The synopsis: “Together we lifted our feet and stepped into the unknown”—the thrilling sequel to the New York Times bestseller A Discovery of Witches
Deborah Harkness exploded onto the literary scene with her debut novel,A Discovery of Witches, Book One of the magical All Souls Trilogy and an international publishing phenomenon. The novel introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782.
Now, picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending,Shadow of Night plunges Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan London, a world of spies, subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night that includes Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. Here, Diana must locate a witch to tutor her in magic, Matthew is forced to confront a past he thought he had put to rest, and the mystery of Ashmole 782 deepens.
Deborah Harkness has crafted a gripping journey through a world of alchemy, time travel, and magical discoveries, delivering one of the most hotly anticipated novels of the season.
You knew it, didn’t you? That very eccentric coworker who suddenly retired was more than just odd — she was probably a witch. Or a daemon. (Not a vampire – no way was she attractive enough for that.) Yes…most likely a daemon. She had more artwork in her office than the Uffizi Gallery. Daemons are very artistic creatures.
If you’ve read “A Discovery of Witches” and its sequel, “Shadow of Night,” you’ve probably started looking twice at everyone around you. One of the many intriguing concepts in Deborah Harkness’ books is that the unholy trinity of supernatural beings – vampires, witches and daemons – exist all around humans, going about their business much as we do. Until something comes along that disturbs the peace and threatens everyone.
In “Discovery,” (the first book in the All Souls trilogy) we met Diana Bishop, a historian of alchemy who teaches at Yale but is completing a research project at her alma mater, Oxford University. Quite by accident, she comes across Ashmole 782, an ancient manuscript that contains important secrets about the past and the future of the supernatural world. Just as she realizes the book’s importance, it goes missing. She loses the manuscript but gains a partner in the search for it – the handsome, thousand year-old vampire Matthew Clermont.
Diana is as resistant to Matthew’s charms as she is to using her witch powers. We found out in the first book that her parents died horrifically in an incident that probably wasn’t accidental, and it was their wish to protect her from the dark side of magic. They wanted her raised without any knowledge of her powers, but the closer she becomes to Matthew, the more she sees how much this has worked against her.
And she and Matthew do become close…very close. They fall in love despite the strict prohibition against relationships between vampires and witches. When “Discovery” ends, they’ve gone through some extraordinarily dangerous times together, and they arrive at two major decisions: they need to find Ashmole 782 to uncover its secrets; and they need to find someone who can teach Diana how to properly cultivate her magical powers. They travel back to 1590, when the manuscript was written, to try to find its origins.
So begins “Shadow of Night,” with Matthew and Diana landing on the estate that Matthew owns in England. Being a thousand years old does have its advantages. Matthew has already lived through the Elizabethan era; when they arrive at his home, he’s returning to old friends and familiar customs. Diana, however, has to shed her 21st century sensibilities and learn how to speak and act like someone born in the late 1500s. Her efforts to pass as an Englishwoman of the era are a source of both comedy and tension, since she makes many understandable mistakes that can arouse suspicion. It can’t be easy, being a contemporary feminist witch catapulted 500 years in the past with your extraordinarily gorgeous husband. Matthew is at home here because he’s familiar with it; and Elizabethan mores are rather in line with his inherent tendency to be protective of his wife.
In Harkness’ books, it’s a canon trait for vampires to be strongly possessive of their mates. Matthew has a habit of telling Diana what to do and where not to go, especially now that they’re in “olde London,” which is not always a hospitable place for a woman or a stranger. And he has his own secrets; parts of his history he is reluctant to share with Diana, mostly for her safety. But as often happens, he realizes that keeping her in the dark about such things can be just as dangerous – even to their marriage, as Diana doesn’t take kindly to Matthew’s persistent habit of withholding information to protect her. This is an important part of the couple’s story: they are partners in the search for what they think could protect their love, yet so many of the steps they take put a terrible strain on their marriage. Some of these stresses are from external forces, but some are their own doing. And some are simply a result of their different supernatural natures. Learning to be married may be the biggest challenge that Diana and Matthew face.
But it’s hard to imagine the characters aren’t up to it. Diana is smart, resourceful, courageous, and devoted. She is determined that nothing will stand in the way of the love that she and Matthew have for each other. The journey she takes to develop her witchcraft is inextricably entwined with the process of learning more about her husband, both before and after he became a vampire. Both are stubborn and fiercely intelligent, and they gradually see that the vulnerability of love rewards them with strength, not weakness.
And Matthew…well, there aren’t enough books in the Bodleian Library to hold everything you can say about him. Physically, he’s exquisite; with distinct chiseled features; long, thick black hair, a wide mouth, and long, agile hands. He is also a strong warrior, a secret agent, a vampire, and a member of the mysterious Congregation that oversees the delicate balance of existence among witches, daemons, and vampires.
In the first book, we learn that a kiss and an exchange of “I love you” between them is enough to bind them together as a mated couple, though they are not technically wed. Diana lobbies for premarital sex (hey, she’s a modern woman), but Matthew has a more old-fashioned idea. In “Discovery,” he introduces her to bundling, a slow, delicious practice where a couple lovingly becomes acquainted with each other’s bodies. It’s amazing how hot a love scene can get without including “standard sex.” Tactile and tender, it’s especially appealing with someone like Matthew.
The couple becomes fully married in “Shadow” while at Matthew’s ancestral home in France. There’s an alluring sweetness to Matthew’s impatience as the couple sheds their many layers of medieval clothing on their traditional wedding night:
Tug. Rasp. Tug. Rasp. Tug. Rasp.
Matthew’s nimble fingers pulled on each crossing of the laces, drawing them through the concealed holes. There were twelve in all, and my body bowed and straightened with the force of his attentions.
“At last,” he said with satisfaction. Then he groaned. “Christ. There are more.”
And it was worth waiting for.
We fell into the rhythm unique to lovers, pleasing each other with soft touches of mouths and hands as we rocked together, together (sic) until all we had left to give were our hearts and souls. Looking deep into each other’s eyes, we exchanged our final vows with flesh and spirit, trembling like newborns.
“Let me love you forever,” Matthew murmured against my damp forehead, his lips trailing a cold path across my brow as we lay twined together.
“Wait a minute. At least let me take off my bum roll.” Annie had informed me that this was the proper name for the doughnut-shaped thing that kept my skirts respectably full and flouncy.
But Matthew was not inclined to wait.
“To hell with the bum roll.” He loosened the front ties on his breeches, grabbed my hands, and pinned them over my head. With one thrust he was inside me.
Anybody else ready to hop a plane to Oxford? I really want to see if there are any more Matthews prowling between the library stacks.
The love story between these two forms the heart and soul of the books, but it is by far not the only wonderful element. Harkness brings a great deal of history, science, and even politics into the story. It’s written so that even a reader who is unfamiliar with the era or the particulars of alchemy can understand and enjoy it. A number of historical figures make an appearance in “Shadow of Night:” the playwright Christopher Marlowe, astronomer Thomas Harriott; Queen Elizabeth’s confidant Sir Walter Raleigh, among others. (Some of them are supernatural beings. You’ll have to read to find out which ones.) My favorite, though, is Shakespeare, who shows up at the very end of the book in a charming and perfect twist of events.
If you love your romance woven through with elements of the supernatural, don’t miss “Shadow of Night” or its predecessor, “A Discovery of Witches.” Harkness is working on the third book of the trilogy. I can’t wait until it’s published, and by the time you finish “Shadow,” you’ll be eagerly awaiting it, too.
Sue’s rating for Shadow of Night by Deb Harkness is 5 stars
Thanks Sue for a great review. I hope to see you as a guest reviewer again. You’re welcome here anytime!