Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, From the past comes new beginnings

I was left with a cinematic cliffhanger in Ms. Harkness’ first book, “A Discovery of Witches”, when Diana and Matthew headed into the past .  Now in “Shadow of Night” they are in a race against time hoping to find answers for the future in secrets of history.  One of the biggest secrets to be  revealed is how does Diana access her witchy powers.  The other secret is Ashmole 782.   Where are the missing pages and who removed them?  Ms. Harkness leads our hero and heroine on a fantastic chase from the countryside of Elizabethan England to Matthew’s home in France, (it is a very different place in the 1500’s).   They travel to London and the Queen’s Court filled with intrigue and betrayal, then to Prague and an Emperor’s obsession with magic and Diana.  One more trip back to London where more questions than answers pop up before finally returning to face the future together.  Ashmole proves to be as mysterious in the past as in the present.

shadow of nightWhat I loved about the first book is very present in this second book, “Shadow of Night”.  Ms. Harkness has stuffed this story with historical accuracy and wonderful literary license!  Christopher Marlowe, the great Elizabethan playwright who is credited with influencing Shakespeare, plays a large role in the life and history of Matthew Clairmont.  He was considered a shady character in history and Ms. Harkness uses said suspicious tales to great advantage in this story.  Sir Walter Raleigh, another great historical figure, gets a clever twisted backstory that makes him so very interesting, sexy and star-crossed.   Queen Elizabeth even has a moment with Matthew, her “Shadow”.   This story is dense with historical references so well weaved into the fiction I found myself shocked to Google characters and find out they really did that!  I can’t tell what those things were, I will let you have your own discoveries.

While the story was awash in history and vampires Ms. Harkness didn’t ignore the witches.  Again using the foundation of research and history she creates a world filled with religious superstition, ignorance and magic.  She balances charlatans with true practitioners  so much so, it is shocking to find out who is real and who is not.  Diana finds out much about her “powers” but in this book she really has a “Discovery of Witches”.  Where they came from, how they functioned in the community, and how they were depended on and reviled at the same time and who her family really is. She learns about her magic and learns to be proud of who she is.  I loved the witches!  I loved the historical girl power!  Ms. Harkness does an amazing job of drawing a picture of this close knit group of women and why they are so protective of their culture in the future.  These women did what they did at the cost of their lives and most gave of their talents freely and with bravery.  Bravo Ladies!

Then there was the romance.  Not only did I feel like I was chasing Ashmole 782 through the entire book I got as frustrated as Diana over Matthew’s 1500 year old case of angst.  I wanted to do a Cher in “Moonlighting” on him; slap him upside the head and tell him to “Snap out of it!”  Matthew’s father does a pretty good job to beat the guilt and shame out of his vampire son but it will be Diana who brings him the greatest peace.  I know you want me to tell you if they finally consummate their love, well…….. you will just have to find out for yourself.  Their love leads to much trial and tribulation in the past just as it did in the future and it will take a strong bond to sustain them.  The very future of paranormal creatures may depend on the seed planted in the past. There are definite bumps on that particular romantic road.

A few words about the time traveling.  As you may already know I am not a fan of this literary vehicle.  I appreciated Ms. Harkness’ handling of a tricky thing.  It was just another part of her world.  It was accepted in the past as it was in the future, rare but not unheard of.  Every once in awhile throughout the book she bounced to the future where Ysabeau or another character would find a note or picture that let them know the past was being affected.  It worked. 

“Shadow of Night” is 590+ pages long.  It is chocked full of history, food, characters and action.  It is wordy but I felt every word was necessary.  I felt the beginning was slow but by page 30 the action took off.  There is a lot of place and history setting but it has to be, so I the reader, understand the choices the characters are making. There are also a lot of satisfying surprises.  I was disappointed with the lack of wine but hey it was the 1500’s.  When the book comes to a skidding halt back in France once again I am left on a cliff hanging by my fingers wanting more.  This was totally worth the wait and I feel confident the final installment, Book III, will satisfy as well.  Hopefully there will be more wine!