Sunday, July 01, 2012

Deborah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy

The All Souls Trilogy follows the story of Diana Bishop, a historian and reluctant witch, as she solves the mystery of Ashmole 782,1 falls in love with a mysterious vampire named Matthew Clairmont, and learns how powerful it can be to accept who you are. - author website
Shortly after reading A Discovery of Witches, the first book in Deborah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy, I read this post on the Perfume Posse blog. The post mentioned scenting the series' main characters as part of the promotion of Shadow of the Night, the trilogy's second title, which will be released on July 10. I'm not familiar with either of the perfumes selected,2 but I love the fact that the author and publisher were on board with the character-scenting project. Harkness is very detailed about how things and people smell/taste throughout A Discovery of Witches between the vampires and their heightened senses and the female protagonist learning about wine tasting so this character-scenting is an ideal fit for the series.

I have to admit that I was sure that I was done with the All Souls Trilogy after I finished A Discovery of Witches.3 I liked the premise of the novel4 and the world Harkness imagined, but was underwhelmed by the execution. I found A Discovery of Witches overlong at nearly 600 pages (it's not a standalone title after all). The narrative was often bogged down by too much detail: detail about insignificant things, which would have been less irritating if important aspects of the story like the mechanics of the supernatural elements were not left unclear or completely muddled. I wished Harkness had worked with a more ruthless editor.

I am happy that I decided to read Shadow of the Night after all because Shadow of the Night is a much better book than A Discovery of Witches. There's a time-travel element that makes Shadow of the Night feel a bit Outlander-ish. The way magic works and the relationships between the various metahuman5 groups become more clear. The novel does not stand alone because readers really do need quite a bit background information to understand it, but Shadow of the Night's plot is a nice novel-sized package. It is blessedly more focused and the occasional narrative jump to secondary characters not involved with the action of Shadow of the Night is surprisingly well done and adds to the story arch rather than distracting from it.

My biggest complaint about Shadow of the Night is that I would have preferred less in the way of important-historical-personages-as-significant-secondary-characters. A Discovery of Witches suffered from an excess of name-dropping,6 but Shadow of the Night takes it to a whole other level.

In short, I enjoyed Shadow of the Night, but I don't want to recommend it wholeheartedly since reading A Discovery of Witches is a prerequisite for understanding Shadow of the Night.
  1. A alchemical manuscript referred to by its catalog number.
  2. Etro Messe de Minuit for Matthew and Ginestet Botrytis for Diana.
  3. As much as I like to claim otherwise, I'm still not all that good at giving up on books that I'm not enjoying.
  4. Not the romance, mind you. I'm not terribly keen on the otherwise-perfectly-capable heroine falling for/needing to rely upon the overprotective-to-the-point-of-violence hero. I would have giving put up with the romance for the overarching storyline.
  5. I'm not sure metahuman is the right word, but it's the one I'm going with right now. The groups I'm referring to are witches, vampires, and daemons.
  6. Of course our 1500-year-old vampire had met practically every famous figure in recorded history.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Shadow of the Night from Penguin via NetGalley. I got A Discovery of Witches from the library.

1 comment:

  1. I'm hoping to get to the sequel this weekend. I do agree with you on the editing but I really loved the world and I could forgive the flaws because I read Discovery in a day...which is pretty amazing considering it had been sat on my shelf for a year because it looked too big and daunting. But as I got a review copy of Shadow of Night I forced myself to read it and loved it.