Shadow of Night is book two in The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. The first book of the trilogy, A Discovery of Witches, burst on the scene last year and I very much enjoyed it. However, I had a hard time getting into Shadow of Night and reading its 577 pages often felt like a chore. At times I wondered why I was continuing to read. Now that I've finished it I know that I kept reading because there were some wonderful scenes that kept me going.
I also kept hoping for something to happen that would put some energy into the story and give it direction, but that "something" never came along. It is probably coming in book three. And that's the problem with trilogies: the second book either makes it or breaks it for readers and I'm leaning toward Shadow of Night breaking it for me. But we'll see when book three is released (no date set yet). I'll probably be curious enough to read the first few pages of that one and take it home if it grabs me.
Sometimes a slow plot can be carried along by strong characters, but Shadow of Night didn't do anything to cement my appreciation for Diana and Matthew, the central characters. If anything, the interest I had in them from A Discovery of Witches has been eroded by hundreds of pages of wishy-washy behavior that didn't seem to match the words or intentions of the characters, or even what's at stake (their own lives and the survival of their species) or what's learned in their time travel (specifically about Diana's power as a witch).
Diana and Matthew time travel back to 1590/91 where they're determined to not alter history in any significant way, yet they spend seven months traipsing around London and then Prague, meeting interesting characters, both historical and fictional, who are left to languish on the page. As a whole, none of the characters really stick out as significant and while all of the characters seem to have great potential they never quite develop into well-rounded, memorable characters.
Although the book is well-written and there are some wonderful scenes, cool time-travel concepts, and neat historical tidbits, overall the novel seems too safe and amorphous. However, several of my friends who loved A Discovery of Witches have read Shadow of Night and all of them liked this book more than I did, so my advice (as always!) is that you check it out for yourself.
p.s. Harkness is a professor of history, focusing on the history of magic and science in Europe from 1500-1700, so if you're into reliable fictional representations of Elizabethan England you won't want to miss this one. Read about her background here.
Shadow of Night
Viking, July 10, 2012
Source: review copy
Goodreads rating: 2 stars (meaning it was ok)