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Saturday, 11 August 2012

'Shadow of Night'...

Now for the long awaited sequel to 'A Discovery of Witches'. 
I had been waiting for this novel all year and it did not let me down.
After reading this novel I am eager to get stuck into my own historical education, especially the alchemical parts of it!
 'Shadow of Night' byDeborah Harkness

The story literally picks up right where Discovery of Witches left off, with Diana and Matthew landing safely back in Elizabethan London. Diana is thrilled to be able to visit and live in a period she has studied but finds herself execrably unprepared, even with her extensive historical education. From her speech to her mannerism it is apparent to all; most assume she is from another place, not another time. With the assistance of Matthew’s family and eccentric friends, they work to aid Diana with these skills, procure a witch to train her and search the lost copy of Ashmole 782. The tale that unfolds is astonishing, filled with suspense, romance, danger and iconic characters throughout Elizabethan history.

In this novel we get to see tremendous growth in the character of Diana.
She is living in a time when witches are burned at the stake, the clothes are barbaric and women have no rights. Her love and understanding of Matthew grows. She becomes more confident in her own skin and continues to be loyal, fearless and stubborn. She has to confront her magic even though she is still fearful of it, as her witchcraft is acting all sorts of weird! This provides both funny and frightening scenes as her inability to control them creates mayhem.
I especially enjoyed the weaving elements and Diana’s demonstration of some mastery of her craft, her lessons from witches who can do way cooler stuff than either of her aunts, and her firedrake could be a seriously fun character in the future.
Then of course there is Matthew.
In this novel we learn so much about him and what has moulded the modern day version. His history is both fascinating and sad. We get to see a darker side of Matthew as he confronts his past. He loves Diana but things are holding him back. I loved discovering his inner-workings. Diana slowly peeles back his layers, bringing them closer together. The soft, tender side of Matthew was beautiful.
Also, there is a short scene of amusing meta-fiction towards the middle of the book that will give fans of paranormal romance something to chuckle over.
The romance between Diana and Matthew was beautifully portrayed. There were couplings (sex scenes) that to me were slightly awkward and not well written. "The moon between my thighs" - enough said. It was quite tame and I suppose it was done this way so that even the most delicate readers would not get offended. Regardless of the fact, I found watching their growth as a couple kept me completely spell bound and invested in their story. Together they share loss, love, fear and jealousy all of which only bring them closer.

There are a few flash forwards to the present time and characters, this provides insight into how Matthew and Diana are changing the future. We spend most of the novel in the years 1590 and 1591. This affords us the opportunity to witness history, attend the queen, and meet many historical characters.
I enjoyed getting to know Gallowglass, Diana’s and Matthew’s fathers. To me the fathers were the best new characters in the book, which is sad because they are both dead in the present time. Steven Proctor is delightfully foppish, and I love that he takes the time to embarrass the hell out of his vampire son-in-law. Phillipe is also a vibrant new character whom I like most because of his arrogance. He is larger than life in a way and he was extremely well written, I hope he appears in the final instalment of the trilogy!
Harkness still needs to work on her character building. The first several chapters introduce new characters based on historical figures some of whom I only dimly know, but who I felt I should know better based on how they were presented. I soon sorted out who most of them were and what their roles were, though there were still some places where my brain would have trouble keeping some of the tertiary characters straight. It wasn’t until I finished reading the whole thing that I found there is a glossary of characters included at the END of the book.

Harkness has a remarkable gift for ‘world-building’. Utilising her skills as an Elizabethan historian for more than simply setting the scene, borrowing from an expansive knowledge to include minute facts and details which haul the reader into a vibrant 1590s Oxford and London.
Shadow of Night held my attention and kept me up a few late evenings in a row, but it was worth every sleep-deprived minute. Harkness spun twists and turns into the plot that completely captivated me. We travel all over Europe and I loved all the little details. The fear of discovery and the atmosphere of the times, especially towards witches made this tale very suspenseful.

While it did not end on a huge cliff-hanger you are left knowing things are developing and this tale is far from over. There were a few plot lines that were not totally cleared up and tied nicely in a bow at the end. I was left with questions. But I have faith in Harkness’ ability to do again as she did here and pick up the story where she left off, answering all my queries in the third instalment.
May it come soon, for I am not exactly known for my patience (especially when it comes to really good books)!

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