This book is the sequel to A Discovery of Witches, and it really assumes that you have read the first book. To be honest, I am not sure that I wouldn't recommend a reread of ADOW immediately before reading this one as it drops you straight into the action, a couple of minutes after the end of the last book. As a consequence, it is difficult to discuss this book without spoiling ADOW so...
Where ADOW was set mainly in the present, Shadow of Night is predominantly set in the past. Diana and Matthew travel back through time and end up in Elizabeth England. The reason why they have traveled back is to see if they can find out more about the mysterious Ashmole 782 manuscript but also to help Diana learn how to control the witch powers that she discovered in the last book.
I am having a little bit of difficulty in terms of putting my thoughts together on this book. I wasn't as wrapped up in this one as I was in A Discovery of Witches, but it was still really readable. I had both a print and ebook version of this book and I was engrossed enough in it to be swapping between those two versions so that I could take it everywhere with me.
The time travel element was .... interesting. The main crux of the matter was that the Matthew who still lived in the 1500s could not be at the same place and time as the modern Matthew and so when he gets back to the past his friends were a little surprised as last they knew he was in a different part of the country and he was suddenly accompanied by a wife. Whilst Matthew and Diana were in the past, they needed to be careful to not change the past, but just by being there they left behind clues, and then they deliberately did things that they knew were going to change the known history.
It was interesting to see Matthew in the 16th century. 21st century Matthew had different ideas that come from having lived for hundreds of years more and in the modern world. He therefore made different decisions than his past persona would have been making and you can't help but wonder how this would be explained when the past Matthew reappears.I suspect the fact that first he didn't have a wife, then he did, and then he didn't again would also be somewhat difficult to explain. There was a plan to deal with this made, but I didn't get how that plan wasn't changing the history of what happened initially! Time travel is difficult to get right at the best of times, and I am not sure that the author quite made it here.
In the modern day, Matthew's family was spending all it's time and money trying to track down these clues to Matthew and Diana's life in the past. I find that these chapters were a bit of a distraction to the plot even though there were only a few of them. The modern day aspects either needed to be more important to the plot and more developed, or not there until the end. There was one new character that we met both in the past and present that I can't wait to find out more about though - Gallowglass! I really hope that he plays more of a role in the next book.
Whilst it was clear in ADOW that Matthew had known important people in the past, it seemed in this book that he was close personal friends with every single important name from history. He was close personal friends with people from Christopher Marlowe (oh my goodness, this character was a pain in the butt to read about), Sir Walter Raleigh and more. He is indispensable to Queen Elizabeth I but when the action moves to Prague he is also well known in the Royal courts there. There were times when I couldn't help but wonder if the less is more approach shouldn't have been considered.
You will notice that I haven't said much about Diana yet, and that is partially because I am not really sure how I felt about her role in this book. Whilst in ADOW Diana wasn't aware of her witch powers, and she only started to learn about them, in this book she is looking for assistance from other witches to try to learn exactly what powers she has and how to use them. This is not a great time to be a witch (not all that unusual in history really) and so she attracts attention to her almost immediately. They start off in Oxford but soon the couple has to flee, initially to France, then to Prague and back to London. In each location they find themselves in impending danger either from people who believe that Diana is a witch or because they have crossed someone as a result of their actions to do with their search for the Ashmole 782 manuscript.
As a couple, there was some developments in the relationship between Diana and Matthew, but there was also a lot of rehashing of themes that we went through in the last book - you can't possibly love me because I am a monster, let me show you how much of a monster I can be etc. It was also interesting to see how easily Matthew slipped back into the 16th century mentality when it came to his relationship with Diana as his wife. I don't think that Diana expected that kind of change in attitude.
Of the different locations, I think I enjoyed the section set in France the most. In ADOW we heard what had happened to Phillippe, Matthew's father, but spent time with his mother Isabeau. In this book, it is the other way around. We meet Phillippe, who is the head of the family and whose word is law! He comes across as stern with very fixed ideas, but we get to see why he was such a formative figure in Matthew's life and I warmed to him in due course.
There was also a twist to the end of the book in relation to Diana that I really enjoyed. I am not entirely sure what the point of it was other than to have an emotional moment but it was good. To be honest, that probably sums up my reaction to this book. I closed the book and wondered what precisely the point of everything that the characters had gone through was. There was some development in the search for Ashmole, but I don't know that some of those things couldn't have been learned in the present day. The parts with the witches of London teaching Diana how to cast her spells were again interesting, but did she have to learn from those particularly people in that particular time.
I will still be looking forward to the third instalment of this series, but my expectations will be somewhat tempered compared to the anticipation I felt for this second book.
"Together we lifted our feet and stepped into the unknown"—the thrilling sequel to the New York Times bestseller A Discovery of WitchesThanks to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copies of this book.
Deborah Harkness exploded onto the literary scene with her debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, Book One of the magical All Souls Trilogy and an international publishing phenomenon. The novel introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782.
Now, picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night plunges Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan London, a world of spies, subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night that includes Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. Here, Diana must locate a witch to tutor her in magic, Matthew is forced to confront a past he thought he had put to rest, and the mystery of Ashmole 782 deepens.
Deborah Harkness has crafted a gripping journey through a world of alchemy, time travel, and magical discoveries, delivering one of the most hotly anticipated novels of the season.