Review: “Shadow of Night,” Deborah Harkness

Pros: Better than volume 1
Cons: Mary Sue; inconsistent details
Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Witch Diana Bishop and her husband (vampire Matthew de Clermont) have time-walked back to the 1500s in order to find a book and a teacher for Diana. Apparently while they’re there the Matthew from that time period simply vanishes until they leave again. Meanwhile, they’re hanging out with famous people, trying to out-politic the court of the Queen of England (among other major leaders in Europe), possibly having a baby (which shouldn’t even be possible), and confusing the hell out of Matthew’s friends and acquaintances.

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, Bk 2) follows on the heels of A Discovery of Witches. In some ways Shadow of Night is the better book–the text flows more smoothly, not every single character is bitchy all the time, and the pacing has improved. However, it has a few flaws of its own.

First, the time-walking. It’s really weird to have a second book in a trilogy set in not just a new locale, but a whole different genre. The first book was not a historical fiction. I have a few problems with how this was carried out. For instance, the historical Matthew conveniently vanishes with future Matthew visiting. I can see how this was the only way Harkness could have the story she wanted, but it’s such a bald-faced deus ex machina. Matthew of course knows the famous historical figures of the time, including queens and emperors, which seems awfully stupid for a creature whose very existence relies on everyone else not noticing that he isn’t aging. Matthew and Diana also seem to have picked a very unstable and dangerous time to visit; I never really figured out why they thought that was a good idea. They’re supposed to not make changes to the past, but how could they possibly not when they’re dealing with such powerful people? And yet of course they don’t end up changing too much despite everything they’re doing that the time-appropriate Matthew wouldn’t have. There’s also the inevitable historical trope of the headstrong woman vs. the overprotective man in her life.

Diana is still a Mary Sue, right down to taking in a street urchin on a whim who then becomes a treasured member of the family. There’s the unique familiar, the need for a highly unusual set of teachers, and the jealousy or adoration that everyone feels for her. (Yes, even the relevant emperor becomes besotted with Diana. Don’t tell me you’re surprised.) She’s also still ridiculously easy for people to manipulate; she does a lot of stupid stuff–but of course since she’s a Mary Sue, these things don’t come back to haunt her.

What I really want to know is how on earth Matthew-from-the-future and Diana could possibly expect historical Matthew to not notice (after modern Matthew goes back to the future) that he’s been out of commission for ages. I don’t care how much his friends are determined to shield him from that knowledge, it’s going to be really hard to avoid people, say, asking him where his wife is, given that they got to know everyone. It just doesn’t add up. Again, it’s a hand-waved deus ex machina.

I hope that the next book, The Book of Life, is better about such details.

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