“Shadow Of Night – All Souls Trilogy #2” by Deborah Harkness

A low-key, gently entertaining read with an uneven pace and very little tension.

“Shadow Of Night” was a slightly disappointing book that I’m hoping will make excellent television (my DVD copy of “A Discovery Of Witches Season 2” arrives next month).

It starts immediately where the cliff-hanger ending of “A Discovery Of Witches” left off and immediately looses all of the tension, urgency and sense of threat that the first book had built up.

Diana and Matthew have walked back in time to the late sixteenth century to avoid the wrath of the Congregation, find Ashmole 782 (the magic manuscript on alchemy that caused all the aggravation in the first book) and find a witch to teach Diana how to use her newly unbound powers. To me, this sounded like the premise for a fast-paced quest, full of tension and threat. It turned out to be the basis for a fairly leisurely meander through Elizabethan London (meeting absolutely everyone you’ve ever heard of from that time), a trip back to Sept-Tours in France to meet Matthew’s father and a visit to the court of Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor, in Prague.

The historical details were interesting and well presented. They were also a little overwhelming. I felt, at times, that I was reading a “Lonely Planet* tourist guide to sixteenth century London and Prague. It was often a fascinating guided tour but one that took attention away from why Diana and Matthew were there. The Congregation, although often invoked as a threat, never became one. The search for the book and for a witch to train Diana lost focus as time was spent watching Diana and Matthew go native.

There were moments of tension, mainly when Diana was having to deal with direct physical threats but these moments took up very little of the twenty-four hours I spent listening to this book.

I liked the scenes in Sept-Tour, which built my picture of Matthew’s history and were filled with interesting lore and one of the better scenes of physical threat against Diana.

Diana’s interaction with the witches teaching her was well done, both in terms of the ideas on how magic worked and the way in which the women worked together.

I didn’t like how passive Diana was until almost that last third of the book. She’s a successful female academic who has carved a niche for herself in a male-dominated world. We kept being told that she’s an exceptionally talented witch, albeit one whose powers have been hidden until recently. In the last book, she killed a vampire and defied powerful witches. Yet, once she walked back five centuries, she seemed to have lost all agency. 

I get that part of that was her adjusting to being in a time where she lacks basic competency while her husband is in familiar territory and being constantly surrounded by absurdly testosterone-charged predatory males but even so, she seemed a bit too soft to survive. She never completely surrenders herself to the will of the men around her but she reacts. she doesn’t plan and she doesn’t push. She certainly doesn’t stay focused on her goals for being in the past. I found this quite frustrating.

In the final part of the book, she finally realises that Matthew’s temper and easily-triggered violence are no substitute for a plan. She starts to take charge and to collaborate with other women to achieve her goals.

I also found myself being irritated by the unconscious privilege that Diana exhibits and her Lady Bountiful way of dabbling with rescuing people from poverty and ignorance, only to abandon them when it comes time to leave. I also became increasingly aware of how centuries of brutally used power and wealth combined with a we-know-best approach to all problems have resulted in the De Clairmonts and Matthew in particular, being widely hated. I began to hate them more than a little myself. This made it hard for me to see why, no matter how many terrible things Diana found out about Matthew, she remained so besotted with him.

Overall, I found this to be a low-key, gently entertaining read with an uneven pace and very little tension.

2 thoughts on ““Shadow Of Night – All Souls Trilogy #2” by Deborah Harkness

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