18 July 2012

Backwards in Time...

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2) by Deborah Harkness.

One of the downsides of reading the first book of a planned series is waiting the many, slowly-passing months (sometimes years) until the second book is released.  Anxious fans of Diana and Matthew de Clermont are finally able to learn what happens after the cliffhanger ending of A Discovery of Witches.

Shadow of Night picks up immediately after the newlyweds time-jump back to Sixteenth Century England.  The purpose of their return is to find Ashmole 782, the magical manuscript that slipped out of Diana's hands in the 21st Century, as well as to find someone to to train Diana in witchcraft.  The reader might expect thoroughly modern Diana to have more trouble adjusting to the relatively primitive lifestyle, but she seems to have few problems.  And as a historian, Diana is in heaven, delving into the study of alchemy and revelling in experiencing what she'd previously (later?) only read about.

Both Diana and Matthew intellectually understand the necessity of not changing history through their actions, but they find it difficult not to apply their modern sensibilities to Elizabethan life. As Matthew already existed in the earlier time, he already has a home, a job, and contacts, making slipping in somewhat easier than it would be otherwise, although some of his sharp-eyed associates do note some behavioral inconsistencies.

 Both characters are more fully developed here than in the previous installment, and gone is Diana's emotional similarity to the lovesick Bella Swan.  The Elizabethan Diana, despite being in an unfamiliar environment and more dependent on her husband for behavioral guidance, seems more self-assured and less inclined to put up with Matthew's autocractic ways and secrecy.

Deborah Harkness
An interesting way of reminding the reader that the couple does not belong in the 16th Century is including chapters that describe what their families are doing in their present.  There are many, many characters in each of the places where the Roydons (as they are known in the past) visit in search of Ashmole 782, and luckily Harkness includes an appendix with lists of characters separated by time/location, though it may have served better at the beginning of the book.

It's fun to hang out with Matthew's cadre of famous 16th Century friends and acquaintances, and the experience of hunting for the manuscript is interesting enough that finding it doesn't feel as urgent as it did in the last book. It is necessary to have read A Discovery of Witches in order to understand Shadow of Night, but the second is a more interesting story.   This one is definitely a book to be read and digested slowly.

*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a copy of the book for review purposes.

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