Back in 2019, one of my first Bago Book Talk Blog posts was about Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches. I wrote about being surprised that I got into a fantasy novel about vampires and witches due to my disillusionment with the Twilight phenomenon.
Harkness’s All Souls trilogy is a lot like Stephanie Myers’s Twilight in that it’s about forbidden romance between creatures, specifically those involving vampires. But, Diana Bishop — the protagonist of Harkness’s novels — doesn’t need saving like Myers’s Bella Swan.
No, Diana can save herself. She even saves her significant other, Matthew de Clairmont on more than one occasion. This pattern continues in the second installment of the trilogy Shadow of Night.
“‘My heart belongs to you no less than yours belongs to me. Never doubt it.”Harkness 433
As much as I loved A Discovery of Witches for its setting in Oxford (where I studied abroad), I was just as fascinated by the setting of this book — London. I’ve been to London, too, and loved it. But, what makes it so fascinating in Shadow of Night? It’s London during the 1500s!
At the end of A Discovery of Witches, Diana and Matthew time-walk (time travel) to Elizabethan London to hide from the nefarious witches Peter Knox and Satu Järvinen, as well as the ominous Gebert D’Aurillac.
“For the first time in my life, I was absolutely delighted to be a witch. As a historian I studied the past. Because I was a witch, I could actually visit it.”Harkness 4
“‘We keep touching the past in ways that are bound to leave smudges on the present.’
‘Maybe that’s what we’re supposed to be doing . . . Perhaps the future depends on it.’”Harkness 274
Of course, there are plenty of dangers in Europe in the 1500s that Diana and Matthew must contend with. Despite her background as a historian, Diana is shocked to discover that history isn’t quite what she studied that it would be.
“Living in the past had always been my secret desire, but it was far more difficult than I’d ever imagined.”Harkness 35
Matthew’s friend of the time, playwright Christopher Marlowe’s, jealousy threatens Matthew’s relationship with Diana and even leads them into some contention with Matthew’s long-dead sister, Louisa de Clermont.
Speaking of family, Diana and Matthew return to Sept Tours to face the head of the de Clermonts, Phillippe, which reveals much about Matthew and his long history to Diana.
“The de Clermont family was a menagerie of formidable beasts.”Harkness 106
The power-hungry, altruistic vampire who rules London at the time, Father Andrew Hubbard, also demands attention and sacrifice from Diana and Matthew, despite his agreement to never interfere in de Clermont family matters.
A mysterious offspring of Matthew, Benjamin Fuchs, appears. He is the only son Matthew ever disowned; their return to the 1500s angers him and poses possible threats for the future. And to read more about those . . . you have to keep going in the rest of the trilogy!
So, too, does Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia. As Matthew and Diana continue to look for Ashmole 782, the Book of Life, their run-is with the greedy emperor threatens the trust between them as well as their mission to find the book.
“Prague may appear to be an oasis for the otherworldly. But like all oasis, its refuge is a mirage.”Harkness 402
And, then, there is Queen Elizabeth herself! She expects Matthew — at one time her assassin and spy — to be the same Matthew of the 1500s.
“‘at the court of Elizabeth, fortune is fleeting, but disgrace endured forever.’”Harkness 545
As a result, Matthew struggles to find a balance between his Elizabethan persona, and his more controlled modern self. The tension nearly rips him apart and it is up to Diana to keep him together. In this sense, Matthew fears that he is the greatest threat to Diana and their goals while hiding in the 1500s.
“‘A man like Matthew never frees himself of the shadows completely. But perhaps it is necessary to embrace the darkness in order to love him.’”Harkness 196
“‘I’m no longer that man who turned a blind eye to all this suffering — and I don’t want to become him again.’”Harkness 214
“There was always a hint of potential violence about Matthew, even in my own time, but in Elizabeth’s London it was much closer to the surface.”Harkness 305
Of course, Matthew and Diana have as much support and love in the 1500s as they do in the 2010s. Matthew’s reunion with Philippe (who died in WWII), awakens a renewed sense of filial love and fealty between he, Philippe, and Diana. If A Discovery of Witches is about mothers, Shadow of Night is about fathers. Philippe accepts Diana as his own daughter, offering her a level of protection that even Matthew doesn’t have.
“‘I’ll find a way to be with you in the darkness, I promise. And when you think the whole world has abandoned you, I’ll be there, holding your hand.’”Harkness 197
Because her own father, Stephen Proctor, was a time walker, Diana can reunite with her father, who died when she was still a young girl. In the same way, the spirit of her mother helps her in the first book, encountering Stephen brings Diana a sense of control and closure.
“‘You don’t like the unknown, Diana, but sometimes you’ve got to embrace it. You were terrified when I put you on a tricycle the first time. And you threw your blocks at the wall when you couldn’t get them all to fit back in your box. We made it through those crises. I’m sure we can handle this as well.’”Harkness 528
Matthew’s nephew, Gallowglass, serves as loyal protection for Diana and her adopted son, Jack — a street urchin she takes in.
“All that children need is love, a grown up to take responsibility for them, and a safe place to land.” Harkness 215Harkness 215
Gallowglass follows her wherever she needs to go in order to find Ashmole 782. He even vows to watch over her as she grows up in Massachusetts. I’ll be honest: Matthew de Clermont is a dreamy hero, certainly. But I’m personally crushing on Gallowglass!
Matthew’s old friends from the era, the School of Night — including Marlowe, George Chapman, Thomas Harriot, and the famous Sir Walter Raleigh. Yes, Matthew was apparently that Matthew . . . Matthew Roydon, because the School of Night was a real thing! Seriously! Check it out. They were a bunch of scientific, atheist thinkers. But, in the novel, they end up helping Matthew and Diana in their escapades.
“The three men looked like an unkindness of ravens with their dark clothes and attentive expressions. It reminded me of what Shakespeare would soon say about this extraordinary group. . . . . “Black is the badge of hell / The hue of dungeons, and the school of night. . . . ‘The hue of friendship would be more accurate.’”Harkness 30
Another historical figure turned character in this book is the Countess of Pembroke, Mary Sidney. She was one of the first English female poets! In the novel, she is also quite the scientist and helps Diana explore the secrets of alchemy.
“‘You and I have an easier time with our husbands than other women do, Diana. We have our books and the leisure to indulge our passions, thank God. Most do not.”Harkness 271
Another main reason Diana and Matthew travel to Elizabethan London is to find a proper teacher for Diana’s extraordinary powers in witchcraft. Although she’s aware she has an inordinate amount of power, she has no idea how to wield or control it. After some failed attempts, the ancestor of Sophie Norman from A Discovery of Witches, Susanna Norman — a witch — introduces Diana to Goody Alsop.
“After working for years to become an expert, I was a student again. Only this time my objective wasn’t to understand the past but to live it.”Harkness 32
Goody Alsop is the oldest witch in London; like Diana, she has immense power and is the perfect individual to help Diana learn about her powers and use them.
“‘All spells came from somewhere, Diana: a moment of need, a longing, a challenge that could not be met any other way. And they came from someone, too.’”Harkness 296
As much as I enjoyed A Discovery of Witches, I really enjoyed this second installment! History, time travel, magic, intrigue, tragedy, comedy, and romance all weave together for this enjoyable read about Diana and Matthew.
The show on Shudder is pretty good, too!
If you’d like to read the book, consider buying it from your local indie bookstore or Bookshop.org! You’ll support these independent bookstores, which is a wonderful thing to do for the economy! Read more here.