Book Review: Shadow of Night

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Author: Deborah Harkness
ISBN: 978-0-7553-8474-7
RRP: $29.99

Shadow of Night, highly anticipated sequel to A Discovery of Witches, has been sitting on my pile mocking me. I desperately wanted to read this one but at 580 pages I have to admit that it’s size daunted me a little; which is the only reason it sat for so long.


We pick up where A Discovery of Witches left off with Diana and Matthew’s arrival in sixteenth century Oxfordshire and this is where much of the story takes place. Diana and Matthew are still following the trail of the Ashmole 782 manuscript, even though they are in a time before Ashmole ever had it so it is known by another name. Diana also needs to find a witch who can train her to use her magic, that may be more difficult than you would expect considering they arrive in the middle of the witch hunts.

The historical background of Deborah Harkness is plain for all to see in this volume filled with historical figures. After reading something like this I always want to rush off and research the characters to find out just how much of the information has been fictionalised. The beauty in the historical details, for me, is the wonder that Diana brings to the period. This is a time that she has studied, being a historian herself, so to be transported there to see the places and the events firsthand is more than anyone would ever dream.

shadow of night

Time travel as a concept has always seemed a little hard for me to get my head around so I need to suspend disbelief and try to just go with it rather than dissect it. Diana is less of a problem having not lived through the period they return to but Matthew lived in the period, and the place, they return to. So where does 16th century Matthew go? And once he returns how will that affect the changes that Matthew and Diana already made to history? The whole theory of time travel and the ripple effect make it more than I can comfortably try to unravel so I just need to not overthink it.

Shadow of Night details the day to day life of Diana and Matthew in the sixteenth century, and the care they need to take because Matthew is so different from the 16th century self he has displaced. The couple need to try not to change the past, and how is that possible when the nature of their business in the century precludes a low profile; and Matthew disagrees with many of his own actions. I must say that I really enjoyed following the strange appearances of artefacts in the present as the past changes, when I managed to stop trying to analyse it.

At times I felt that the search for the manuscript and the development of Diana’s magic took a bit of a backseat to everyday life but I was deeply entrenched in the story and enjoyed the glimpse into the past. The time they spend with Matthew’s friends, the School of Night, brings some of the great creative minds of the time into focus. Shakespeare gets some page time, back when he was still just Will, as does playwright Christopher Marlowe, Walter Raleigh and mathematician Thomas Harriot.

Matthew and Diana are a mixed species couple which is the cause of some of the troubles they are trying to escape in their return to the past. The 16th century doesn’t agree with the coupling either so following their relationship and watching them juggle their own strong personalities and appearances can be quite interesting.

I can not wait to see how Harkness brings the trilogy to its conclusion but I can imagine that too will be quite a hefty volume, and well worth the wait if this is any indication.

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