The Book of Life is the third and final book in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy. Like with Shadow of Night, the book picks up exactly where it’s predecessor left off, in this case, with Matthew and Diana returning to the present from Elizabethan England only to face new enemies, problems and tragedies as well as all the old ones they left behind.
To my mind, The Book of Life is the strongest of the three books and by far my favourite. The story felt a lot more focused and it didn’t feel bogged down with meaningless detail. I won’t go over the issues I had with Matthew and Diana in the other books (you can read about them here, and here) but they finally come into their own during this book. The other characters continued to go from strength to strength and contribute wonderfully to the story. It actually made me smile to see all the characters back in one place and working together again. There are also some unexpected surprises which really made me smile with regards to who is around and how certain things work out through the story.
There were a two points, one that confused me and one that I just wasn’t particularly keen on (this next bit is going to contain quite a lot of spoilers so if you want to read the book, you might want to skip ahead). Emily’s death, which was mentioned in the second book, without a lot of detail being mentioned is now fully discussed. I found it heart wrenching to read, so when Emily’s ghost turns up pretty early on, along with the ghosts of Phillippe and Rebecca I was happy to think that she (and the others) would remain a part of the story. But they don’t. Philippe turns up at the end and speaks to Diana but you never see anything to do with Emily and Rebecca’s ghosts again which just seems a bit random. It was lovely to see them again but there just wasn’t much point to it. Maybe they were mentioned for an idea for the story that got scrapped or maybe it was just to make the reader stop feeling so sad but to me at least, it felt like a loose end that didn’t get resolved.
The second thing can be summed up in one word – Gallowglass. I had mentioned in my review of Shadow of Night that Gallowglass had become a firm favourite of mine and I really wanted this to continue to the third book. This was the case for a while until I found out that Gallowglass was in love with Diana. It just didn’t sit right with me. Diana has always come across as a bit of a Mary Sue character anyway but this just seemed like one thing too much.
Gallowglass has been asked to keep an eye on Diana from the moment she is born up until she meets Matthew so it would make sense if it was during this time that he fell for her. But the story implies that this happened when they were still in the sixteenth century and that this is why he calls her ‘Auntie’, to remind himself that she is with Matthew. It just didn’t feel believable to me and felt like another attempt to show Diana as this overly perfect person that people can’t help but adore for no reason. Maybe there was so vital piece of chemistry that I missed but it was very much a ‘Really?!’ moment. To make it worse, this revelation changes Gallowglass’ character into someone much less likeable. He is either absent because he is sulking that he can’t have Diana or present and doing what he is told but still having a bit of a low level sulk for much of the book.
End of Spoilers (and rant)
The All Souls Trilogy as a whole is a good story overall. It has it’s ups and downs but there’s quite a lot of themes throughout and if one or more of them interest you anyway, I think you would enjoy the story. If you have read the other two and maybe weren’t too sure about whether to bother with the third, I would recommend it. It resolves the story in an interesting and entertaining way and clarifies some elements from earlier parts along the way. As one last gripe, I would say that towards the end, it felt like Diana was ridiculously overpowered now that she knows that she is doing. If she were in X-Men she would definitely be Jean Grey. I always think that this runs the risk of taking all the excitement out of the final conflict. How thrilling can it be when you can just defeat the bad guy by blinking in their general direction. However, I think because it was the last book and everything was got resolved at quite a quick pace, it wasn’t a massive issue. The story ended before it had a chance to get too silly.
Overall, I would give the Book of Life 4/5 vampire bats
and The All Souls Trilogy as whole 3/5 vampire bats.