Review: “The Book of Life,” Deborah Harkness

Pros: Better than volume 2!
Cons: Diana is a complete Mary Sue
Rating: 3 out of 5

Review book provided by publisher

 

The Book of Life Is book three in Deborah Harkness’s “All Souls Trilogy”. I wasn’t very fond of book one (A Discovery of Witches) or book two (Shadow of Night). In book three, Diana and her husband Matthew arrive back in the modern day only to find that Matthew’s ‘son’ Benjamin is on the warpath. His goals apparently include killing Matthew, kidnapping Diana for childbearing purposes, and horribly torturing other people along the way. Add to that the threat of the Congregation (Matthew and Diana’s marriage is still considered to be all kinds of wrong since once’s a vampire and the other’s a witch), and the Blood Rage that haunts Matthew and his descendants, and things get kind of exciting.

 

Let’s get this out of the way first: Diana is a complete and utter Mary Sue still. She’s more powerful than everyone. She’s pretty much always right in what she does, even when it’s something stupid. With the exception of the truly evil characters, she wins everyone over to her side. Sometimes I can’t even tell how or when–a character will act violently opposed to her and her ideas, only to become protective of her at some point largely off-screen. I take notes as I read and I had this written in at some point: “Kill Baldwin already.” (Except there were extra expletives.) But then he, too, magically came to see Diana as family to be protected. We also find out at some point that Matthew is not the only member of the expansive vampire family who is in love with Diana. This is all neatly encapsulated by the following quote:

“Then we haven’t lost everything … so long as we don’t lose you.”

Or maybe,

“Your mother fixed everything once again.”

(These quotes were both spoken regarding Diana.)

Speaking of which, for the first time in this series some of the text was genuinely quotable:

“This family was more fun when we had fewer medical degrees.”

Pacing improved. There were fewer detail oddities–although they do exist (Gerbert gave Ysabeau’s phone back to her because its collection of alarms was too noisy? Seriously, someone could have switched the thing to vibrate or dumped it in a box in an attic). The story also introduces Chris, Diana’s “best friend”, and I don’t remember her having a human best friend in either of the first two books, unless I missed a note here or there. It’s really jarring to get so far through a series and then magically have a “best friend” pop up, particularly one who’s very relevant to solving the plot. You’d think she would have thought about him at least once or twice in the series so far if he’s such a good friend.

The blatant wish fulfillment fantasy via Diana makes this series feel like a set of YA novels, but some of the content clearly belongs to a darker genre. Rape and murder play a part in the plot.

The events of the story are unsurprising, largely because Diana is such a Mary Sue. We know that she won’t make major plot-altering mistakes. We know that everyone who isn’t wholly evil will end up helping her because she’s just that awesome (hah). While I won’t talk much about her children, I’ll note that there are no surprises there–think of the most obvious supernatural cross-breeding twin children plot (not nearly as unique as it sounds) and you’ll hit the nail on the head.

 

I definitely enjoyed The Book of Life more than I did books one and two (I started to care about what happened to the characters), but as you can see, Diana’s Mary Sue nature robs the story of surprises. Since each book has been better than the last, however, I have some hope that Harkness’s next story might be even better.

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