Please note, Shadow of Night is the sequel to A Discovery of Witches and therefore this review will contain spoilers for the previous book.
Witch Diana and vampire Matthew are transported back in time to the 16th century where Queen Elizabeth I is on the throne and London is home to the group of intellectuals knows as the School of Night; Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, Thomas Harriot, Henry Percy, Sir Walter Raleigh and Matthew himself. Diana must quickly adapt to the role as a woman in Elizabethan times whilst surrounded by people she has only ever been able to dream about meeting. But this is not a history lesson, she must find someone to teach her how to harness her powers and locate the manuscript that has caused so much trouble in the present day.
This aspect of historical fiction had always fascinated me – women stuffing things into their dresses – and I was looking forward to discovering whether the items were as easy to remove in public as the novelists suggested. Sex was certainly not a easy to arrange in the sixteenth century as it was made out to be in some romances. There were too many clothes in the way, for a start.
If you recognise all the characters based on history lessons, or a healthy interest in historical fiction/film, you’ll be delighted to find out their hidden identities and how they are connected with Matthew. Kit Marlowe has turned up in so many urban fantasy novels, I’m starting to think he might have had supernatural powers!
Maybe Deborah has been a bit self-indulgent, including all the Elizabethan figures she would love to meet if she were able to travel back in time. As a historian, that’s sort of understandable, but it doesn’t do much for the flow of the story, with so many characters jostling for attention and very little time, in relation to the length of the book, given to the development of Diana and Matthew. Just when you think there’s no room for anyone else, they change location and introduce yet more influential people that Matthew happens to know.
There’s enough material in Shadow of Night for at least three novels. Whilst enjoyable in its parts, I found the overall plot structure to be meandering and every time I got interested in one part, it seemed to drop the thread and move somewhere else. There is Matthew’s history and his relationship with his father, witch trials, Diana’s education, the hunt for Ashmole 782, a sinister vampire in charge of London, alchemy, escaping the unwanted attentions of the Emperor of the Roman Empire, royal spies and Diana and Matthew’s marital problems. I found myself more immersed in the sections away from London, which confirms in my mind, that the saturation of history got in the way a little bit.
Whilst Diana and Matthew are running round changing history (it’s best not to even think about time-travel paradoxes), things start appearing in the present day. I loved the short interludes where you are returned to now and they find little traces of the couple. It also brought home how much I wanted to continue the stories of the characters from A Discovery of Witches, especially when there was some shocking news that didn’t get expanded on at all. I am hoping it will be picked up on in the next book! I am also desperate to learn more about Ashmole 782 and its sinister secrets.
I’m not sure if it’s just Diana’s acclimatisation to the socially acceptable behaviour of the 16th century but for someone who was previously such an independent women, she seems a little cowed by Matthew, needy and under his thumb. And, boy is he possessive, to the point it becomes a little annoying.
If you weren’t enamoured with A Discovery of Witches I don’t think Shadow of Night is going to be an improvement for you but will satisfy the fans of Deborah’s historical insights woven into a rich world of the fantastical.
Shadow of Night is published by Headline in the UK and is now available in hardback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
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