Monday, 28 July 2014

Spotlight: All Souls Trilogy - Deborah Harkness*

A Discovery of Witches* - 
In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and the descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript deep in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont.  
Shadow of Night* -
Shortly after Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont timewalk to London, 1590, they discover that the past may not provide a safe haven after all. Reclaiming his former identity as poet and spy Matthew Roydon, the vampire falls back in step with a group of radicals known as the School of Night who share dangerous ideas about God, science, and man. Many of his friends are unruly daemonsn - the creative minds of the age who walk the fine line between genius and madness - including playwright Christopher Marlowe and mathematician Thomas Harriot. Matthew, himself, is expected to continue to spy for Queen Elizabeth, which puts him in close contact with London's cutthroat underworld. 
Together, Matthew and Diana scour the bookstalls and alchemical laboratories of London where they follow the elusive trail of Ashmole 782 - and search for the witch who will teach Diana to control her powers. 
The Book of Life -
After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

The last in Harkness' best selling All Souls trilogy, The Book of Life, was released last week and having devoured them all I thought I should share my love for the series with you.

This time last year I don't think I'd read a fantasy novel and now it seems that I can't get enough of them. If, like me, you're a bit of a fantasy novice then Harkness' series is a really good place to start and I really wouldn't start this series if you've anything to do.

A Discovery of Witches*:

I went into the first novel not really knowing what to expect but by about 100 pages in I knew that I wasn't going to be able to put it down. Diana, an Oxford scholar and orphaned witch, is busy researching in the Bodleian Library when she stumbles across an enchanted manuscript, drawing the attention of the very community that she turned her back on after the death of her parents. Matthew, a biochemist vampire decides to investigate Diana further.

Whilst there is a romantic thread to Harkness' stories it's not the centre of the plot but instead does an admirable job of holding it together. Diana and Matthew are perhaps a clichéd couple but I enjoyed their relationship nonetheless. Matthew is the typical vampire character, dominant, authoritative and protective. Diana, who's really just coming into her own in the first book, handles her situation admirably and her vivacity is very infectious and I couldn't wait to see her develop throughout the trilogy.

The book is full of history, science and plenty of the supernatural, so there's sure to be a thread that appeals to every reader. Harkness manages to balance, adventure, history, romance and character development well and makes the book fly by. Whilst clearly an introduction to an inevitable trilogy the book is really enjoyable and enough of a well-rounded read to keep you entertained and satisfied. 

My only gripe would be that the book is fairly hefty, standing at about 600 pages, and could, in my opinion, get by losing a hundred pages or so. The book only spans the events of about a month and goes in to quite a lot of excessive detail, but, when you're caught up in the action you don't really notice all that much.

If A Discovery of Witches strikes your fancy then you're probably going to be unable to put it down.

Shadow of Night*:

Shadow of Night picks up right were A Discovery of Witches left off, and since I don't want to ruin the whole plot for anyone who hasn't read the trilogy yet I'll steer clear of any major plot points.

Beginning with Matthew and Diana's arrival in 16th century England the action gets going from the off. For the history lover we're introduced to many famous historical figures which is sure to give the reader a bit of a chuckle. Watching the characters attempt to go unnoticed in the past leads to some amusing moments and the book feels much more light-hearted at points than A Discovery of Witches, although that could be just my soft spot for anything history related. Matthew and Diana have undertaken their journey to find Diana someone who can teach her how to harness her power as a witch and it's fun to read about her adventures in learning to control her abilities. As you'd expect, several points from the first book are cleared up for the reader, much to my delight, but in the process even more mysteries are revealed.

Matthew becomes a much more complex character when he goes back in time and he and Diana grow forever closer throughout Shadow of Night, their relationship going from strength to strength. In Shadow of Night they finally have to face some obstacles in their relationship and it's nice to see them take them on together.

Again, the superlative detail did slow down the action somewhat in Shadow of the Night but as I was totally addicted by this point I'll admit I wasn't all that bothered. Also, in some cases the detail was necessary in order to bring about the richness of the period that Matthew and Diana find themselves in. We are introduced to a whole host of new characters in this instalment, so much so that a handy who's who is included in the book, and I'll admit it did get confusing at some points.

An obvious must read if you've read A Discovery of Witches the second in the series doesn't disappoint and sets up the third book well.

The Book of Life:

Having been lucky enough to receive the first two books in the series for free in return for an honest review, I had no hesitation in running out and buying the last in the series when it came out just two weeks ago. I'll admit I raced through the book and completely neglected any work that I had to do over several days.

The Book of Life is the perfect ending to what's been enjoyable adventure of the past two books. It's difficult to review it properly, and explain why I enjoyed it so much without spoiling it completely - but I'll do my best.

Matthew and Diana's relationship is under more strain than ever when it comes round to the final instalment of their adventure, and it's been nice to follow their journey throughout the novels, I do like following a couple through their ups and downs (that sounds a bit weird) and hoping for their HEA. By the end of the book each character has truly come into their own and it is really hard to part with them at the last.

Harkness really sees to have found her stride by this final instalment and she really begins to have fun with her premise. Things come to an epic conclusion in The Book of Life and there are some really heart-wrenching scenes to be read, and possibly re-read. There's no shortage of adventure and thrills in The Book of Life and, if anything, it's even more addictive than the first two books of the series as Harkness races through the final chapter. Characters that we only get to see briefly in the previous novels come to full fruition in this final instalment and Harkness doesn't hold back on her revelations. A few fall a bit short for me, especially after their lengthy build up but it's satisfying to read the conclusions all the same.


All in all the All Souls Trilogy is an action packed mix of adventure, romance, history and the supernatural. Fans of adventures with a bit of a twist are sure to enjoy the series which is helped along by no shortage of romance from our leads Matthew and Diana. For their part, Matthew and Diana are complex and engaging characters. Admittedly, if you're not into the archetypal vampire type then Matthew really won't be for you; Diana is an admirable heroine who fights her own corner well and goes on the greatest voyage of discovery throughout the books, it's great to see her really progress and develop as a character.

Lengthy, I wouldn't suggest starting the series if you're not into a long-haul commitment, but if you give them a go I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

*ARCs received in advance in return for an honest review

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