Shadow of Night, Book 2 of the All Souls Trilogy

shadow of night all souls deborah harknessI read Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy weeks ago after snagging a copy of it at BookExpo America. We read her first novel, A Discovery of Witches, in BlogHer Book Club last spring and I was anxious to read her second book. I read Shadow of Night the weekend I got home from BookExpo and I've been attempting to figure out what to say about it ever since. It's hard because Shadow of Night is not the book I thought it would be.

The thing I keep coming back to when I think about A Shadow of Night, and what I kept thinking about as I was reading it, was something that Hamish said in Chapter 40, near the end of A Discovery of Witches. (I'm pulling this quote from my e-book version which doesn't have pages numbers -- one of the downfalls of e-books I'm afraid.)
"Be careful." Hamish rested his hand on my forearm, forcing me to look at him. "Matthew won't be the same man where you're going."

"Yes he will." I frowned. "My Matthew is going with me. He'll be exactly the same."

"No," Hamish said grimly. "He won't."

Hamish warned Diana that Matthew would be different. He warned us that Matthew would be different. He did it again in Chapter 41 when he cautions Diana that there will be no way to call for help if she needs it when they go back in time. Hamish was right. Matthew wasn't the same in Shadow of Night and when one of the main characters isn't the same it changes the whole dynamic Oddly, in many ways I found him less protective of Diana. In A Discovery of Witches someones sends Diana a threatening picture and he freaks out and kills them. Diana gets threatened all the time in Shadow of Night and Matthew's reaction is basically, "I'm upset with you about other things so I'm going to ignore you. I'll just be over here in the corner sulking." (Though I suppose if he were to kill everyone it would seriously mess with history. So there's that.) It's made all the more odd by the fact that Diana is even more dependent on Matthew in Shadow of Night than she was in A Discovery of Witches. Diane does, at moments, find a bit of backbone in Shadow of Night and I'm hopeful that we'll see a stronger, more confident Diana in the final book.

Shadow of Night didn't pull me in the same was A Discovery of Witches did. Despite being the same length, it felt longer. It was a slower read, which in a way is kind of odd because a heck of a lot happens in Shadow of Night. They are in rural England! Then France! Then England again! Then Austria! Then back at London! It's possible I got the order wrong there but they move around a heck of a lot. It was easy to get bogged down in the locations as each had their own element of conflict and and seemingly endless parade of new characters.

Yet many of those new characters were the strongest parts of Shadow of Night. Kit Marlowe was a fabulous daemon, even if I did wonder why Matthew didn't just snap him like a twig already. (Ok, fine. That whole messing with history thing.) I loved meeting Matthew's father. Emperor Rudolph of Austria was so much fun to loathe. Elizabeth I was downright frightening. The coven of witches that Diana meets were exactly what I wanted them to be. But my favourite of the new characters was Gallowglass, who is currently in competition with Ysabeau as my favourite character in the series. There was something about the way he calls Diana "Auntie" that pulled at my heartstrings and there's a moment near the end where he's talking about having missed Diana through the centuries that made me all melty.

The many new characters were needed because we don't get to see the characters from the first book. Much. Harkness allows us to catch glimpses of them every now and then. While reading I enjoyed the seeing them, but I also wondered if it didn't contribute to the weakness of Shadow of Night as it only reminded me how I much I missed them. Those glimpses sometimes only seemed to serve to remind us how much we, along with Matthew and Diana, were missing by being in the past but I also believe that was the whole point of those moments. Harkness drops hints of major events -- and major consequences -- that show the reader Matthew and Diana will be returning to find things are very different in the present than when they left, but they are just that -- glimpses. There's one thing in particular that leaves the reader wondering if they missed something but no, we just haven't found out the whole story yet. It was bit like she dropped a bomb and didn't tell us who fired it or why. Many of the reviews I've read have found this frustrating and I understand that frustration, even if I do think I understand why Harkness did it that way.

When it comes down to it, Shadow of Night is the second book in a trilogy. I don't know if I've ever finished the second book in a trilogy and felt perfectly happy with it so I tend to be rather forgiving of middle books. You never find out as much as you want in them. At the same time, I felt like we found out more information about other things than I expected. I certainly didn't expect to find out quite so much about Ashmole 782.  I think that the bomb dropping near the end of this book really overshadowed the rest of the events in Shadow of Night and that's unfortunate.

I'm not really upset that it wasn't what I hoped it would be, but I'm hoping that the third book will focus much less on Matthew and Diana's relationship angst and more on the things I liked in A Discovery of Witches. I want to see more of the characters we love (both new and old), more of the conflict about the different groups working together for a better future of all of them. More Ysabeau. More Gallowglass.

I'm forgiving Shadow of Night for its flaws and I'm pinning my hopes on the final book. I'll be a forgiving reader of that book too... unless Harkness kills Gallowglass in it. That just might be unforgivable.