Friday, July 6, 2012

Royal intrigue, lost books and magic all come to a head

Diana's magic can no longer be ignored in Deborah Harkness' second novel in the 'All Souls' trilogy, Shadow of Night.

Note:  Shadow of Night is the sequel to A Discovery of Witches.  Check out the review for A Discovery or Witches here, or read on!

At the terrible, cruel cliffhanger end of A Discovery of Witches, Diana and Matthew realize there is only one way to get Diana's magic under control and keep her out of the hands of her enemies.  They must use her newfound Timewalker powers and go back to an earlier time in Matthew's history to enlist the aid of witches of a past era.

Back in 1590, magic was quite a bit different.  Vampires were more prevalent and did not have the current-day problems with turning their victims.  Demons, while still known for their creativity and eccentricity, were not going mat at nearly the rate they are in the 21st century.

And then there were the witches.

While some of the men and women put to death for witchcraft were probably not in fact witches, it seems that most were.  Many kept to themselves so as to not draw attention to themselves in those dangerous times.  But magic of all sorts was much more common, from the midwife and healer to women with a mastery of one element or another, complete with familiar.  As the last in line of the Bishop witches, and with an assortment of powers that was rare even back then, Diana is finally able to find women who understand all of the abilities she has been manifesting.

But the witch hunts of the time aren't the only dangers that Matthew and Diana have to avoid.  London in the 16th century has the added treachery of court politics.  And since Matthew seems to have a bit of a special job, supervised directly by Queen Elizabeth I, there's as much to fear from their allies as their enemies.

Thankfully, as Diana learns to control her powers, she starts to assert herself as well.  Gone is the shrinking violet, content to hide behind Matthew and her aunts of the first book.  Perhaps, when faced with the status of women of the era, she sees more clearly the freedoms that Matthew allows her, and uses it to her advantage.

Not being terribly well versed in European history, I have to admit that I felt rather lost at times.  The author perhaps forgets that not all of her readers remember their High School history classes so well, and a bit more information about her historical characters and the time period would have been appreciated.   I know enough to recognize many of the names of the historically-based characters, but not enough about them or their works to really keep up with the characters themselves.

That's not to say that Harkness' worldbuilding is any less beautifully detailed than her last book.  Where she forgets some of the macro, the micro comes into clear focus.  Diana frequently marvels at being able to step into the London that she has studied for so long, and even the shape of the London sky is completely different without the modern buildings.  Details such as the food, the clothing, even the smells draw the reader into the story in a way that few authors can, and Harkness must be commended for that.

In the end, Shadow of Night is a rich, satisfying installment in the 'All Souls' trilogy, which leaves the reader dreading the indeterminate wait for the final book.

Highs:  Matthew being able to see long-lost family and friends lends a new dimension to the character.

Lows:  The whole 'changing the future with the past' mechanism is always a cop-out, no matter how it's done.

Verdict:  Fans of the first book won't be disappointed, though it wouldn't work without reading A Discovery of Witches first.

Further Reading:  Shades of Milk and Honey, Soulless

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