Sunday, June 10, 2012

You are probably going to want to read this book...

A Discovery of Witches was one of my favorite reads of 2011 and I was anxious to continue the adventures of Matthew and Diana, the star-crossed vampire and witch, in Shadow of Night.  Luckily, Deborah Harkness does not disappoint.  The second book in the All Souls trilogy is not a "stand-alone" read.  If you haven't read A Discovery of Witches, you should probably go out and find a copy right now.  Read it, love it, and then come back and read this review.

The story picks up right where it left off, with Matthew and Diana traveling back to Elizabethan England to try and unravel the mysteries of Ashmole 782, an ancient alchemical manuscript that holds the secrets to Diana's unusual magical powers and possibly the entire supernatural world.  (Seriously.  You read the first book, right?)  Since Matthew was already living in this time, the couple kind of slide right into his 1590's life. Matthew went by the last name of Roydon and was a member of the infamous and mysterious School of Night along with actual historical figures like Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, and Lord Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland.  As Matthew and Diana seek out Ashmole, as well as a witch to help her learn to harness her magic, they find themselves entwined in the supernatural and alchemical underworlds of the English Renaissance.  As the book progresses, we also delve deeper into Matthew's past and learn more about the suave, mysterious vampire and his illustrious family.

Here's the cool thing: a lot of the book's details are based on actual history.  Many of the characters we meet were real people including: the aforementioned School of Night members, John Dee, Edward Kelley, and even a cameo appearance by William Shakespeare.  It should be noted that Harkness is a historian and professor of history at USC, so the historical characters and details are spot on, especially in the area of alchemy which is one of her areas of expertise.  Obviously she takes liberties with the details and storytelling -- it is a fiction book after all.  Unless Kit Marlowe has been confirmed as a daemon and no one told me...  Now, admittedly, I am a bit of a history buff and have a fair amount of prior knowledge about this time period, so Harkness didn't have to work to hard to win me over.  Even readers without the history bug will be fine because the author seamlessly weaves these details into the story -- a cornerstone of good historical fiction.

Looking for a supplement to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series?  Wanting a slightly more intelligent, well-written vampire romance?  Just a fan of historical fiction in general?  Shadow of Night is probably the book you are looking for.  After I finished Shadow of Night, I wanted to go back and reread A Discovery of Witches just to keep the characters and the story fresh and tie all of pieces from both stories together.  I was very excited to be chosen to receive an ARC of Shadow of Night from NetGalley.  The book's general U.S. release date is July 10, 2012.  I would highly recommend picking it up from your local library or bookseller as soon as you can.  Just be prepared for the long wait for book three.