A couple of weeks ago I started and finished the first book in Deborah Harkness' All Souls trilogy of modern-ish witchery and other supernatural shenanigans, A Discovery of Witches. At the time I wrote a discussion post, I wasn't sure if I wanted to finish the series because I had some ambivalence about certain things in the first book that likely wouldn't change in the second and third. But I did end up finishing the series (weirdly, my post went up the day before The Book of Life was released, which was totally not planned) because Deborah Harkness made me. It was just too intriguing, and the second book ended with something that I absolutely couldn't leave unresolved.
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Shadow of Night
So, Shadow of Night. Man, I have mixed feelings about this book. As much as the idea of time-traveling in order to learn from old-school witches sounds amazingly cool to me, it was such slow going for me at first. I'll do Pros and Cons, like I did in my original post:
- Phillipe de Clairmont. I thought this would be a pointless detour and that I would hate Phillipe, but I was so, so wrong. I need to know more about him! He's some kind of ancient Greek vampire?! He's basically pagan?! He's had his hand in most of the political machinations of Europe, and possibly the world?! Plus he was married to Ysabeau, who is also completely awesome and more interesting than Matthew? Yes please! It wasn't easy to like him, at first, as it seemed like he was intent on acting like a total asshat to both Diana and Matthew right from the start. And of course Matthew was all mopey because of the future meeting the past, blah blah blah. That changed when Phillipe put Diana in charge of the de Clairmont household, as was her due as her position as the lady-in-residence. Matthew, of course, was all miffed about it because he thought that Phillipe was treating Diana as a glorified housekeeper. He felt it was beneath her station as his mate, conveniently forgetting the fact that he himself had treated her like crap from as soon as they set foot in 1591 or whenever it was (more on that in the Cons). But Diana takes full advantage of her new responsibility and status and uses it to learn all she can. Running the household gives her something to do, since seeking out a witch to teach her needed to go on the back-burner at that moment. And her dedication to it (and I guess to Matthew) shows Phillipe that she can handle herself and be a valuable member of the de Clairmont family.
- Phillipe making Diana his blood-sworn daughter and arranging her marriage(s) (pagan and Christian) to Matthew was just about the only thing I liked about Diana and Matthew being together in this book. Phillipe made Matthew get over himself and settled his fee-fees somewhat, which made Matthew a lot more tolerable to me. I liked the way Phillipe honored his and Diana's pagan beliefs by having the private ceremony in the outdoor glade/temple of the goddess, and I loved his enthusiasm for the humongous winter solstice/wedding party he threw for them. Phillipe actually made Diana a person of status in that time period, giving her family, a position and property, which is more than Matthew ever did for her. I love Phillipe, in short. I wish I could have read him and Ysabeau interacting with each other.
- Diana's teachers. Oh, it was so nice to see some good witches other than Sarah and Emily, and the reveal about weavers was really cool. I have some tolerance for main characters being the Chosen One or the Most Powerful or the Most Special only if the text supports it, and I think that when Diana finally came into her own, the text did just that. Goody Alsop is a badass. I want more of her. And I liked that Diana studied under a team of witches, after finally taking matters into her own hands because Matthew seemed to have forgotten the whole fucking reason they traveled almost 500 years back in time. All of those witches together really spoke to my ideal of what witches and witchcraft should mean - wise women doing their own thing, but also supporting each other and others. I like Diana's journey from uncontrolled potential and ignorance to knowledge and control.
- Corra. I don't care how much they keep calling her a wyvern or a firedrake, she's a fucking dragon and I love her. I want a dragon. I need a dragon. Although I was slightly disappointed that Diana's familiar didn't turn out to be a cat. Maybe cats are not Special Enough for Chosen Ones.
- Gallowglass. Gallowglass, Gallowglass, Gallowglass. Who's my big Scottish vampire? That's right, it's Gallowglass. I liked the way he was so kind to Jack and Annie, the orphan thief and basically-abandoned witch child that Diana takes in to her household in London. And a dog, of course. I think I'll have more to say about Gallowglass when I talk about The Book of Life, because it's hard to separate my thoughts about him between these books.
- All of the yeses to Rabbi Loew and the Jewish weaver. I did appreciate how researched Shadow of Night was, even if I was somewhat annoyed that Matthew apparently knew every historical figure from that time period, and every other time period.
- Matthew. I had a really hard time accepting that I was supposed to think of him as dreamy and troubled but also good but also sad but also uncontrollably angry. Also, even thought Hamish warned Diana before she and Matthew went time-walking, I was not prepared for Matthew's treatment of Diana from the moment they set foot in the past and he was surrounded by his good old boys club. Diana was way too nice and forgiving about that treatment, brushing her aside and seeming not to care about the reason they were there. Seriously, his behavior was absolutely appalling until Phillipe stuck a spear through his leg or whatever. He was massively improved after his and Diana's church wedding (how many "weddings" is that now? Three? Four?), but then there were other issues. Not to mention the fact that the one single time he actually tried to "help" Diana get a witch teacher, it led to Diana being questioned by an actual priest with Malleus Maleficarum in hand. I thought you were supposed to be smart, Professor Clairmont who actually lived through the fucking Middle Ages.
- Does everyone have to fall in love with Diana? Isn't being a super-powered weaver witch enough? What's with King Rudolf becoming all lovey-dovey admirer, unless the point was to give Matthew even more issues? Don't get me wrong - I really like the way that Diana ends up winning people over to her side just by being herself. She's a good, courageous person. She's the kind of person people want to help succeed, and even protect. Even die for. Does she really need to be the object of everyone's obsession as well? More on this for The Book of Life section.
- Related, why did we have to find out that Matthew boinked Queen Elizabeth? Why was that necessary?
- I know it's not my place to criticize the choices people make about controlling their own fertility, but these are fictional characters so I will comment. How the fuck is getting pregnant in the 1500s a good idea?! What could they possibly have been thinking?! Diana and Matthew "fell in love" in a matter of days - minutes, if you believe their stupid romanticizing about it. Everything has a to be rushed now? Let's just dive right into the potential children pool while we're still trying to figure out this unhealthy, obsessive relationship, shall we? People should listen to Marthe when she tells them to drink special tea once a day. Listen to Marthe. Marthe knows what the fuck she's doing. And I'm sure it's supposed to be incredibly romantic and meaningful that Diana and Matthew waited to have the Super Special PIV sex until their wedding night, but gods above and below that is so Twilight. Yes, I said it, and I won't take it back. I like that Matthew told Diana that unless she was sure she wanted to try to get pregnant, they would wait, but I can't help but think that her decision was hugely influenced by her desire to please him.
- Kit Marlowe. Matthew killed Gillian, a witch, in the first book just for sending Diana a horrible picture of her parents' bodies. I know that it was also meant as a threat, but still - I would say that Kit's actions regarding Diana's safety are at least as bad as Gillian's, and yet the worst Matthew does (at first) is kick Kit out of the house. And this was after Kit spread the rumors about Diana that caused her to be accused of practicing witchcraft. That whole thing was just bizarre - I had a really hard time believing that Mr. Uber-Protective didn't take any stronger action until Diana was actually injured. It really came off as "Bros before hos."
Okay, that's enough for Shadow of Night. How about The Book of Life?
The Book of Life
This book redeemed much of what I didn't like about Shadow of Night, but not all. It did, however, provide additional goodness both old and new.
- Diana's magical tats and scars. Fucking awesome. I love how her weaver's strings were basically absorbed into her hands, with each of her fingers representing a different color. She always had them, ahem, "handy"! And she also gets a dragon on her back, and gnarly words that swirl all over the place?! That's so awesome! It's reminiscent of how Gallowglass' tattoos are described, and it's just one more reason for me to agree with him that Diana fell in love/obsession with the wrong vampire.
- Weirdly, Baldwin. Baldwin reminds me a little of Phillipe, in that he serves as the de Clairmont patriarch and is insufferably bossy. I like that Diana doesn't actually end up really liking him, even after she begins to respect him. The mutual respect they have for each other is what I really like about their relationship, and the fact that he was the one who officially recognized her as Phillipe's blood-sworn daughter. But jeez, he definitely was an asshole most of the time.
- Witches helping witches. There were so many examples of this, after the utter lack of witchy helpfulness in the first book. When the American coven gathered around Sarah in her time of grief, when she had to come home to the Bishop house without Emily. There was also that witch member of the congregation who was descended from a witch/vampire hybrid, and supported Diana as the de Clairmont representative.
- Diana as the de Clairmont representative! Although I'm disappointed that nothing more was done with the conventicle after the first book (and what's with basically ignoring Nathanial, Sophie and Margaret?), it was cool to get a glimpse of the inner workings of the congregation. I thought Diana did really well here, especially considering that she was worried about Matthew at the time. This, I thought, was the best example of one of them actually using their heads and not rushing off into ill-thought-out courses of actions. It was almost like Diana was focusing on a "greater good," rather than on the relationship that multiple people in the book (!) characterized as unhealthy.
- Chris! Chris working with vampires and being hilarious and much smarter than them! I liked that he and Matthew had some mutual antagonism going on between them and that Matthew pretty much had to just deal with it. It was literally character-building for him, since he seems to use the "I'm a vampire, this is just the way things are and I don't have to accommodate anyone even when I'm being an asshole" excuse way too much. And Chris and Miriam had a little thing going on? I was kind of hoping that it might have been Chris and Fernando, but oh well.
- The pregnancy, birth and subsequent twins were not as irritating as I thought they would be. It was handled much better than I expected and I'm grateful, because I generally have very little patience for pregnancy/children plots. Well done, Deborah Harkness.
- I liked that Diana was the one who saved Matthew at the end, and that she wasn't the one who needed saving. I also liked that there wasn't a quick fix to Matthew's trauma (both physical and psychological), and I was truly moved when he regained the use of his hands and said to his wife, "I wanted the first thing I touched to be you."
- Could we not have just decided who tortured Phillipe beyond healing? First it was witches. Then it wasn't directly witches, it was Nazis. And then it was barely even indirectly witches and indirectly Nazis, it was Benjamin. I'm disappointed that we didn't see Diana use higher magic to time-walk back to Phillipe's captivity and comfort him, like she promised. It just sort of happened that she must have done it at some point, and that was that. Honestly, I wanted more Phillipe, even if he were being horrifically tortured.
- Matthew's blood rage thing did not make a lot of sense to me, especially when Diana was all shocked that them being mated/married would make it worse, because his protective instincts would be increased. How is this a surprise? It was interesting to see how it was passed down from sire to vampire, but this brings me to my next con:
- Humans, daemons, vampires and witches are apparently all the same species? But how can that be when we learned in the first book - explicitly - that they all have different numbers of chromosomes? Different species can interbreed - they're called hybrids. I just don't buy the random hand-wavy explanation that they are all the same species, although I appreciate the empirical debunking of the miscegenation laws that the congregation had set up.
- Why did Gallowglass have to also be in love with Diana? And if he did have to, why couldn't he be the vampire Diana fell in love with? I like him so much better than Matthew, and I was so happy that he was also in this third book. And why tease us readers about the possibility of Gallowglass finding his true mate, and (we assume) happiness, and then not delivering? I swear to every god that might exist, if he falls in love with Rebecca I will projectile vomit so much it will put that scene from The Exorcist to shame. Again, that is SO Twilight.
Anyway, how did you guys like these?