Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness
Obviously, I liked it. And I was devastated when I finished that I have to wait an indefinite amount of time. In fact, all my other books looked boring - all I wanted to read was book 3.
To catch up anyone who hasn't read my review for the first book, A Discovery of Witches and this one are part of the All Souls Trilogy. I'm not surprised at all this book won the 2012 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Paranormal Fantasy.
At the end of the first book, witch Diana and vampire Matthew escape into the past in an attempt to find a teacher for Diana and keep the council, the group that ensures the agreement keeping the species/races separate is kept, from attacking again. This book starts as Diana and Matthew...land(?) in 1590.
Matthew is Matthew Roydon, an actual historical figure little is known about, and is friends with many other historical figures such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe, known as Kit. Kit is actually not a fan of Diana. He's jealous of her really, as Matthew loves her, not Kit. Most of these friends, including those I just mentioned, are part of the School of Night. Through the book, Diana, a historian, gets to meet many other figures Rabbi Loew, Queen Elizabeth, even Emperor Rudolf.
Frankly, Matthew is an ass for the first...half or so of the book. I don't believe I really mentioned in my review of the first book that Matthew could be a little overbearing. Like many vampire novels, vampires here are animalistic in that they are possessive and territorial. Add to that the incredibly patriarchal society in 1590, Matthew becomes an ass of epic proportions. Now, in some cases I have to give him a pass in some respects. He did live in this era, he does know the people and the customs. So, in many cases Diana does have to bow to his "expertise." In many other cases, if he'd listened to his damn wife, he wouldn't have gotten her accused of witchcraft in a time where witch hunts were a fun Saturday night! No, that actually happened.
It comes out Matthew is dealing with many other issues related to being back in 1590, influencing his asshole level. One of which is seeing his dead father. The father Matthew had the euthanize. Another is that Matthew is dealing with being married again. We find out in the first book that before he became a vampire, Matthew was married and had a son. His wife and son died. It's implied in the book one, but it's confirmed in this one that he tried to kill himself after their deaths. It was then that Phillip and Ysabeau, his vampiric mother and father, "saved" him. As a Catholic, he has always carried a ton of guilt for trying to commit suicide. On top of that, he feels responsible for his wife's death because he came to believe he forced her into marrying him. I'm not going to go into exactly how he decided that, you can read it (I recommend it, clearly), but then he has the guilt of facing the father he killed. He feels responsible for all these deaths, and Diana helps him to forgive himself.
His first marriage is the main reason he refused to consummate their marriage. Once he comes to terms, his father adopts Diana and approves the marriage. They are officially married and have sex for the first time. They decide not to use any form of birth control - an herbal tea in 1590. Of course, Diana gets pregnant. Now, this is thought to be impossible. So, all of Matthew's friends think Matthew married her because of this - either she the father died, or left her, or she was raped. Except Kit, that is, he assumes he's cheating on Matthew of course. (I'm going to come back to the issues with Kit in a bit, it was one of my only complaints).
Diana loses her first child, and Matthew becomes distant again. They eventually work through it, and she becomes pregnant again. Just in time for them to escape back into the future. Or present. Hell, you know what I mean. It's a really sad parting. Not because of the historical figures who have become friends, but because of the new characters we met. One of my favorites was Jack Blackfriars. He's a street urchin Matthew and Diana take in - after he tries to steal from them. He's had a difficult life and Matthew helps him through his nightmares (some of my favorite scenes). I wondered if he was intended to be a historical figure before being historical, so I did a bit of googling. What I found is that, no he's not really a person, but Harkness wrote him with the intention that this quick, nimble thief could have been the inspiration for the nursery rhyme.
My other favorite is Gallowglass, an Irish (always a fave) vampire and Matthew's nephew. He's coarse and violent and hilarious. He always calls Diana Auntie, even if he is a few hundred years older than she is. There are also others, Pierre and Francois, vampire servants, and Annie, a witch, servant, and friend. And the teachers Diane finally finds. I think that's why it was so hard for this one to end. In the first book, they're leaving, but you know they'll be back. In this one, you don't know if they'll see each other again.
Well, that's not entirely true. It's true as far as the morals, Annie and Jack, but you do know that Gallowglass will be back. It's one of the things I was most surprised by, and pleasantly so. I feel like the typical time travel MO is to wait and see how the present is changed until the end. You go back, do what you do, and then return to your time with the hope either things are better or the same. I expected the same here. And while the vast majority of the book is firmly in the past revolving around Diana and Matthew, there are chapters here and there that show how those from the first book are faring. It also shows things popping up in the present from the past - new antiques and artifacts. One of these chapters is Gallowglass and another vampire from Matthews family. I like that he's going to be in the third book, and I hope we get to find out what happened to Jack. Perhaps Jack is vampire too?
OK, now to my only complaint. And it is super minor. Kit's antagonism made many of the plot points work. So, it's not that I didn't see the necessity. I did think it was a bit out of character for Diana. So, she's looking forward to meeting the great Christopher Marlowe when she finds out Matthew and he were friends. And I think she's a bit hurt at the animosity she gets. But I don't know why she didn't try to make a deal. And I don't know why she and Matthew didn't see him being a serious danger. Even if it didn't work, I kept wanting Diana to sit down with Kit and lay it out: "I know you're in love with my husband. I know you don't like me. But the sooner you help me find a teacher, the sooner I leave and you get the Matthew you know back." Again, maybe it wouldn't have worked, and then the rest of the plot would have been the same, but I couldn't figure out why Diana just let it go. Why she let Matthew do all the talking for her was beyond me. Again, I give her a pass, as I gave Matthew, because he knows the era and customs, but Kit and the rest know they're from the future, so it shouldn't matter if she doesn't act the perfect Elizabethan lady around him - an extreme version of the perfect 50s wife.
But overall, an amazing book. Better than the first one even, which as we all know is difficult to do: the sequels are never as good as the originals. I hate that I have to wait. I hate even more that I don't know how long I have to wait. If I'm honest, I knew it wasn't the best idea to read this now. I knew the third wasn't due out for some time, but I enjoyed the first so much...
I just couldn't help myself!
Well, it's done now. I've read it, and there's nothing to do but wait. And wait. And wait. Hopefully my next books will distract me.
Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness