Review of Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
When A Discovery of Witches by historian and Professor Deborah Harkness was released it was an instant favorite among readers. The book quickly reached the bestsellers list and it has thousands of incredible reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. I absolutely fell in love with the richness of the book, the twists in the story and the knowledge and research the author poured into it. Now, after over a year, the long awaited second book to the All Souls trilogy, Shadow of Night, is here and it is a scholar’s dream, a book written for the historians and the lovers of classic literature.
Shadow of Night picks up a split second after A Discovery of Witches ended. We join Matthew and Diana in their time jump to the 1500s where their goals are to 1) find a witch to train Diana and 2) find the mysterious Ashmole 782. But instead of doing this and picking up where the story left off, the author gets lost in history instead and the story disappears.
Within a few pages the reader is instantly thrown into a crowded and overwhelming sea full of famous literary characters and influential historical figures. In the very first chapter you meet famed playwrights and poets and others who have little to no purpose in the story. As much as it pains me to admit it, this book started out surprisingly dry and dull. I actually had to force myself through it. I rushed through the first book in the trilogy, but not this one. Sadly, 100 pages into Shadow of Night and the story had yet to move forward. Matthew and Diana hadn’t even come close to accomplishing what they meant to do when they went back in time. All they had done at this point is focused on Matthew’s affairs during his life in the 1500s. I began to understand at that point why the book is 600 pages.
Now, does that make this a bad book? No. Harkness is absolutely brilliant and her knowledge of history is highly impressive. There were a handful of interesting scenes and moments in the book, however, they had absolutely nothing to do with the main story. They were just written and dropped into a spot in the book with no point or purpose. They dragged the book down, dragged it very very far down. I stopped reading many times because I lost focus. Had those pages been removed, this book wouldn’t be 600 pages, but half of that, and it would have been perfect.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy history, but not like this. Shadow of Night felt like a history textbook at times and not a historical novel. I think the author, with her love for history and teaching, blurred the lines a bit too much. There needs to be more than dates and historical facts, there has to be a story – a story that moves forward.
Luckily, once you get deeper into the book, there is a story and we finally begin Diana’s witch training, as well as the search for Ashmole 782. There are quite a few rocky parts in the story, but there were fantastic moments as well. Those fantastic moments saved this book and eventually it got to the point where I couldn’t put Shadow of Night down.
However, while I was eventually captivated by the unique and fascinating world of Shadow of Night, I was still disappointed overall. I was expecting another novel as amazing as A Discovery of Witches. I hate being so harsh on Shadow of Night, especially since it had many great moments and because I am so incredibly awed and impressed by the author. But the sad truth is that this book needed some extra tweaking to make it truly great. There were far too many issues to ignore – unnecessary characters, sloppy storytelling, far too many random pages that served no purpose... etc.
I do have very high hopes for the final book in the trilogy though, especially since a lot has been left unanswered so far. I can’t wait to find out how it all ends.