Shadow of Night is the second in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. Picking up from where the first book, ‘A Discovery of Witches’ left off, Shadow of Night sees Matthew and Diana travel back in time to 1591 to hide from their enemies, to attempt to find out more about the elusive manuscript ‘Ashmole 782’ and to try and find witches able to teach Diana to control her ever more random magical abilities. Not exactly your usual travel itinerary.
Out of the three books, I would have to say that I thought that Shadow of Night is the weakest. There is a lot going on here – Matthew and Diana are already trying to accomplish a rather large amount before they even arrive in the past, then once they are there, they meet a host of new characters (many of whom have titles and nicknames as well as their normal names which can make it hard to keep up), and they get thrown into Elizabethan life which has it’s own range of challenges. With so much happening there are times when a main theme of the story won’t be discussed for quite a few chapters. When the background goings on are interesting and new then that is fine but sometimes you do tend to find yourself wading through pages of things that have already been discussed and thought about.
There are many familiar faces in Harkness’s Elizabethan London, including Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlow, Thomas Harriot and of course Queen Elizabeth herself. I like the way that these characters come into the story as a part of Matthew’s life. Making him a spy for Elizabeth was a perfect fit and finding out that he was the School of Night’s very own Matthew Roydon was surprisingly satisfying. My favourite new character though was the entirely fictional vampire Gallowglass. He’s funny, friendly, sensible, kind and doesn’t have any of the annoying traits that Matthew has that up until now had been considered typically vampire-esk.
The new characters are nice enough (with the exception of Christopher Marlow, who after a few chapters just needed to go away. I audibly sighed every time he turned up because he just caused grief wherever he went) but I did find myself missing the characters left behind from the first book. As I mentioned in my review of Discovery of Witches I found myself caring more about them and getting more attached to them than I did Diana and Matthew. They are mentioned occasionally but not nearly enough for my liking. However, considering they remained in the present day, it’s understandable!
Now, Matthew and Diana. They are scared, they are out of their depth, they are having to adjust to a very new (or in Matthew’s case, very old) way of life and they are so very very annoying! I feel like I should stress that I don’t think they were badly written (although there may be those out there who disagree), they just seemed to be acting in really frustrating, irritating ways. Any bad habits they had in the first book seem to have been emphasised and multiplied. Diana is even more stubborn than she was before. She still comes across as whiney and also sometimes just dumb. She puts herself in positions that other people are constantly having to help her out of. In my first review I stated that I couldn’t understand why everyone is so willing to help her regardless to the cost to themselves and this feeling only increased throughout this book. The other characters just seem to be obsessed with her and I really couldn’t empathise with them on this. While Matthew seemed strong and sensible in the first book he is now almost just as bad – he is still secretive and still trying to always be in control. The problem now is that he doesn’t always know best and yet still refuses to listen to the input of other people. While this probably makes him more realistic than the always perfect creature he was before, its hard to not want to yell at him when he is ignoring good advice for no reason.
Looking back over what I have written, it sounds like I didn’t enjoy Shadow of Night and the daft thing is, I actually did. Despite everything above, this is a very long book so there was enough interesting side stories and developments to keep me going, although I did find that I needed to take more breaks from this book than the first (or the third for that matter, but that’s a post for another day). Shadow of Night felt a little bit like something that I just needed to get through so that I could get on to the third book which was slightly disappointing. It does however contain some interesting historical detail and you get to see a lot of different places and meet new people. I think you would enjoy it if you liked the first book but it just didn’t keep me as enthralled. All in all, I give Shadow of Night 1 vampire bats out of 5.