Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Review - Deborah Harkness' Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
Published by: Viking
ARC Provided by Viking
Publication Date: July 10th, 2012
Format: Kindle, 592 Pages
Rating: ★★★

To Buy

Diana and Matthew did it! They have successfully arrived in 1590 at Matthew's house in Woodstock. Diana thought that getting there would be the hard part, but that was easy compared to being thrown directly into the middle of the School of Night. The smartest and savviest and most renowned and infamous men of the age seem to view Matthew's house as their home... and they do not care for Diana, at first, or forever as the case may be with the lovestruck Marlowe. Soon it becomes apparent that maybe this wasn't the best idea. Matthew has drastically changed from the man he was then, not to mention the lack of a beard. And Diana... well, she obviously doesn't fit. From language to comportment to behaviour. She. Doesn't. Fit. Though as scary as being found out is, the summons from Matthew's father is even scarier. He could bring this world down around them in a flash.

Travelling to Sept Tours and living amongst Matthew's past is trying for Diana, as is the fact they have done nothing that they planned to do. She is still ignorant of her abilities and Ashmole 782 looks as if it is never to be found in the past. Matthew and Diana are buffeted around by all the people who have a claim on them, from Philippe to Queen Elizabeth to Emperor Rudolf II to the Congregation, from France to London to Prague, they try to fit there lives and their needs among the demands of these great people. As time goes on, there is more and more of a chance of effecting the past and there is more and more of a need for Diana to learn her craft and find her book and get home. Luckily, fate does seem to occasionally shine on them and sometimes their tragedies turn into greater joys.

Shadow of Night literally picks up right where A Discovery of Witches ended. While I enjoyed the first book, though didn't view it as a staggering piece of genius, but more as Twilight for the more educated adults out there, I found myself liking this book more. There were still times when I felt it was too Twilighty, what with the importance of Matthew's family, his desire for a wedding before coupling, the desire for Diana mixed in with feelings of blood lust, but at least it's obvious that Harkness knows this and she does parody it with a conversation about modern literature at Sept Tours. There where a few other mild annoyances I will mention here because they seem to fit this "Twilight" category versus any other. If Diana and Matthew had only been together for 40 days, how could her period be "off" when it barely had time to be on? Supposedly her torture changed her cycle... but only having your period different once doesn't indicate a trend of irregularity. Continuing in the vein of bodily functions, some of there sex scenes where veering towards the eww versus the aww.  "With my spine bowed, he was poised at the entrance to my womb." Icky, no thanks!

Now, let's discuss what really annoyed me, Diana's ignorance. For someone who is supposed to be a historian written by a historian, I might add, Diana is really dumb sometimes. Diana mistook a silver shaker, aka a Pounce Pot, for a salt shaker. Even if you don't know the technical term, anyone who has watched any period drama knows that there is a silver shaker that is on all writing desks that contains sand, or a similar substance, and it is an aid for absorbing excess ink in letter writing. Not one person I know would go, "oh look, salt" and then complain about it's grittiness. Grrr Diana. Also, how does a historian not know that at the time of Queen Elizabeth St. Paul's wasn't the St. Paul's by Christopher Wren, seeing as that wasn't for almost two hundred years and a great fire needed to happen. Then there's the use of the word tisane, which is an herbal tea. I can allow that Diana would use it, because she's from modern times, but the fact that others would understand it is impossible. It's from the 1930s! Then there's the quintain. I've known what a quintain was most of my life, probably because I have a younger brother who loved medieval jousting. Again, Diane must have seen a movie or a reference to the sandbags on pivots used to train in jousting. Even if she didn't know the name, she should at least know it's NOT a gibbit. The real shocker of ignorance though was when she asked a kindly Jewish man why he had a golden ring embroidered on his clothing. Facepalm Diana, facepalm. Even the Nazis used a similar method for the demarcation of being Jewish. Girl, you need to catch up on some history.

The School of Night was also another note of contention for me. Mainly because we are thrown, with Diana, head first into this group of intellectual men and have to spend the entire first part of the book listening to them bickering and sharing barbs and witticisms while desperately trying to remember who's who. These people are nothing to me. They are historical figures that are there to add to the mystique of Matthew's past, but instead just pissed me off. I liked Kit being a bitchy little boy, but other than that, I could take them or leave them. Which is much how I felt for many of the historical sections of the book... oh, who am I kidding, almost all of the historical sections. When I had an investment with Diana or Matthew or another character, than the history mattered and fascinated me. The characters she created of the young witch Annie and the street urchin Jack where lovely and broke my heart. When they where in Prague I couldn't put this book down. Yet previously I felt that we where being led on a tour of Elizabethan England. I was reading a travel guide for the time, not historical fiction. I quite literally cheered when Diana said it was "time to stop treating our sojourn here as an advanced seminar in Shakespeare's England." Because that was what the book was! Hundreds of pages of exposition, when they came to search for the Ashmole 782 and get Diana learned in the dark arts. I didn't need them playing Elizabethan house for the whole first half of the book!

Though the negatives, which I can pinpoint, while occasionally taking me out of the book (tisane, grummble grummble), didn't take away from the fact that this is a fun book. Once everything started to come together that is. When the magic started to be incorporated and we didn't dwell on the barbs and witticisms of the men, I felt the book finally became what Diana had set out to find. The way that spells are different than magic, at least for witches other than Diana. The familiars that would reside in you. Also, the way other religions magic was touched on, like the Jewish witch's Golem. A total aside, but golems are awesome, ever since I read Terry Pratchett's Feet of Clay I have been a friend of the Golems! Though not Tolkien's Golem, just so we're clear, my preciouses. This was when the book became what I was hoping it would be. We went beyond the typical challenges of a girl and a vampire love story and Harkness brought something new and interesting. Of course, seeing as this is the second book in a trilogy, we where left hanging to some extent, but at least I was satisfied enough till the next book.


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