!

I would like to thank the lovely people at Headline Books who kindly sent me a copy of A Discovery of Witches to review.