Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness

It's no secret that I loved last year's A Discovery of Witches.  It easily made my list of favorite books in 2011.  The first book of the trilogy was full of history, mystery, and strong and intriguing female characters.  As the title suggests, there were plenty of supernatural elements,  but I felt they were tastefully incorporated, unlike a lot of the vampire/witch genre riding the post-Twilight wave.  (Twilight for educated adults, maybe?)

At the end of A Discovery of Witches (ADOW), Matthew Clairmont (a vampire) and Diana Bishop (a witch) are preparing to timewalk back to the sixteenth-century England to attempt to locate a lost manuscript.  When that book ended, I was instantly excited for the next part of the story.

Shadow of Night, the second book in the trilogy, picks up right where ADOW stops, with Matthew and Diana stepping into the past.  History is a huge part of these books, and I was excited to see what Harkness, a historian herself, I believe, would do with such an unusual setting.  You don't see a lot of novels with modern characters getting the opportunity to venture back to Elizabethan London.

This time-travel tome is rife with name-dropping:  Sir Walter Raleigh, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, etc.  It's a little convenient that Matthew was able to fade into the background during his time as a part of this scholarly and well-known group of men....but hey, what's the fun of traveling back to Elizabethan England if you don't get to rub elbows with some of the greats?  (And yes, that does include the queen herself.)  Some of the most interesting parts to me were the details showing Diana trying to adjust to the customs of the age, by practicing her writing style and imitating the speech inflections of others.

As much as I loved all the history contained in Shadow of Night, I wasn't quite expecting the entire book to be set in the past.  There were only very brief, minor glimpses into present-day occurrences.  We know enough to realize that significant things are happening, things that will surely have major consequences in the last book, but we only get the barest of facts about the rest of the family while Matthew and Diana are in the past.  The constant focus on the past made the book a little tedious at times, at least for me.

One of the great things about ADOW was how quickly it seemed to move.  At well over 500 pages, it is of significant length, but I was so intrigued by the story that it didn't matter (I quite liked having lots of "story" left to read, in fact).  SON did not move nearly as swiftly as its predecessor.  There just wasn't a lot of action to move the plot along as quickly, and I found myself wishing someone would do something to create a little action.

That's not to say nothing happened in the book, of course.  There is plenty to ponder while waiting for the third installment.  But, like many middle books of a series, SON is more about developing the characters and setting the stage for the finale.  In that respect, there is nothing to complain about with SON.  The development evidenced in Diana's character was particularly well done.  The marriage and relationship between Matthew and Diana became much more meaningful and deepened significantly during the second half of the book.  Matthew had some excellent scenes with his father that further developed his character and put to rest some lingering issues.  In fact, the scenes at Matthew's family home were some of my absolute favorites of the book.

In the end, I was left rooting for Matthew and Diana as a legitimate couple, sure that they were equally devoted to their blended family, and excited to see how the entire group will face the challenges sure to come in the final book of the trilogy.

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Shadow of Night is available now.

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