Thursday, 19 April 2012

Shadow of Night - Deborah Harkness

GENRE: Adult
PAGES: 592
PUBLISHER: Headline
FORMAT: Hardback
BUY IT: Waterstones
RATING: 5 STARS
(This review refers to a proof edition)

PUBLICATION DATE: 10/07/12

THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN'T READ A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.

SUMMARY
It began with A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES. Historian Diana Bishop, descended from a line of powerful witches, and long-lived vampire Matthew Clairmont have broken the laws dividing creatures. When Diana discovered a significant alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, she sparked a struggle in which she became bound to Matthew. Now the fragile coexistence of witches, daemons, vampires and humans is dangerously threatened. Seeking safety, Diana and Matthew travel back in time to London, 1590. But they soon realise that the past may not provide a haven. Reclaiming his former identity as poet and spy for Queen Elizabeth, the vampire falls back in with a group of radicals known as the School of Night. Many are unruly daemons, the creative minds of the age, including playwright Christopher Marlowe and mathematician Thomas Harriot. Together Matthew and Diana scour Tudor London for the elusive manuscript Ashmole 782, and search for the witch who will teach Diana how to control her remarkable powers...Fall under the spell of Diana and Matthew once more in this stunning, richly imagined, epic tale.

REVIEW
Firstly, I loved A Discovery of Witches. It was absolutely inspired but unfortunately I have left it too long since reading to give it a review that would really do it justice.

Shadow of Night is just as amazing. When I first received this advanced copy I was so unbelievably excited that I wasn't even overwhelmed by the fact it was over 700 pages and that I could barely fit it in my tiny girl hands. From the first pages I was right back where we left off, it felt like I had never been away. Harkness creates the most intoxicating and absorbing narrative that not even the inane chatter on the train could disturb. I was happily sucked in to Elizabethan England, enjoying the author's indulgence in creating personalities for real historical figures and bringing to life the characters we were introduced to secondhand in the first book.

The characters are just one reflection of how intelligent the series is. It gives way to a change of time, an almost complete change of cast and initially even a change in plot focus but it's not overwhelming. It's swift and easy and completely exciting. Harkness's poetic narrative blooms and breathes life into a dangerous moment in history, initially by humour - the banter between the members of the School of Night is bold and made me smile. It reminded me of my difficult days of getting to grips with Renaissance writers. It's name dropping is cheeky but excusable - we all wish we could have seen what Shakespeare was really like!

Whereas the first novel focuses primarily on Diana and her family, Shadow of Night effortlessly moves to Matthew's past. With the (re)introduction of Phillipe de Clairemont Matthew must face the events of both his past and what comes with his future. This is superbly done. I wouldn't say that you necessarily need to have read the previous book in order to understand this one but I think it would help. It's important to know how Matthew and Diana's relationship began to really appreciate their connection to each other, the characters surrounding them, and even their own selves. It also examines our own connection with history and our place in it. Harkness is superb at showing the effects of history. In fact, one of my favourite parts of the novel is the tiny sequences where we are shown the Present, and how Diana, Matthew and the events of the past are affecting the future. They are the perfect addition.

Writing about the actual plot is difficult without giving things away because it is so interweaved. what I can say is that moving the narrative to the past gives Diana the perfect chance to look at alchemy in its original time, and is therefore able to explore its importance to the Ashmole manuscript and her own history. Also, as I previously mentioned, it gives Matthew the chance to grow by revisiting and consequently healing his biggest old wounds. If you thought Vampires and Witches were a pull from reality, then you might find the move to a past century a bit difficult too, but really its not. It's fun, exciting and completely indulgent. Oh, and I love it.

Shadow of Night will appeal to anyone who loves history, adventures, relationships, and perfectly crafted dialogue. Anyone who has studied History or Literature will share a smile over references and the liberties the Harkness takes.

For those who are familiar with the story: It starts with a Discovery of Witches, it continues with a Shadow, and it will end perfectly, I'm sure.

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