Guest Reviewer: Claire Marriott
Shadow of Night takes up the story of Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont who were left suspended in time at the end of the prequel to this story, A Discovery of Witches. I would certainly recommend a re-read of the prequel before picking up this book as Deborah Harkness plunges the reader straight into the action which might make it a bit tricky to keep the complex story straight if the first book is not fresh in your mind.
The Matthew Roydon of Elizabethan London is, in some ways, a very different creature to the Matthew Clairmont of twenty-first century Oxford, and Diana has to adjust to a world of playwrights, courtiers, spies and, most exciting of all, practising alchemists. The epic cast of characters includes Queen Elizabeth I, Christopher Marlowe, Henry Percy, Mary Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh and William Shakespeare and their introduction, along with the details of Matthew’s vast sixteenth century family, makes the first few chapters of the book quite challenging but it is well worth persevering as the story soon takes flight.
As well as being a writer, Harkness is a Professor of History and her fascination with the period really shines through, as does the intriguing question of what it would be like for an historian such as Diana to journey back to a time when she could meet the objects of her study and actually practice alchemy as well as trying to understand its theories. The theme of science and its relationship with magic is continued from book one and is brought into sharp relief with witch hunts dominating the court of King James VI of Scotland. Harkness also has some fun with the idea of a time traveller altering history, intentionally or otherwise, and with re-imagining some well-known figures in the context of a world peopled by vampires, witches and daemons as well as by humans.
However, the story is not confined to one place but also takes in sixteenth century Sept-Tours (which is still presided over by Matthew’s formidable father, Philippe), Prague under the rule of Emperor Rudolf II, and continuing events in twenty-first century France and London – as Matthew and Diana’s family tries to protect them through time.
We learn a lot more about Matthew’s past and the tragedies and desires that have shaped him, as well as the dark secret of his father’s death and the horrors which lie within the covers of Ashmole 782. Diana also finds out more about her parentage and is driven to some extreme acts in her quest to understand her magic and to protect her lover. It is the latter portions of the book, in which Diana finally learns more about her magic and how to control it, which are the most beautifully written and which really emphasise the timeless power of words and ideas
Eventually Diana and Matthew return to the twenty-first century but the family they find there has been diminished by death as well as expanded by new life, and their return heralds the start of an even bigger battle for survival.
I found A Discovery of Witches completely compelling and, once I’d got to to grips with the expanded cast, Shadow of Night quickly took its place as a worthy successor. The characters of Diana and Matthew are richly drawn and their experiences across time add new layers as well as raising some tantalising questions for book three to resolve. My only complaint when reaching the end of the first book was that I would have to wait too long for the sequel, and I feel exactly the same second time around. I can only hope that Deborah Harkness is busy scribbling.
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
- A Discovery of Witches
- Shadow of Night
BUY YOUR COPY