After A Discovery of Witches I was really amped to read the rest of the All Soul’s Trilogy.
I finished both Shadow of Night (2013) and the Book of Life (2015) by Deborah Harkness this weekend, and as they are the completion of the trilogy I am going to review them together.
Because Shadow of Night drove me crazy (in the bad way,) and I am a little teeny bit disappointed with the ending of the Book of Life.
I should have loved Shadow of Night. Time travel! Elizabethan England! Ruffs!
We find our heroes in 1591, mostly in London, where blossoming witch Diana Bishop has traveled in both time and space to learn to use her unique magic. There is a Matthew in 1591, and we are constantly reminded that he is going to be a very different Matthew from the one we know in the present. This is Diana and Matthew as a couple without hesitation, building their lives in a different time. It’s complicated by the social politics and drama of the Elizabethan age, and the demands of present Matthew inhabiting past Matthew’s place in time. Diana learns more about her magic, embraces the power of the sisterhood/brotherhood of witches, meets famous historical people, changes history, loves her partner, makes her family, and comes back to the present to use her power for its intended purpose. There’s so much that happens in the past that shapes how Diana and Matthew relate to one another…but a lot of it also seems completely unnecessary to the story.
My favorite thing about Shadow of Night was meeting Philippe de Clermont. He wasn’t what I expected him to be, and it’s a killer plot of playing the long game. He came up and had influence on SoN and tBoL in ways I could not have foreseen. He’s just a master stroke of a character and a plot device, and when all the myriad ways he planned ahead are revealed layer by layer I continued to be delighted with him. He’s the only character whose story made me feel deep emotion, and not just the satisfaction of story resolution.
Here’s the thing I hated about Shadow of Night in particular – it was so much about Matthew that sometimes I forgot I was reading first-person narrator Diana. We lost her. I lost the intellectual, independent woman that I loved in aDoW. Which is really disappointing because I think Harkness did a great job showing how involved and powerful women were back then, how much influence they had on their households and families. We often talk about liberation without understanding context, and what we were asking for liberation from.
Luckily, we get Diana back a bit in the Book of Life. She goes where Matthew cannot follow. With her faith in herself returned, she is once again dynamic and intelligent. She is once again a match for Matthew’s dangerous need to protect her. Her power allows him a certain amount of peace to control his disease. That is a beautiful and balanced partnership.
In the Book of Life the true villain is finally revealed – and he is the worst kind of creature, the worst things we imagine about a villain are in him. We spend the last book figuring him out and hunting him down. There is also a subtle jab I’d like any other readers to look out for regarding our villain and the familial origins of a witch named Janet.
*Highlight below here if you want to see the spoiler…*
the only time he successfully had a living child was during consensual sex, CONSENT BURN! Take that Benjamin!
The message of the Book of Life was a little on the nose for me – I wish there had been room for the reader to make the jump about the origins of creatures and why knowing and proving those origins was world-shattering. It’s an important message, but for something to be truly valued it has to be earned. We didn’t earn the message.
Overall, I really enjoyed this trilogy and there are characters I won’t forget any time soon. I also do not recommend binge-reading the trilogy as I did. There’s SO MUCH that happens in each book that trying to remember what happened in which book is difficult. They are almost impossible to summarize because each novel is action-packed and a little insane. It feels like more than three books. But when you are telling an epic tell, there are going to be things that are brushed over or mentioned without delving into them. I didn’t need to see every scene and conversation. These are books that depend on the understanding of the relationships between characters. I would watch the heck out of a TV show based on this trilogy.
Shadow of Night – 3/5
the Book of Life – 4/5
The All Soul’s Trilogy – 3.8/5 (the average of the individual books’ ratings)