I loved Deborah Harkness' Discovery of Witches so much, so very, very much. When I was reading it, I couldn't stop thinking about it, had to talk about it to anyone who would listen - and a few who probably weren't listening. I was broken hearted when the book ended because I hated the idea of being away from these characters.
This summer I visited Oxford with the specific purpose of visiting the locations mentioned in the book.
I was anxiously awaiting the release of the sequel - Shadow of Night. I even re-read Discovery of Witches right before getting my copy of Shadow of Night.
Maybe my expectations were too high. I'm not sure how any book could live up to my love of Discovery of Witches.
I will admit to having a few concerns about the sequel, a few things happened toward the end of Discovery of Witches that worried me, as you can see from the review I wrote last October. I'm not a fan of time travel and I'm not a fan of stories that involve babies -- and it was those two things that bothered me the most about Shadow of Night.
In this book, Diana and Matthew travel back in time so that Diana can find a master witch to teach her how to use her powers. I assumed they would travel back to work with one of Diana's ancestors. But no, instead, Matthew decides they should go back to Elizabethan England. He had a well established life in England during this time period, a group of close friends, a home in London, and connections with some very important people.
Harkness, a historian as well as was a novelist, is an expert on this time period, so trust that the details are accurate. The setting is rich in details. But I have trouble with time travel stories, this is a problem I often have. Can't get my head around the idea. The way this one was set up didn't help at all. The Matthew in the past disappears with the arrival of Matthew of the future. What? Where did "past Matthew" go? And he's just going to show up again after "present Matthew" leaves the past? Oh, my head hurts just thinking about it.
Then there is the baby thing. In the first book, I felt as if Diana was a character to which I could relate on some levels. She's single, she's focused on her career, she's independent and intelligent and a little hesitant about falling in love. In many ways, she is exactly the person I wish I could be. (And I don't mean a witch in love with a vampire, though...) But in Shadow of Night, she suddenly becomes fixated on having babies and there she kind of lost me. The desire to reproduce is not something I understand at all, and for that reason, I tend to avoid traditional romances because too often they end with a marriage and/or pregnancy, signifying that life is now "perfect." But to me, that seems to signify that their life is over. So in this book, I felt this disconnect with Diana, and that made me sad. Why couldn't she and Matthew have had some time together, to get to know each other - I mean, what was the rush, he's immortal? They'd known each other, for what, maybe a month? I was okay with love at first sight, but this intense desire to start making babies immediately -- while you're still in the 1600s? I don't know, maybe wait until you're in a safer, more hygienic environment, where your husband -- who happens to be a doctor in the 21st century -- has access to modern technology. Whatever. This probably bothered me more than it should have. I'm sure that this was the sort of thing the more mainstream, target-audience loved. Again, that made me sad, realizing this is becoming a story for the more traditional female reader, not for a wanna-be academic weirdo like me.
Another minor complaint -- I grew a bit tired of all the extra family members. Brothers, sisters, nephews, parents. Enough already! I wanted to read about Diana and Matthew. Again, this is based on my own life experience, in which I have no strong family ties of any sort, making it difficult to relate to stories of people who do.
But in spite of the above complaints, I thought this was a well written story and I still enjoyed reading it. The book sucked me in immediately, I did nothing but read it for two days. The characters are people that I care about deeply. That sounds absurd because, well, they're fictional, but to me they're more real than most people I encounter in my so-called real life. I want only good things for Diana and Matthew. I don't think I've ever loved two characters more than I do these two. But I wasn't entirely happy with the way their behavior was affected by their surroundings. This didn't lessen my love for these two characters, but made me anxious for them to hurry up and return to their present day surroundings. Enough with playing house in the past, let's get back to living in present times.
Maybe my biggest problem is that I have become entirely too attached to these characters and this story. I'm unable to simply read about them, I feel too much toward them. I think the ability to elicit this much emotion is the sign of a great book. So even if I wasn't entirely happy about what was happening, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with the book. I hate for it to seem like I'm giving this book a bad review. I still think people should read the book.
When I finished the book, I found myself suffering from something of a "book hangover" -- I saw that phrase used on facebook, and it fits perfectly for this situation. The real world seemed so dull compared to the world created by Harkness. I'm looking forward to the third book, but I suspect I'll be re-reading the first two a few times before it's released.
In fact, I have the weekend before Halloween reserved for a re-reading of Discovery of Witches. If I have time, I suspect I will continue with a second reading of Shadow of Night.