by Deborah Harkness
First sentence: “The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable.”
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Although I liked this one quite a bit — more than I was expecting, actually — by the end of it, I was quite torn. So, let’s just say, up front, that my enjoyment of this one was tempered by some hangups.
I loved the world that Harkness created. It’s basically our world, except it’s inhabited by vampires, witches, and daemons. They’re generally brilliant, generally long-lived, and generally go unnoticed by humans. Our main character, Diana, is a witch who, ever since her parents’ deaths when she was 7, has shunned her magic. She’s a historian of 17th-century science, which means she dabbles in Alchemy. She’s pretty content with her life. Until she meets Matthew. Who is a vampire.
Which brings me to good point number 2: Harkness has a debt to owe to Stephenie Meyer, but she one-ups her. Matthew is 1500 years old, which makes him incredibly fascinating. (And I suppose it’s kind of creepy that a 1500 year old would fall in love with a 37 year old?) There’s a lot of history in this book, and no accident that Diana, as a historian, is fascinated by Matthew.
It’s still True Love, and while it’s not as stifling as Edward and Bella’s love, it’s still pretty sappy. (What is it with vampires and a reluctance to have sex?) There’s also that element of over-protectiveness that drove me batty in the Twilight series. The only difference is that Diana can — and does — hold her own as a witch, though it takes her most of the book to do so. She also struggles against Matthew’s edicts, which helps with the whole damsel-in-distress thing. That, and the fact that she’s in REAL danger as opposed to supposed danger helps temper Matthew’s irritating behavior.
The plot is intriguing and complex: there’s a lost manuscript that all the “creatures” (as they call themselves) are longing to get their hands on. But, more importantly, there’s the forbidden love (really?) between Diana and Matthew: it seems the creatures aren’t suppose to cross-mate because of an age old (like centuries) covenant that the creatures made with each other. This leads to a lot of things, the most important being an impending “war” between the creatures who are okay with Diana and Matthew’s love and those who are not.
On some levels, the idea of anyone being able to love anyone they want is a good story. But my main complaint with this book is that it’s 576 pages, and they don’t get to the point until the last 1/4. The plot pacing is bad as well: it’ll be interesting, then Harkness will divert into pages and pages of wine, food and romancing (M contended that if she cut out all the bits about wine, she would have lost about 75 pages…), none of which had anything to do with the plot. More than once, I nearly lost patience with the book.
That said, I’m invested now, and I’m interested in where Harkness is going to go with the sequel. Hopefully, it won’t be nearly as long. (Then again, she’s a historian, so I’m not really expecting a more tightly written book. Just hoping.)