Customer Reviews: Shadow of Night
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on July 10, 2012
Shadow of Night picks up a second after A Discovery of Witches ends. We join Matthew and Diana in their time jump to the 1500s where their goals are to 1) find a witch to train Diana and 2) find the mysterious Ashmole 782. But instead of doing this and picking up where the story left off, the author gets lost in history instead and the story disappears.

Within a few pages the reader is instantly thrown into a crowded and overwhelming sea full of famous literary characters and influential historical figures. In the very first chapter you meet famed playwrights and poets and others who have little to no purpose in the story. As much as it pains me to admit it, this book started out surprisingly dry and dull. I actually had to force myself through it. I rushed through the first book in the trilogy since I loved it so much, but not this one. Sadly, 100 pages into Shadow of Night and the story had yet to move forward. Matthew and Diana hadn't even come close to accomplishing what they meant to do when they went back in time. All they had done at this point is focused on Matthew's affairs during his life in the 1500s. This is when I understood why the book is 600 pages.

Now, does that make this a bad book? No. Harkness is absolutely brilliant and her knowledge of history is highly impressive. There were a handful of interesting scenes and moments in the book, however, they had nothing to do with the main story. They were just written and plopped into a spot in the book with no point or purpose. They dragged the book down, dragged it very very far down. I stopped reading many times because I lost focus. Had those pages been removed, this book wouldn't be 600 pages, but half of that, and it would have been much better.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy history, but not like this. Shadow of Night felt like a history textbook at times and not a historical novel. I think the author, with her love for history and teaching (she's a history professor), blurred the lines a bit too much. There needs to be more than dates and historical facts, there has to be a story - a story that moves forward.

Luckily, once you get deeper into the book, there is a story and we finally begin Diana's witch training, as well as the search for Ashmole 782. There are quite a few rocky parts in the story, but there were fantastic moments as well. Those fantastic moments saved this book and eventually it got to the point where I couldn't put Shadow of Night down.

However, while I was eventually captivated by the fascinating world of Shadow of Night, I was still disappointed overall. I was expecting another novel as amazing as A Discovery of Witches. I hate being so harsh on Shadow of Night, especially since it had many great moments and because I am so incredibly awed and impressed by the author. But the sad truth is that this book needed some extra tweaking to make it truly great. There were far too many issues to ignore - unnecessary characters, sloppy storytelling, far too many random pages that served no purpose, the main male character doing a personality 180 and acting like a bipolar sack of crazy... etc.

I do have high hopes for the final book in the trilogy though, especially since a lot has been left unanswered so far. I can't wait to find out how it all ends.
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on July 10, 2012
Every so often, a book comes along. It's everything you imagine a great fiction to be. It evokes the tremendous joy of just being able to read, to immerse yourself in a book so fully, to jump into a journey where every sense in your body is heightened and your mind stimulated. Then the last page is turned, you sigh with sadness since you know you will not be able to find another book like this for a long, long time.

Shadow of Night is such a book.

I wrote these in my review of the first book of the trilogy:

"The author has in depth knowledge not only about history, but also science, architecture, Europe, culinary delights and wine... The book immediately reminded me of "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova, since both story took me to places in Europe that I've never been and historical periods that were so enlightening.....The story will be a delight for people who actually enjoy accurate scientific, historical, culinary and geographical information. The author has a wealth of knowledge and a unique style of writing and she's willing to share."

The review still rings true for the second installment, and more so. For readers who disliked the first installment of the series due to the slowness of the beginning, you'll be delighted to hear that this book started right at the part where the first book dropped off, and is a thrill ride all the way to the end. You can also find satisfactory answers to most, if not all the burning questions that you had after reading A Discovery of Witches. I know it's a gruesome wait for the second book in the series, but the wait is well worth it...this book surpassed everything I had imagined it to be.

The story begins right where the first book left off, Matthew and Diana landed in Elizabethan England, 1590, hoping to find the enchanted Ashmole 782, as well as someone to help the spellbound Diana to learn her abilities. You'll be surprised to encounter real historical characters that came alive under Harkness' pen. Harkness' take on Christopher Marlowe, Elizabeth I, Walter Raleigh and others were unique and creative, yet totally believable. I wrote in my review of ADoW how I fell in love with all the characters in the first book, yet I'm equally invested in all the new characters in Shadow of Night, both historical and fictional. It's heartbroken to realize that these characters live in another space and time, and the only way I could reconnect with them is through the re-reading of this book.

If you loved A Discovery of Witches because of Harkness' extensive and detailed descriptions of everything, you're in for another treat. Harkness bought Elizabethan England to life using her professional knowledge and her unique writing voice: fashion, writing, architecture, food, music, writing, cooking, art, jewelries, home decors, smell of spices, and even the sound of church bells.... Be prepared to be immersed into 1600 Europe, from England to France and Prague, whether if you're prepared or not. I recommend you to drop or finish every other book in your list to get ready for the most sensual ride in your life.

I also love how Harkness incorporated a short chapter of the present after each part of the book. It shows how Diana and Matthew's interference with the past affects the future. Everything that we do or not do has an impact in future, especially in our loved one and family's life. Hopefully, history is valued and lessons learned. These chapters showed us how important it is to seize the moment and live your life, because there's no going back. A few tender moments bought tears to my eyes. Compared to ADoW, the second book is much more emotional.

Romance. Matthew and Diana in the 1600s were not without their problems. Matthew in Elizabethan era was a much more complex and dark character. The society was also less friendly for females, especially a witch with a weird accent. However, fans looking forward to more romance between them will not be disappointed. There are lots and lots of tender moments and love. It made up for what was lacking in A Discovery of Witches.

If I write anymore here, this review will become a book! I do have a few recommendations before you jump in for the journey of your life: 1) Read A Discovery of Witches first. There's no way you could understand the plot and all the complexity of this book if you don't know the history of the characters. 2) Many new characters are introduced in this book. Use the appendix/Guide at the end of the book to familiar yourself with them. They are divided by location, quite clever. 3) If you are going to look for a simple, easy read for entertainment, this book is not for you; but if you love history, science, Europe, art, literature, geography, religion, philosophy, (food and wine for ADoW)...then, get this book (and the first).
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on July 25, 2012
I reread A Discovery of WItches to refresh my memory. Matthew and Diana are going back in time to find Ashmole 782 and find someone to teach Diana to better understand and control her power. Got it. Imagine my surprise when I started Shadow of Night and neither of those things happened until page 280, except in snippets that felt like tossaways to help the reader remember why the characters had traveled back to Elizabethan England in the first place. Oh, they weren't there to meet historical figures and notice every aspect of daily life and describe it in excruciating detail? Somebody should have told Deborah Harkness that. Like maybe her editor.
My biggest problem with this book, however, was that I didn't like the characters anymore. It turns out Matthew is not an intelligent, urbane scientist who is every woman's dream guy. Nope. He's actually an impulsive, indecisive screw-up with serious anger issues (who has somehow managed to be friends with many major historical figures of the time, be an indispensable adviser to the queen, AND a member of The Congregation). Actual quote from the book: "Matthew was taking charge, which meant that things were about to take their usual turn for the worse." Page 295. I rest my case. He also suffers from an inability to let go of events that happened over a thousand years ago. But one conversation with Diana and poof! Problem solved. Spare me.
Diana has become this meek, whiny airhead who is totally focused on fashion and minutia about running a household. And propping up her incapable husband, of course. Her major magical accomplishments in the first half of the book are making a quince shrivel and seeing colored lights in the corners. Every once in a while her "third eye" opens (and is it just me or do other people imagine this huge, Cyclopean eye popping out of the middle of her forehead when that happens? It's totally distracting.) and she sees something that is so obvious you have to wonder what the heck is wrong with her other two regular eyes. Then, she is suddenly in control of complex magic because she has colored strings. And I'm sorry, but I don't care what color string does what every time she uses magic. Find another way to describe what is happening.
The best character in the book is Matthew's father, Phillipe. Too bad he's only in one section and we already know he's not around in modern times. I have to hope that Harkness has something up her sleeve to pull this series out of the muck in the third book.
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on July 12, 2012
If you're expecting the same style and structure in Shadow of Night as you saw in A Discovery of Witches, you will be disappointed. A Discovery of Witches was placed entirely in the 21st-century over a period of weeks, and predominantly focused on the love-at-first-sight relationship (and negative implications thereof) of Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont. A Discovery of Witches set forth the issues to be addressed in the trilogy: the depth and breadth of Diana's magic, the connection between alchemical history and allegory to Matthew and Diana's relationship, the Congregation's covenant precluding relations among creatures (particularly in relation to love and procreation), and the meaning behind the allusions foretelling Diana and Matthew's relationship.

What certain reviewers of Shadow of Night seem to have focused on, with deleterious effects on the ratings for the book, are issues which no self-respecting student of history would allow credence: the issue of inconsistency in time travel theory, and excessive detail with regard to context. First of all, time travel is a plot device utilized in science fiction, and no theory in physics actually posits the potential reality of backwards time travel. It follows, therefore, that the use of time travel belongs to the realm of high speculation. As it relates to Shadow of Night, time travel is utilized only twice by the protagonists, and should have little impact on the overall flow of the book. Second, without the copious amount of detail--names, places, quotidian experiences--described in the book, the idea of traveling back to 1590 is subverted. So if, as some reviewers would prefer, anonymous names, brief descriptions, and fewer characters were substituted for the content that comprises Shadow of Night, the events that did pass might as well have occurred in the 21st-century.

So, on to Shadow of Night.
The book is divided into parts, and largely follows this pattern: the bulk of each part follows Matthew and Diana's travails in 1590 Elizabethan England, France, and Prague, and near the end of each part there is a brief scene highlighting some aspect of the present, either relating to the Conventicle or the Congregation and some of their member's responses and actions relating to Matthew and Diana's time travel, or as in the case of the Congregation, relating to how they can undermine Matthew and Diana's objectives. Admittedly, the first time a present-day scene arises, it is a bit off-putting, especially as there is no date identifying the scene as occurring in the 21st-century. As the book devotes 98% of the scenes to Diana and Matthew, the other 2% of the book perhaps hints to the questions that will be answered in the third book of the trilogy, e.g. what happened to Emily Mather; what became of Peter Knox's plans to attack Sept-Tours as well as to find and recruit Matthew's errant son Benjamin on the side of the Congregation; what role have and will Phoebe or Rima play in forwarding the causes of the Congregation or the Conventicle; and who else are members of the de Clermont family and where have they been all this time?

A Shadow of Night answers some of the questions posed in A Discovery of Witches: what Diana's power really is, what the goddess Diana took in exchange for allowing Diana Bishop to save Matthew's life, whether Matthew and Diana can conceive a child, what was contained in the three missing pages of Ashmole 782 and why the book came to be broken, and (to a certain extent) how the three objects they used to travel from the 21st-century to 1590 came to be passed down through the years. Unbeknownst to Matthew and Diana, but suggested to the reader, is who has an idea of where the two other missing pages are located.

Overall, the book was very enjoyable, and I look forward to seeing some of the new characters further developed in the third book. As Phillipe de Clermont and Stephen Proctor were featured in Shadow of Night, it might not be a stretch that in the third book we'll understand more about Rebecca Bishop and Ysabeau. Also, the third book might finally explain more clearly what is meant by "It begins with absence and desire; it begins with blood and fear; it begins with a discovery of witches," for it is mentioned throughout Shadow of Night as a means to fathom the unfolding of events, but the exact meaning may not be realized until the entirety of Ashmole 782 is pieced together in the 21st-century.

Anyway, if you're looking for a book with plot and a great deal of fluff, this book is not for you. If you were excited by A Discovery of Witches, are a student of history of science or merely a person who enjoys learning, and are realistic about what building a stable and enduring relationship entails, Shadow of Night is a fantastic book to add to your collection. It is quasi-historical fiction, with a bit of romance, at its best.
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VINE VOICEon July 31, 2012
It muddles the brain.... Assuming you've read Discovery of Witches and the blurbs about this book - Diana and Matthew time travel to the 1500's and the entire book takes place there. It's stuffed full of age old London, historical times and characters, tons of characters.... and clothing - a sh*tpile of clothing changes and descriptions.

Such a shame. Between tons of inconsequential characters that were given just the slightest importance and the incessant details of the Period I was completely disappointed. With just hints of witches and magic, DH waited until CHAPTER 20, just shy of half way through, to bring in The Witches, the Magic and to move on with Diana and Matthew's tale. What a bore the first half was!

The second half moved along a little faster but all in all this book was not worth my time. What aggravated me most? I don't mind having lots of characters and interaction but none had anything to do with the actual story and Diana's dilema. In addition, one character was called by his first name in one instance, then his last name, then he was "Lord of...." all within 3 or 4 chapters. And almost every character was referred to by multiple names - talk about muddling the brain!! I lost track of the characters quicker than spending money with Amazon's "Buy It Now with 1 click!

In the end, Deborah Harkness lost track of 'Discovery of Witches.' I believe she was so wrapped up in convincing us of Elizabethan England that she forgot Diana and Matthew were the stars of the show. This novel clocked in at 592 pages. The important events could have wrapped up in 200...and that's being generous.

Spoiler? but I have to ... at one point Diana was pregnant. She's in the middle of a dream and wakes to find she lost the baby. That's it....the author tells us that Matthew's being distant, blah, blah, blah but that's it. Their lives go on and they make it through but there was no heart woven in those pages. I should have been elated for Diana and Matthew at the start...then I should have cried for the loss, for her and for Matthew. I should have been angry because of Matthew's distance towards Diana afterward. emotions and not so much as a chapter to make me want to love them and feel their emotions. Something that would have put life into Diana and Matthew for us, the readers, was skimmed over like the classifieds.

Acchkkk, middle book. I'll have to read the 3rd just to close out but I don't know that I'll ever delve into a DH book/series again. Don't waste your money - borrow it, get it from the library because it's not a keeper in my opinion.
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on July 18, 2012
I agree with the disappointed readers so much that I re-edited my original comment that I posted on Lucy Loo's review.
Whilst I still enjoyed the book (well, the small bits that got on with the plot and the characters that we knew despite an overload of too many new ones - and I love historical detail) it was from an entirely different level from which I relished the first book DOW and its developing characters. I wanted more exploration of these existing characters, more depth into Diana and Matthew's relationship (since we were led along this path in the first book) and started to feel even more frustrated as we got overdosed on too many intricate historical observations of too much of the mundane when major gaps in the plot or character development went unattended. I finished this book craving the emotions I felt on many levels in DOW and like the fleeting (non built-up) event of Diana's and Matthew's eventual consummation, (Quick did I miss it?) was disappointed it did not deliver satisfaction to the reader as their previous intimate moments did in DOW. Too much detail in some parts followed the quick dispensing of all the good bits like the ones in DOW made me feel was done to reserve more print space for a more historical observational overload. Sort of like adding product placement commercials during a good movie. The balance just wasn't there. You just get started on all the narrative and details of the magic and mystery but then it is taken away. I loved it when Deborah Harkness finally meandered back to her tactile descriptions of the process of magic happening in action which were far too few and which we had to painfully wait far too long for before they were again snatched away with her historical Cook's tour.

Now having said that, I hope the third book will pick up the pace and dare I say, magic of the first one? Now us readers have well and truly been inundated us with Deborah's historical knowledge, maybe she will step it back a bit to continue with the good fantasy story she started to weave around it. I felt that I actually earned some (now post graduate ) extra credit points on all information that I had to process during this reading! Where do I hand in my essay on the daily life of an Elizabethan household?
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on August 2, 2012
After charging through the first book, A Discovery of Witches, I was so SO excited to see the release date for Shadow of Night. I had no need to read any reviews, the first of the trilogy was amazing.... captivating and addicting. I'm 70%+ through this book and I honestly feel like I just left a really awful bad first date. Thoroughly disappointed, mislead, and turned off. After loving the first book so much and referring it to NUMEROUS friends, especially with the second book in sight, I am embarrassed and majorly disappointed for said referrals. I read many reviews while reading Shadow of Night thinking maybe I just missed something and perhaps everyone ELSE thought it was as fantastic as the first. Low and behold.... that is so not the case. I think Amanda Jade's post summed it up quite exceptionally. There were far too many odd characters that had nothing to do with the story.... the "story" which started in book one, was barely even touched on. It was as though the wardrobe and historical characters were the main point of the story --- NOT the actual PLOT or the main characters that we met in Book One. How does one create this awesome world with rich characters and an addicting plot... just lose the story? I still admire Harkness because she is clearly talented.... but I am so beyond disappointed to tell my friends that are now thoroughly engrossed in Book One, that the second book basically reads as though it was written by an entirely different author. Very disappointing. Man, there was SO much potential of such a captivating story in Book One... I can't imagine picking a such a path that is Shadow of Night. I hope Harness re-reads her first book remember what sucked readers in in the first place and to re-engage readers & fans to the world and characters that we fell in love with.. in a "hail mary" to save the series.... otherwise, it's just one more book on the shelf.
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on July 31, 2012
I am not sure why this book has an average rating of four stars when so many reviewers seem to agree how disappointing it was. Discovery Of Witches set up a perfect cliffhanger for its sequel with a promising plot of historical time travel adventure, and the opportunity to learn more about Matthew's past, as well as Diana's ancestors and how she came to have so much power. Unfortunately, what we got is a book that almost completely overlooked character develpment and plot, and instead focused on extraneous historical and literary figures that really added no relative significance to the story at all. The first 75% of the book had all the excitement of a history textbook. I kept waiting for something, anything really, to happen! And when something remotely interesting would happen, the author would use ambiguos words and phrases with very few sentences to describe it. I would find myself to be 2 or 3 paragraphs ahead before I realized I just missed something of importance! It was very frustrating because (1) I had waited forever for something interesting to happen, and because (2) it made me realize I had to read all the boring parts too, or else risk not catching the few key plot scenes needed to finally move the story along! Diana's magic and finding the Ashmole transcript took a backseat to all the historical facts and figures. Even Diana's and Matthew's love seem to be on hold for most of the book. Where was the chemistry between them? SPOILER ALERT: The scene of them finally consumating their marriage (after yet ANOTHER wedding!) lacked so much chemistry that it felt like it was just thrown into the script so that the author could set up Diana's subsequent pregnancy, which we all knew was going to happen! I loved Diana and Matthew in DOW, but in SON, I really found myself not caring what happened to them or any of their many, many, and always present for every scene, friends!! However, I would have liked to learn more about Phillipe, Gallowglass, and the relationship that blossomed between Marcus and Phoebe. Chapter 20 was actually written with creativity, description, detail, believability, and CHEMISTRY between the characters! There are many other things I found disapointing about this book, but I won't keep griping about it because I did like the last 3/4 of the book very much. And even though I found the ending to be lacking any sort of real cliffhanger, I do want to read the 3rd installment of the trillogy and just hope that Ms Harkness and her editor will make it better than Shadow Of Night.
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on July 14, 2012
Given how much research and imagination Deborah Harkness must bring to the process of writing, I am sorry to give this book such a poor review. I was a huge fan of the first book and recommended to countless friends. And I counted the days until this one was published -- only to be hugely and sadly disappointed because it it is devoid of compelling story--or really any story at all. While there are instances of action, this books seems largely devoted to historical anecdotes, large swaths of pointless description, and even worse, simplistic dialogue. How often must we be told that Matthew is possessive and prone to anger, and that Diana is awkward and unskilled?

Following up a hit with another must be a lot of pressure -- and the expectations of readers probably weigh heavy on an author. I have to wonder where Harkness' editor was in this process? Unless you're a serious history buff, there is so little happening here. What a disappointment.
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on July 30, 2012
Like most everyone else, I checked off the days until this book came out. There was so much magic in the first book and this one was an utter disappointment. I have a laundry list of issues with this book.

1. I was in 65% on my Kindle before they set out on their main purpose of honing her witchcraft and finding Ashmole 782. The latter didn't actually occur until probably 80% down the line. I skimmed over major passages because they delved into way too much mundane detail that did nothing to advance the plot.
2. Diana's character was weak and useless. Her POV, particularly in regard to Matthew, was poorly developed. I wanted to feel like I was there to experience everything but instead I felt more like I was looking at a painting of the scenes rather than being in the scenes. The author seemed clearly more comfortable describing historical people, places and things versus telling a good tale and developing her characters.
3. The two main characters had no in depth conversation about their relationship problems. They would exchange a few words and done. The dialogue between them was way too simple and I really couldn't understand why these two loved each other. The worst part is that they finally come to an understanding only when Matthew drinks blood from her heart and all of a sudden they "get" one another and know each others' deepest secrets and their passion has blossomed tenfold. What about the reader? I would have liked some satisfying dialogue or description around the depth of what they felt for one another. It was a cop out.
4. There was not enough time spent on the magic. The magic seriously seemed like an afterthought and played second fiddle to the historical details. If I was to have a history lesson, a history lesson on magic would have been much more interesting than the mundane details of 16th century. It read like a history book and thus I read it with complete detachment. I only got through just to get through and wash my hands of it.
5. Too many characters which were throwaways and undeveloped. I got most of them confused and could care less about them. I would have preferred half the number of characters and then those developed to have some dimension. I felt no connection with the characters like I did with some of the characters in DOW. I really wanted to connect with Goody Aslop and there was so much potential but her time on the pages was sorely lacking.
6. When they finally, painstakingly do get Ashmole 782, it's immediately hidden away in Matthew's attic and pretty much forgotten. They just leave it there while Diana spends her days running errands and getting telescopes made. Really? Why aren't you and Matthew in the attic poring over the text or looking for ways to unlock the mysteries? Why not make copies of some of the content so you can take it back it you to study later? We (you and us the readers) journeyed back over 400 years to find it for crying out loud.
7. Why would Diana give her blood to Father Hubbard? That made no sense at all and I'm hoping its reason will be revealed in Book 3. Because there were so many other options available to her to secure care for Jack that she didn't even have to go to Father Hubbard, especially since Jack was not a creature. Matthew was a member of the congregation with friends in high places and their friends were all rich and influential and they had homes and money and servants for days. Why in the heck did you need Father Hubbard? It just seemed like a dumb move for a character who is supposed to be an academic scholar.
8. They made Diana's coming to the past from the future such a big deal and deterrent to the plot advancing because her strangeness would be an immediate giveaway. Seriously, the first 25-30% of the book was all about how she can't leave the house and they can't go to London and she can't talk to anyone because it was so obvious that she was out of place and there would be trouble. But when Stephen shows up from the future, he's roaming the busy streets of London in his out-of-place clothes and introducing himself to Father Hubbard and chatting it up with Shakespeare and this without the powerful, influential escorts that Diana had at her disposal. With Stephen, time travel was no big deal at all. So why then was so much time wasted, sitting stagnant, when really it wasn't a big deal after all? Oh I know why... so we can read pages and pages of Diana learning how to making to do lists in Elizabethan era English.
9. Oh and was it just me or did the phrasing of the authentic 16th century characters not really seem that different from Diana's? But it was made such a big deal of.

There is so much I found wrong in this book and the more I think about it the more irritated I get. I hope Book 3 goes back to the spirit of DOW. And I will read it because I have hope that the story can be redeemed.
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