When I read Bethany’s review of Shadow of Night a few weeks ago, I wanted to have mine be, simply, “See Bethany’s review.” After much thought, that seemed like probably that went against the premise of our blog, so I decided that I should write my own, even though Bethany’s review is basically without reproach, and I agree with all of her points.
Let me start this off by saying that I have read a fair amount of vampire/witch/fairy /demon/werewolf/you name it fiction. I am certain that there are people out there who have read more, but I know there are people who have read significantly less. I’ve read Anne Rice, Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Stephenie Meyer, to name a few. As I’ve made plain in prior essays, I have loved Anne Rice since I was a teenager, and I have no shame in reading her. The others? Well, they do weave entertaining stories, but I’d hesitate to call them high quality literature. I will defend Kim Harrison’s ability to create an ever-expanding and coherent universe of characters that I actually care about, the others don’t get such high praise. The rest seem to have “fantasy-universe fatigue,” a term I just invented right this minute to describe what happens in the majority of fantasy series when the author seems to be tired of writing about the same old characters and continues, for reasons unknown to the readers, who keep reading, hoping against hope that the next one will be better. And it never is. More on this when I do my review for the latest Sookie Stackhouse book, at least there will be if I find it as my friends who have already read it found it.
I read Deborah Harkness’ first novel, A Discovery of Witches, last spring shortly after it came out, and was impressed with the writing and her characterizations. There were some points when her first book dragged a bit for me, but nothing of the sort occurred in Shadow of Night. It was 577 pages of non-stop excitement in Elizabethan England, France, and Prague. I tend to enjoy sequels more than the initial book if only because the relationships between characters are set up so less time is spent on establishing characterization and more is spent on plot and progression of the relationships. This one doesn’t disappoint in that respect either.
At the end of A Discovery of Witches witch Diana Bishop time-walks to England in 1590 with her vampire paramour Matthew Clairmont (or Matthew de Clermont or Matthew Roydon, depending on when and where he is). Their purposes for this adventure are many: to look for Ashmole 782, the mysterious manuscript that has something to do with the origins of vampires, witches, and daemons; to learn more about Diana’s witch powers and find someone to teach her; to hide from the people out to get them in the present. Deborah Harkness’ not-so-secret ulterior motive in setting this book in the sixteenth century is obviously to showcase her knowledge of the era from her other life as a historian specializing in the history of science and medicine in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. And her knowledge is immense. In the character list at the end of the book there’s asterisks next to the names of true historical figures. Some of them are obviously real people: Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth. But she didn’t need to find historical figures to be more minor characters in the book—we would never have known or cared if Joanna and Edward Kelley did or didn’t exist but it adds an air of authenticity to the story knowing that they did. And it’s the details that make this book really stand out from the crowd of vampire/witch fiction. When Harkness describes Diana’s outfits, it’s for a purpose. When Charlaine Harris describes Sookie Stackhouse’s uniform for her job as a barmaid at Merlotte’s in Bon Temps, Louisiana (for the 5,000th time), it seems more than a bit superfluous.
I can’t wait to see how Harkness wraps up this series. Will there be more time walking? Will Diana and Matthew be able to settle down like any other couple? I think Bethany might be onto something about Philippe’s original identity, but will Philippe make an appearance in the third book? I cannot wait to find out. And I hope that Deborah Harkness keeps writing fiction when she’s done with these books, because she’s made it possible for me to read about vampires and witches and things and read quality literature at the same time.