Shadow of Night
by Deborah Harkness
Viking, $28.95, 577pp
Release Date: July 10, 2012
This is the sequel to her “A Discovery of Witches.”
In the first book, a witch named Diana Bishop, while doing research in a library happens upon a special magic manuscript. Without examining it, she returns it to the stacks whereby it cannot be found again. But the appearance of the book attracts the attention of a great many non-human creatures: witches, vampires and daemons. The manuscript promises to explain the origins of all three supernatural species although I’m still unclear on how ‘made’ vampires constitute a ‘species’. Diana meets and falls in love with Matthew, a vampire; a relationship forbidden by the local supernatural authority. In an attempt to find and understand the book, and to find a friendly, knowledgeable witch to school Diana in her uncommon powers, the two time-walk to Elizabethan London, home to William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe.
The second book picks up as they arrive and attempt to fit into the local culture. In a rather vague plot device, Matthew of 1590 is somehow supplanted by modern Matthew; it isn’t very clear exactly where his body and mind went; I guess the author didn’t want to mess with the problem of Matthew meeting himself. There are a lot of rather vague explanations in this story. I find it particularly difficult to write of this book. It felt ponderous and overly-complex. The majority of pages are given over to Diana’s attempt to fit into the culture without alerting local supernatural authorities that she is from the future. That takes way too long, in my opinion. There’s a big chunk of meeting Matthew’s father, who is dead in their present, which is supposed to give us background into what motivates Matthew, but it’s too long. There’s a lot about Matthew’s relationship with Shakespeare, Raleigh and Marlowe which is too long. One of the more interesting aspects of Matthew is his relationship to Elizabeth I, as her spy and his attempts to save witches from burnings but it’s overshadowed by all the unnecessary prose. Diana and Matthew are also trying to find the manuscript as it exists in 1590, which would have been a good combination with Diana learning to use her powers. But Harkness just bored me to death with too much unnecessary detail. About halfway through, Diana finds the local witches to tutor her and that part of the story was very interesting but there was no excitement until about the last quarter when there is an attempt on her life. It was also rather interesting to learn a bit more about the magic manuscript that everyone wants, but it wasn’t enough.
As I said, it is difficult to evaluate this book. Besides the problem of too much detail on too many pages, I also had difficulty with the pace. There were times when her characters would comment on or react to something that happened many pages earlier and the author did not catch up the reader. The basic plot was a good idea, the characters interesting; it just didn’t work well. I think the success of this book and the preceding one is due to a real kick-ass marketing campaign and not to any exceptional quality of the writing. ~~ Catherine Book
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