Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shadow of Night is book two of Deborah Harkenss’s All Souls series and starts where “A Discovery of Whitches” left off. Now instead of being in contemporary time Diana and Matthew find themselves in the 16th Century in search for a teacher for Diana and information about the infamous book of life known as Ashmole 782. Overall this book doesn’t have as much action as the first book (and in some people’s opinions that book didn’t have enough action in it), but honestly, I didn’t care. The characters are so emotionally compelling that they didn’t have to go through physical crisis in order to keep my attention, thought there were a few scenes here and there.

It’s so obvious that Deborah Harkenss did research on Elizabethan England and that time period and I found the way those details were woven into the story were quite natural. It helps that Diana is a historian herself, so we get many of the descriptions from her perspective and feel her struggle with the difficulty of being a time-traveler and the pressure to fit into a time that is not her own in order to not get killed. There are many tidbits in this book that explain happenings from the previous book, which I find fascinating as a writer because I can appreciate the amount of though it must have taken to plan out the three books for all the hints and tie-ins.

Both Diana and Matthew grow as people and as a couple in this novel and I actually enjoy how Ms Harkenss gives you just enough information to satisfy and enough for our imaginations when it comes to the more physical aspects of their growing relationship. Even though their relationship is still very new, the couple fit together as if they’ve known each other a life time, even though there are secrets between them. They are both volatile and loving, rigid and flexible in very believable and real feeling ways. Their faults and strengths come out in various ways that are natural and flow easily even in difficult moments.

The time travel was one of the aspects of the novel that I found most fascinating. It was interesting to see how the subject was handled within the flow of history and the story. How our hero and heroine was allowed to effect history is always an important question to answer, which was not only answered by the characters themselves at the beginning of the book, but by the chapters of contemporary time that revealed items that were recovered from 1590. It was established early that the 16th century Matthew “disappeared” when the 21st century Matthew appeared in 1590, so it was a constant concern who interacted with him during his time in the past in order to not disrupt his flow through time into the present. It was also shown how time flowed as much for Diana and Matthew in the past as it would for them in the present, in other words they loose the time in the present that they spend in the past. This is a concept not usually adopted in science fiction, but it’s a quite logical and scientific explanation for time traveling, unlike the concept utilized by “Back to the Future” where one appears back at the same point in which they left. But this is a more philosophical debate than anything else. The point is that Ms. Harkenss chose a law for the world she built and stuck to it.

My only real gripe with the story is that there are important scenes that we miss because they are not scenes that are relevant directly to Diana and Matthew and what happened in their life in the past. I’m sure this is an author’s cheap because there is a secret that can not be revealed until book 3 and my hope is that the reader will become illuminated for why this needed to happen then.

I’m eagerly awaiting book 3 of the All Souls series.

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