Shadow of Night

by Deborah Harkness
ages: adult
First sentence: “We arrived in an undignified heap of witch and vampire.”
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Others in the series: Discovery of Witches

How about this for a brief teaser: if you liked Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, you’ll probably really like this one.

The long explanation is a lot more complicated, however. There were elements of Shadow of Night that I really liked. And there were some that I didn’t. But my major problem with the book — and this is one I have with many works of “adult” fiction — is that I thought a good third to half of this book was wholly unnecessary.

Because of the conflicts set up in Discovery of Witches (which I won’t go into, but partially are caused by the love Matthew and Diana have for each other; witches and vampires aren’t supposed to mate.), and because Diana needs help figuring out what kind of witch she is (and to control her magic), they end up in the past. In England, circa 1590, to be exact. Which brings me (so soon?) to problem number one: too often, I felt Harkness was using her status as a historian to show off. I got the sense that she set the book in the past not because it best served the story (though in some ways, it did), but because she KNOWS STUFF and wanted to share. Too often I was pulled out of the story because of some name dropping (though Diana has a moment of exasperation, wondering out of all the people in England in the past, how come Matthew knows all the famous ones. That kind of helped.) and historical elements. It was hard for me to enjoy the past because she kept pulling me out of it with details about clothes, food, the weather, and blasted Christopher Marlow.

Anyway. Matthew and Diana aren’t in England very long before they cause a ruckus and get sent to Sept Tours, Matthew’s ancestral home. Where his dead father is still very much alive. And who forces them to get married. (In way too many pages. Followed by many, many more pages of [not graphic, or even titillating] married sex.) Back to England they go, where (in some of the best passages) Diana begins to figure out that she’s a unique sort of witch, and gets a handle on her magic. Oh, and manages to get pregnant by the vampire.

Before you think that Harkness went all Breaking Dawn on us, she didn’t. Oh, sure, there are influences there: Matthew is just as protective and oppressive as Edward; apparently it’s in a vampire’s “nature”. The difference is that rather than being pushed around, Diana takes him on. Thank heavens for that; in many, many ways, Diana as a character is the best part of this novel. She’s strong, interesting, clever, inquisitive, and plain fun to be around as a character.

There’s more, of course: It’s a nearly 600 page book, and Harkness finds ways to fill them out. And it’s not a bad book, per se: I did finish it. Because even with all the extra historical stuff, and the poor plotting (for my YA-saturated brain), I am invested in Matthew and Diana’s story. Which means, I’m already asking when the next one will be out.

If you’re still interested in this one after all that, I’m offering a giveaway of this book. I’ll even throw in a set of five pins, and a temporary tattoo. Maybe you’ll like it more than I did. You have until Friday, July 13th (ooooh, auspicious) to enter.

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