Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was very annoyed to reach the end of A Discovery of Witches only to discover it wasn’t the end. When Shadow of Night came out, I picked it up at the library and started to read, but couldn’t get past the first 100 pages. With the third book out, I decided to try again. This time I finished the book in a weekend.
Shadow of Night picks up where A Discovery of Witches leaves off; Diana and Matthew are time traveling back to 1590. Their goal is to find an ancient text that could explain where non-humans (witches, daemons and vampires) originated and to find a witch who could teach Diana about her abilities (she was “spellbound” by her parents to protect her).
The author has a deep, detailed understanding of Elizabethan times, but in some spots those details slow the story down. Except for one bad attempt at finding a witch tutor, most of the beginning of the book doesn’t stay on plot. Instead we meet historical characters, such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlow, which is fun at first, but starts to get old.
The book picks up steam when Diana and Matthew go to France. Although still very little is done to find the book or learn witchcraft, this section does reveal a lot about Matthew’s past and demons that torture his soul. We also find out why after being married twice in the first book, they haven’t consummated the marriage. That is remedied after a third marriage in this book.
Eventually they leave France and head back to England, where again, things slow down a bit until Diana gets her witch tutors and two children (one teenage witch and a 7 year old pick pocket) are introduced. A visit in Elizabethan England wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Queen herself, which results in Diana and Matthew heading to Prague. Thing slow down again (each time they go to somewhere new, too much time is spent on the settling in aspects), until they actually find the book they’ve traveled through time to get.
At that point, the book moves fairly quickly to the end. Getting back to England, the biggest danger to Diana aren’t witch hunters, but Matthew’s friend and sister. There is a surprising visit from an unexpected guest and the rush to get home (back to current time).
Unlike the first book, Shadow of Night has some resolution when you reach the end. Diana and Matthew make it home and reunite with Diana’s aunt, Matthew’s mother and close friends. However, they still don’t have answers and they’re still in danger, which hopefully will be resolved in book 3.
I enjoyed the book much better the second time than during my first attempt. I like the plot and many of the characters are terrific (I love Matthew’s nephew Gallowglass). At the end of each section, we are brought back to the modern day as Diana and Matthew’s family look for and collect evidence of their time travel (the ramifications of changing history). I like romance, so it was fun to see Diana and Matthew navigate their marriage, including loss, and finally have make love.
However, there are big chunks of the book that slow the story down. The fact that we don’t get to the point of the plot (finding the book and a witch tutor) for hundreds of pages is evidence to that. I feel like this book could have been a third shorter and be better for it.
Historians of science and literature will probably get a kick out of Matthew’s friends, but too often that part of the story gets in the way of the plot. Matthew’s character flip flops and behaves in unexpected ways. The author suggests this is his reverting to who he was in 1590, which makes some sense, but still made it hard to see him as the man he was in the first book.
Overall, I’m glad I read it and will be picking up a copy of the 3rd book, if only to see how it all ends.
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