Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review: The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

I wanted to write a really great review of this book, because it deserves one.  And I wanted to be able to say something other than, "OMG, I loved it!" because you know, that isn't especially intelligent.  And yet.

OMG, I loved it!

I read Discovery of Witches, the first book in the All Souls Trilogy, a few years ago.  I knew nothing about the book.  My library had just gotten the ability to loan kindle books, so I was looking at what was available.  Witches, I like stories about witches, I'll give it a try.

Immediately, I was lost in this world.  A witch and a vampire in Oxford.  Smart and sexy.  Romantic and intelligent.  I loved this book so much.  It's all I could talk about.  Anyone who would listen got lured into, "So, I'm reading this amazing book..."

But I didn't love Shadow of Night, the second book in the series, all that much.  Not a huge fan of time travel, though I've since read much more of it since reading this book, and I was bothered by some of the actions of the characters.  These characters that I loved so much in the first book seemed out of their element in the second book.  Diana busy keeping house and obsessing about getting pregnant and Matthew being a jerk, letting his friends treat Diana horribly.  I didn't understand what was happening.  They didn't feel like the characters I'd loved so much in the first book.  And yet, I knew they were the same, and I still cared about them.  It's a credit to the author to have created characters that can evoke this much emotion - I wouldn't get so upset about characters who didn't matter to me.  I might have been overly harsh about the second book, and I may have read it too quickly.  Though on my attempts to re-read it in preparation for the new book, I kept setting the book aside, getting upset all over again with the characters.  I ended up getting a copy of the audio book, and felt I liked it more that way.

And regardless of whether I liked or loved Shadow of Night, I was so anxious for the third book.  This was going to be the highlight of my summer.  I cheered and danced when I found out I'd been approved for a review copy via NetGalley.  (And I am not the cheering and dancing sort, not at all.  But I was that excited.)

You know how sometimes you want something so bad, and then you get it and it doesn't live up to all your expectations?  Not a problem here!  I loved this book.  Loved it!

For two days, I cut off all ties with the world, crawled in bed and read.  I was immersed in this world with these characters I loved so much, and all was right in the Universe.

Pretty much everything that bothered me about the second book was all gone.  Matthew and Diana are back in present time, he's back in the lab, she's back in the library.  These are the people I fell in love with in the beginning.  They're back to being equals, being two people in love, trying to make their relationship work under very difficult circumstances.  Besides being married and starting a family, they've got all kinds of family issues, and then we've got the congregation that doesn't approve of a relationship between a witch and a vampire.  It's all a mess, but they figure it out, together.  That's what I enjoy so much about this book.  They way they work together.  Nothing is easy for them.  There's all kinds of tough choices and heartbreak, but wow, when they get through all of that, it's pretty great.

I especially enjoyed reading about Diana embracing her powers.  She's full-on witch, unstoppable once she starts to get the hang of all the magic she possesses.  The best part is that she does this, while still maintaining the person she was originally.  This was my biggest worry, that's she set aside her career to be a vampire wife/den mother to Matthew's brood of vampire children, as well as their own children.  I wanted to see her still be her own person.  Plus, I love that Matthew, despite his excessive need to protect her and shield her from all harm, understands that she needs to be her own person, that she can't be his kept doll.  He also fully realizes that he loves her because of her independence and her strength.  Have I mentioned how very much I love this couple?

There were a few moments when I was bothered, when Diana goes on about how with children she'll have to give up her job.  Seriously?  What year is this?  I know they're vampire/witch babies, but you have like 500 immediate family members hovering around you willing to help out all the time if you're not comfortable with the idea of daycare.  (I would, however, like to point out that I liked the way the pregnancy was handled in this book, it was not the main focus of the story, which was a concern of mine before reading this story.  I wouldn't have been able to handle that.)

All the family members start to annoy me after a while also.  Part of me really wishes Diana and Matthew could just go off and have their own life, without dealing with twenty other people every single day.  But that's a personal issues, I'm not a big family person.  There was also a moment in the book when a choice was made that upset me quite a bit, but - no spoilers - in the end, I understood why the decision had been made.

Oh, and one other thing that bothered me so very much, I wanted to pause my reading and dash off a letter to the author or publisher.  When Diana reveals that she's married to a vampire and she's pregnant, her friend says something along the lines of, "That never happened on Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Then a comment is made about Joss Whedon.  Don't throw in these references if you haven't done your research!  There was indeed a vampire pregnancy on Angel, the Buffy spin-off (a Joss Whedon show).  And it was shocking and "oh my god, how is this possible? Vampires can't make babies!" sort of like Diana's pregnancy, oh and sort of like in Twilight and again in the new CW show, The Originals.  A shocking vampire pregnancy that no one thought was possible - not that original.  That's okay, it doesn't have to be, but don't try to act like it is.  Sort of like in Shadow of Night, when Matthew and Diana are talking about vampire fiction - like it's so different from their story, and really, it isn't.  Diana's telling him about the books, and she's pretty much describing him.  Oh well, not a big deal, but I'm a big Buffy fan, so that irked me a bit.

Anyway, I loved the book.  Those are minor issues, but I felt I should mention them to prove I'm not a blindly loving fan girl.  Over the past few weeks, after finishing, I'm almost jealous of those who haven't read it yet.  I think I may just read it again, at the same time as everyone else so I can join in the discussions.  I'm sure that like before, I read it too quickly.  Or maybe I'll wait until October and re-read the entire trilogy again.  Or listen to it.  That might be a nice way to spend the daily commute.

I most certainly recommend this book, especially to anyone who has read the first two books in the series.  This was well worth the wait.  If you haven't read the series and you're a fan of stories about vampires and witches, then you should, especially now that all three books are available.

Part of me hopes there will be more books about these characters, but at the same time, I think I'd be bothered by a story in which Diana and Matthew weren't the central characters.  I think of the Outlander series and how much I dislike the addition of all the extra story lines that take away time from Jamie and Claire.  I don't want to see that happen with these characters.  But I have enough trust in Deborah Harkness that I'll read whatever novel she writes next.

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