*Warning: If you haven’t read A Discovery of Witches, you may not want to read further.
“Together we lifted our feet and stepped into the unknown.”
A Discovery of Witches left off with Matthew and Diana traveling to 16th-century Britain, hoping to discover more about Diana’s powers and the now-infamous Ashmole 782, a document that could explain the origins of witches, vampires, and daemons. However, studying the past and timewalking into it are two different things, and Diana quickly learns that every aspect of her – from her voice and accent to her height and features – makes her stand out. As a witch mated to a vampire, Diana and Matthew certainly don’t need any additional attention. Witches are being hunted, and Diana’s powers are not strong enough to protect her. Plus, the Matthew of 1590 has obligations other than educating Diana. He must juggle family, espionage, and his place in the mysterious School of Night, as well as the friends who are curious about his new wife. Neither has an easy task, and life in Elizabethan London as newlyweds, as creatures, and as timewalkers challenges Diana and Matthew in ways they never anticipated.
In the opening pages of A Discovery of Witches, Harkness introduces Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Thomas Harriot, all friends of Matthew’s and all members of the School of Night. Matthew…such a namedropper. Want to make an academic – a historian, no less – squeal with excitement? Put her in the same room as these historical figures. Diana is overwhelmed. She’s thrilled to discover these living, breathing legends, but she’s also tense. A. She’s a witch. B. She’s from several hundred years into the future. and C. People have been hunting her. No big thang. Oh, and there’s a D. Chris Marlowe hates her. He’s a daemon, and he’s in love with Matthew. Two strikes against Diana.
Then, just as Diana grows comfortable with this rag tag group at Matthew’s table, the couple is off to meet Philippe, Matthew’s father. This section is totally Beauty and the Beast. Beast: Don’t look at me. I’m hideous. Belle: Let me love you, dammit.
Matthew is home, not only in place but in time. His father is alive. His home looks and smells and feels right. For this man who has lived centuries, coming home is fraught with emotion. In A Discovery of Witches, the relationship just sort of happens. Tingle, tingle, you’re meant for me. Shadow of Night is the courtship. It’s the makeout session and the listening to your favorite love song on the radio, but it’s also the chance for Matthew to face who he is and to ask Diana to accept it. It’s Diana’s awakening to her powers, her heritage, and her desires. It’s the part that made my heart go pitter patter because it’s so realistic. Ok, maybe you and your significant other don’t have to talk about how many people you’ve killed and drained of blood, but relationships aren’t all simple.
That said, everything changes in London. People are losing heads and being tortured as witches. It’s some treacherous territory. Matthew is in a precarious position as spy, vampire, and secret society member. Diana must find a witch willing to help her without placing her trust in the wrong person. Both must be cautious of their modern way of speech and manner and steer clear of the vampire priest godfather dude who isn’t happy that Matthew is back or that Diana is his wife. And this is where the book became tedious for me.
Understandably, Matthew is concerned for Diana. His protectiveness has increased to the nth degree in this book because torture! Vampire godfather! Witches should burn! But the issues I had with A Discovery of Witches were amplified in this book because of those restrictions. Diana is no bored, boring high schooler waiting to be whisked away. Yet no balance is struck between the two in Shadow of Night. Matthew is overprotective. Diana gets upset. Diana apologizes. I wanted to stamp my foot because each time it almost seemed like Matthew would pet her on the head and have ALL THE SEX and voila! No more pesky independent woman.
Again, these are dangerous times, but I repeat my comparison from my previous review: the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Jamie and Clare deal with very similar circumstances, yet Clare’s spirited nature and fight to be heard and seen as Jamie’s equal are the strongest parts of those books. There are sexytimes, but in the beginning the sex was often more adversarial as Clare fought for an equal partner. In Shadow of Night, Diana plays the role of victim and damsel too many times for my liking.
But even though I wish Harkness had written Diana differently, I can’t help but enjoy these books. I gripe, yes, but I gripe because I’m picky. The history, even though a bit lengthy, is incredibly fun, and the idea of these two strong intellectuals falling in love (a romance for academia!) is irresistible to me.
Verdict: Fun and a definite read for fans of A Discovery of Witches. But if you enjoy this series, I highly recommend Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Just ask Andi.
And you can win an audio copy of Shadow of Night, courtesy of Penguin Audio. Just leave me a comment (by midnight CST Friday, July 13, 2012) telling me why you absolutely must read/listen to this book.
Don’t want to wait? Buy your copy now for your Nook.
UPDATE: Congrats, Heather Lindskold! You won the audiobook version of Shadow of Night.