Deborah Harkness' stunning fiction debut, A Discovery of Witches, I've been counting the minutes until I could get my hands on the sequel. The first book in the All Souls Trilogy was a stunning blend of magic, history, literature and science, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on the continuing story of Diana Bishop and her vampire lover, Matthew Clairmont.
Shadow of Night is not just a worthy follow-up to A Discovery of Witches – it's an expansion of everything that made the first book so good even as it introduces a host of additional issues and problems. This time around, I opted to listen to the audiobook version of the book, and I couldn't have made a better choice. Jennifer Ikeda gives one of the best audiobook performances I've encountered, and I'd happily listen to the book again and again. At nearly 25 hours, the book is a long, intense listen, but it's impossible to turn it off.
Summary: Scholar and witch Diana Bishop has time-traveled to Elizabethan England with her vampire husband Matthew Clairmont in search of a mysterious and dangerous alchemical manuscript. As Diana and Matthew move among the most notable figures of the age, they're also forced to navigate the power structures of the era. At the same time, Diana seeks a witch who can tutor her and help her harness her magical abilities. Traveling throughout Renaissance Europe in search of Ashmole 782, Diana and Matthew must present a unified front even as they continue to define their respective roles in their marriage.
My thoughts: I adored every single minute of Shadow of Night and thought it was a fabulous follow-up to A Discovery of Witches. Once again, Deborah Harkness has crafted a novel that is flawlessly plotted but full of rich details that creates a vivid world. The book has a different feel from A Discovery of Witches – Diana and Matthew face very different threats than those in the first book – but the essence of the story hasn't changed. In Shadow of Night, the threats are more insidious and Diana and Matthew must discover whom they can trust instead of battling overt evil. Because of this, the pace of this book is significantly slower, though it's no less enjoyable. As much time is spent on clothing descriptions as it is on court intrigues, but it's all an essential part of the world that Harkness is creating.
Since Deborah Harkness is a history professor specializing in the Renaissance period, it's no surprise that she's depicted 1590 Europe with stunningly rich detail. Some of the greatest and most famous figures of the era figure prominently in the book, not just rulers like Elizabeth I and Rudolph II but scholars and artists like John Dee and Christopher Marlowe. Harkness also introduces characters who may not be well known to modern audiences. Henry Percy, known to history as the Wizard Earl of Northumberland, quickly became one of my favorite characters and readers will be charmed by the earl's affability and love for his friends. Friendship is an important theme in Shadow of Night, and the 16th-century relationships that both Diana and Matthew craft are complex but close.
Not surprisingly, Diana and Matthew spend significant time adjusting to each other. As newlyweds who have only known each other a matter of months, they must work to develop trust and both struggle to keep their relationship strong while retaining their individual identities. Modern readers may find the gender politics bewildering and frustrating. There is much male posturing and jockeying for position at court and in small circles. At the same time, Harkness offers strong female characters who have learned to assert themselves and their independence in unexpected ways. In one sense, Shadow of Night is a study of the role of Elizabethan women from countess to maid, and it was surprising to see how everyone from Elizabeth on down carves out a role for themselves.
Though there's less of a cliffhanger at the end of Book Two, Deborah Harkness has set up the final book in the trilogy as a dramatic end to the series. There are still many unanswered questions about the creation of vampires and witches, and Diana and Matthew still have countless enemies both known and unknown. Harkness is still writing Book Three, but I have no doubt that it will be just as fascinating and suspenseful as the first two.
The Shadow of Night audiobook production is also close to flawless – Jennifer Ikeda voices scores of characters and manages to give each a distinct identity. She captures the various regional and cultural accents beautifully and her pronunciation of countless Latin, German, French, and Spanish words is spot-on. With this one book, Ikeda has jumped onto my list of favorite narrators, and I'll happily spend another 24+ hours listening to her speak. There were some distractingly long pauses at chapter transitions – long enough that I would check the CD player to make sure it was still on – but it wasn't enough to ruin the whole experience for me.
Note: Those who haven't read A Discovery of Witches may find Shadow of Night's world interesting but will be utterly lost when it comes to the continuing plot threads and various characters. It is essential to read the first book before diving in to this one, and though both books are long, trust me – it's time well spent.
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: July 10, 2012
Length: 24 hours, 30 minutes
Related review: A Discovery of Witches
Disclaimer: I received this audiobook from the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.