Aparna (inspirethoughts) wrote,

Book Critique 2016 – 10/03/2016: Shadow Of Night

Note: It's 2017 and I still have three months of reviews to go from 2016. I am hoping I should be able to finish it soon but we have to wait and see how far into 2017 this will go into. :)

Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here
For review of all books in this series: Go here

Stars: 4.5 / 5
Recommendation: Witches, Daemons, Vampires and Humans all co-exist and what comes out is this marvelous plot moving between past and future yet anchoring to the present.

Shadow Of Night is a historical-fantasy novel and the second part in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, published in 2012. The plot is set in 16th century London during the Elizabethan era as Diana Bishop - a historian and a powerful witch coming from a long line of witches - and Matthew Clairmont - a 1500 year old powerful vampire and geneticist - travel to that era in their next step of this quest to unlock the secrets of a long-forgotten manuscript, Ashmole 782.

When I first started this series a couple years ago I had stopped reading mid-way the second book and never ventured to the third book at all. For some reason I felt bored in the second book and rather lengthy and lethargic. For the purpose of this review I picked up the book again. It still feels lengthy and lethargic but this time around I could finish it with a new appreciation for the lengthy text and myriad of new characters that flow through the text.

In the first part - A Discovery of Witches - Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont are put together in this quest for unlocking Ashmole 782 bringing them in the path of vampires and witches who are determined to harm them, rip them apart to identify the depth of their powers and their connection to this book. With the help of their allies they escape attempts that put them near close to death. And find unexpected families from witches, daemons and vampires. The quest also helps to unlock the powers of Diana and lead them to the first missing page of Ashmole 782. Matthew being Grandmaster to The Knights of Lazarus ensures that people he considered family are protected under the brotherhood before they set on their next part of the quest. Towards the end of the plot, they travel back to 1590 to The Old Lodge on the day of All Saints and All Souls. This book begins at that juncture. Again this is also narrated in a first-person basis - in the voice of Diana to be accurate.

Diana and Matthew step into 1590 in The Old Lodge doing time travel. She is introduced to the friends of Matthew and members of the mysterious and legendry School Of Night - Christopher "Kit" Marlowe (an English poet, playwright and translator and very much in love with Matthew although Matthew isn't in the same way and a Daemon), George Chapman (a poet, scholar and housemate to Matthew and a Human), Thomas Harriot (Mathematician and Astronomer and a Daemon), Wizard of Earl aka Lord of Northumberand aka Henry Percy (an alchemist) and Sir Walter Raleigh (an almost equal to Matthew in the group). Matthew is known as Matthew Roydon in the 1590s. Although they resist in the beginning, soon they understand the gravity of the situation and plot a way to introduce Diana to the 1590th England and also find her a female witch who can train her in witch abilities as well as unlock any other abilities she has. However Diana's magic is changing in ways she doesn’t understand. What does that mean for their quest? To her and Matthew? How will it impact their life in the past? With all that is going on, will they find any clue to where Ashmole 782 is and acquire it?

These were not the only problems that Matthew and Diana were facing. Matthew was behaving like Matthew that lived in 1590s and not like the one that time travelled from 21st Century. His past in 1590 is also catching up fast - dealings with The Congregation, his activities as part of the Knights Of Lazarus, his activities as spy to Queen Elizabeth. To add to all of this although they had chosen this year thinking there were no witch trials, then land smack in the middle of the beginnings of the witch trials. And due to false rumors by Widow Barlow and Kit, Diana may be in grave danger. Added to that, the time travel might have inadvertently changed the course of some of the future by creating little time bumps - Matthew's meeting with his father Philippe de Clermont in the 16th century who was long-dead in the 21s century; little gifts that they receive and collect during their stay.

The allies they find in this part of their quest are some familial, some familiar and some surprising - Pierre (Matthew's butler and a Vampire), Francoise (Matthew's housekeeper and a Vampire), Charles (The household's laconic cook), Gallowglass (nephew of Matthew, son of Hugh de Clermont and a vampire, part of the Knights of Lazarus), Davy Gam "Hancock" (A vampire and part of the Knights of Lazarus), Rima Jaen (a 21st Century historian in Seville), Alain (a Vampire, one of the Knights of Lazarus and loyal to Philippe and Matthew), Cartrine (Diana's demonic assistant at Sept-Tours), Jehanne (Cartrine's sister and a Daemon), Thomas and Etienne (Daina's human assistants at Sept-Tours), Chef (the cook at Sept-Tours), Nicholas Hilliard (A Limner who becomes into a very famous artist later), Mary Sidney Herbert aka Countess of Pembroke (a Human and an alchemist herself), Annie Undercroft (A young witch given to Diana by Hubbard for help), Suzanne Norman (A Witch who finally helps Diana, Annie's aunt and who is an ancestor to Sophie Norman - the daemon we met in the first book), Goody Alsop (another witch who helps Diana), Dr. John and his wife Jane Dee (a Human Alchemist) and William Cecil aka Lord Burghley (Matthew's Boss when he is playing the role of spy for England).

And they collect a hoard of enemies of all kinds of creatures - Widow Beaton (A Witch who refused to train Diana and spread rumors about her being an evil one), Joseph Bidwell (A shoemaker and who believed the rumors of evil witch), Mr. Danforth (Minister who wanted to put Diana on trial), Iffley (another villager who believed the rumors of evil witch), Kit Marlowe (Out of jealousy he causes trouble to Diana by instigating the witch trials), Andrew Hubbard (A 14th century Vampire-Priest and want to capture the secrets of Diana), John Chandler (A Witch and Apothecary who outed Diana to Andrew Hubbard), Benjamin (Matthew's son) and Louisa de Clermont (A Vampire and Matthew's crazy sister).

As opposed to the first book, the plot in this book is split into six parts. First part takes us through the settling of Diana and Matthew in the 16th century The Old Lodge. Second part takes us through the strained meeting of Matthew's father at the Sept-Tours.  Third part takes us back to Blackfriars in London where Diana gets to unlock her magic while Matthew deals with the myriad of obstacles across the path. Fourth part takes Matthew and Diana to Prague to fulfill a demand by Queen Elizabeth I. Fifth part takes Matthew and Diana back to London Blackfriars where they meet unexpected family - some bring happiness and some bring tears. Finally Sixth part brings back Matthew and Diana to the present time reuniting them to their families now but with news of both good and bad awaiting them along with a war.

A few things frustrated me a lot - ever-growing list of characters; Matthew's friends who live on his money and goodness but deem to put him down always; constant efforts of Diana to do things independently in a  different time period knowing so many dangers lurking close-by - will she never learn; that Matthew continues to be friends with Kit no matter how many times he betrays him. Yet, that book was not boring.

Another fantastic journey between past and present introducing us to lost tales and characters at the same time keeping the plot interesting. Just like the title sounds, this tale is about Matthew, his origins, his fears, his family, turmoils that he endured the 1500 year long life and what Diana means to him. It was very gripping to see the life of Matthew unravel in front of your eyes, enthralling you with stories and people of past. Although the myriad of characters introduced overwhelmed me as a reader, I am sure it must have been the same for the author. Yet, I have to say that she has spun a web around all these without a single crack anywhere.

A fantastic journey that I am looking forward to see finish in the third part.

Spoiler Alerts:
1) Matthew belongs to All Souls College at Oxford in this part of his life and in the series - and also a Prize Fellow too. The entire trilogy revolves around the All Souls College and references to it.
2) It's always interesting to see that every book I read I find some new words or phrases used (new to me in general I mean), and so is the case here too:
a. Hubris - excessive pride or self-confidence.

3) Diana gets to meet Queen Elizabeth I in this part along with a myriad of literary legends of that time during her stay in the 1590s England.

4) William Shakespeare is mentioned in the book as an avid writer tagging along Kit to gather any new ideas. I always wondered why Shakespeare is portrayed as one who had less talent and lived mostly on borrowed talent. Even in the series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel (My review of the serie here), Shakespeare is also shown as a mean, weak and self-centered immortal.
5) Remember these, for they would appear in the next books in the series in a surprising way:
a. From the book A Discovery Of Witches:
i. In her research, Diana comes across a manuscript that is a combination of Joy of Cooking and a Poisoner's Notebook with alchemical recipes.
ii. Matthew takes Diana to a special yoga place, a two-story Tudor manor house, called The Old Lodge, that came with its own splendid brick gatehouse. The entire building was built by Matthew in 1526.
iii. Diana has visions of riding horses in a garb from somewhere in the past holding a bow and a quiver full of arrows.
iv. Diana finds a book titled On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin with notes by Matthew in it - apparently it is the first copy that Darwin sends to Matthew for review and comment before it was printed in November of 1859.
v. Diana finds that Matthew could be belonging to one of the orders of Crusader knights (like The Templars, The Knights of Lazarus of Bethany, etc.) and also could be still leading one of the orders.
b. From this book Shadow Of Night:
i. Diana starts her own diary while living in the past. She calls it Her Booke and puts her name as Diana Roydon. She fills it with recipes of the day to day cooking, weather and anything and everything mundane from that period in the past. Her hope is that when someone comes across this in future they would not connect it to her.
6) A Congregation is a nine-member council of daemons, witches and vampires formed during the Crusades - three members representing each species. It was to ensure safety of every creature and also not getting the attention of humans.

7) Grammatical / Geographical / Character errors:
a. Pg 291 parah 5, second line: It should "Master Roydon" instead of "Mistress Roydon" per the previous para's context.

8) Matthew and Diana keep quoting from different works of literature - poems, books, novels and stories, although most seem to be from works by Giordano Bruno.
a. O brave new world; / 'T'is new to thee - From Tempest by William Shakespeare
b. Black is the badge of hell / The hue of dungeons and the school of night - from Love's Labour's Lost by William Shakespeare. But according the book it seems that Shakespeare copied it from Christopher Marlowe's dying words (It was originally: Black is the badge of true love lost / The hue of daemons / And the Shadow of Night). Again Shakespeare shown as a fraud than a literary genius.
c. Do not refuse me because i am dark and shadowed - from Aurora Consurgens by Thomas Aquinas.
d. And lo! from opening clouds, I saw emerge / The loveliest moon, that ever silver’d o’er / A shell for Neptune’s goblet: she did soar / So passionately bright, my dazzled soul / Commingling with her argent spheres did roll / Through clear and cloudy, even when she went / At last into a dark and vapoury tent - From Endymion poem by John Keats.
e. Some swore he was a maid in man's attire, / For in his looks were all that men desire, / A pleasant smiling cheek, a speaking eye, / A brow for love to banquet royally;
And such as knew he was a man, would say, / "Leander, thou art made for amorous play; / Why art thou not in love, and lov'd of all? - from Hero and Leander poem by Christopher Marlowe.
Tags: all souls trilogy, books, critique by amateur, reviews

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