“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.”
Thoughts: As the second novel in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls’ Trilogy, Shadow of Night fills a necessary role in Diana and Matthew’s story. The threat of the Congregation and Peter Knox fades somewhat as the need to find Ashmole 782 and help Diana learn more about her powers takes center stage. Throughout it all, Matthew and Diana must navigate the tumultuous waters of a new relationship. Interspersed throughout their search through the past are intriguing flashes to the present, as readers get glimpses of what the other familiar characters are doing in their absence and lay hints about the impact on the future Matthew’s and Diana’s timewalking will ultimately have. It might not have life-or-death scenes of action and drama but Shadow of Night keeps the story moving towards its conclusion, answering certain questions and raising others, all the while allowing readers the opportunity to better understand the main figures in the drama and building ever-mounting tension for their return home.
It is important to note that Shadow of Night starts out right where A Discovery of Witches ends. There is no summary descriptions of past experiences, no narrative that would refresh the memory of a reader. It is expected that readers will know and remember the first story clearly. Having just finished a re-read of the first novel prior to starting this one, the transition was seamless. Had there not been that re-read, the story would have been more difficult to follow as one would struggle to remember key story threads and events that occurred but might not have been considered important enough to recall. In other words, this is one series where reading the first novel right before starting this one is essential. Even the most mundane events become important in Ms. Harkness’ world, and being able to recall them is crucial to following a fairly complicated plot and an entirely new cast of characters.
While A Discovery of Witches was all about Diana’s world and fitting a vampire into it, Shadow of Night focuses on Matthew’s past world. This time, Diana is the one who has to find her way through this unfamiliar era. The historical references Matthew mentions throughout the first novel were some of what made him such an endearing character, and it is with complete relish that a reader will enjoy this glimpse into Matthew’s past. Seeing him navigate his way through Elizabeth I’s court as well as banter with such key figures as Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe is absolutely fascinating. Ms. Harkness has a way with words that brings the past to life, no matter how gruesome, unclean, or confusing it may seem to modern readers. The result is a story that will fascinate history lovers while satisfying the need for magicks within fantasy buffs.
Understanding more of Matthew’s past is just as important to the story as is setting the stage for their future. In addition, Matthew and Diana obtain some much-needed rest and a chance to solidify their relationship that would not have been possible had they stayed in their own time. Shadow of Night provides the entire series with much-needed character development, as Matthew grows out of his stereotypically vampiric broodiness and Diana develops from bumbling academic to a very powerful witch and strong partner against Matthew’s moodiness. The love remains but also evolves into something that is less otherworldly and more realistic. They too must overcome their past, their jealousies, guilt, insecurities, and worries about their future. They must learn more about each other as only couples can in order to decide whether they truly want to make it work. It is definitely not a plot-driven story but rather a character-driven one, and no matter how magical Diana is or mythological Matthew is, their love story is heartbreakingly real.
While her performance of the first novel was excellent, Jennifer Ikeda’s performance in Shadow of Night is award-worthy. The number of male characters to voice far outweigh the number of female characters, something that can be tricky for narrators of the opposite sex no matter how talented. Ms. Ikeda not only manages to distinguish between them all, her characterization of each is believable and distinct. There is no strain in her voice as she narrates gruff male voices, and she handles the Latin, English, French, German, Czech, Spanish, and other languages with dexterity. Even more amazing, each character maintains their own separate identity, complete with unique accent and tonality. Every character comes to life under her ministrations, making a fantastic story even more special.
While not as exciting as A Discovery of Witches, it is the proverbial calm before the storm. Its importance to the story is undeniable as it brings closure to unanswered questions and sets the stage for what should be a thrilling conclusion. The chance to get to better know and understand Matthew and Diana, as well as its detail-oriented romp through Europe in 1590 and 1591, focuses the reader’s attention with laser-sharp precision. While some readers may bemoan the relatively slow pace of the story, fans will again appreciate Ms. Harkness’ attention to detail as well as her careful construction of each element of the story. One knows that each secret revealed and every action made by the main characters will be vital for understanding the overarching mystery and the potential battle brewing. A worthy sequel to a breathtaking debut, Shadow of Night will leave a reader more than a little anxious to see how all of the threads will weave together. It promises to be one heck of an ending.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Penguin Audio for my review copy!