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Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness – review
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.
What I expected: It is hard to say what I expected from this book. Yes, the first book had a cliffhanger ending that was a tad frustrating, but I read it so many books ago that when I looked at this sequel, I mainly saw a book that I would be interested in because I enjoyed the first. I had basically put that cliffhanger out of my mind (the only good way to keep it from bugging me, and I read so many cliffhangers these days that it is an absolute must). So I was basically expecting an enjoyable romance with paranormal elements.
When I read the first book, I had expected there to be much more magic and spellcasting and all of that fun stuff, and I was a tad disappointed because it had not been marketed as a romance but a fantasy. Not to say a book cannot be both, but generally people expect romance to be a secondary element, if there at all, unless the book is marketed as romance. I know a great many people were disappointed in that first book because they do not like romance, and it turned out to be the main focus of the story. Personally, I’m fine with romance, but I was a little surprised that the romance was the bigger element than the fantasy. So, this time around I was expecting the romance to be front and center, with the magic and other supernatural elements being in the background.
What I got: I didn’t really get what I expected this time around! I liked this portion of the story more than the first one that took so much time to world build and craft the romance. And while the romance was a large portion of the story, magic and their quest became the focus of the story, all to the good. Because of their predicament–they couldn’t stay in their time and access the manuscript they needed due to the people trying to kill them–Matthew and Diana end up in Matthew’s past with his future self (the one in love with Diana) replacing his past self (the one who had never heard of her) in his own history for a time. I know that sounds confusing; time travel always is, which is why I’m very picky with the time travel books I’ll read. The presence of time travel in this story was surprising when the reader got it at the end of the first book. One of the trickier things about time travel is knowledge. For these two it is even trickier, because Matthew has to play the role of himself but has to keep all of his future knowledge suppressed, or he’ll give himself away as an imposter. Diana is very much a fish out of water–all her historical knowledge is from books, and she finds that the reality is vastly different than the dry accounts she’s used to.
What I enjoyed: I liked that Diana was knowledgeable about the past but that much of her knowledge was not the kind of information she needed to survive, and that caused her to make mistakes. I also liked how she was very much willing to both stand up for herself and be her own woman but is also just as willing to let someone else lead when necessary. I liked seeing this author’s perspectives on historical figures I’ve seen in other works. I really liked the secret communication across time that Philippe and Ysabeau use.
What I did not: There were a couple of characters that felt very much like plot devices to me–there only push along the plot in certain ways. This was not a big part of the book and didn’t truly harm my enjoyment of the story.
Cover Talk: Can’t say I like the cover, but then again I didn’t like the first cover, either, and at least they match in theme, which is one good thing. But really, the cover is too generic for my liking. Sure, all the elements fit with the story, but it does not give us critical information like hints as to the sub-genre or clues to the type of action that might be included in the story. These kinds of things may not seem very important to the designer and/or artist who may only know sketchy bits of the story of the book, but they are important and can be subtle, and we readers pick up on them right away. Covers are important!
Would I recommend? Yes. Most definitely. However, this will not stand alone on its own, and if anyone hasn’t read the first book, they’ll be quite lost and should definitely start there.