Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Fantasy author mixes intoxicating cocktail
Discoveries are meant to be shared, and the All Souls Trilogy from American novelist Deborah Harkness is no exception.
Although the second volume in Harkness's wildly buzzed-about series just hit bookshelves earlier this summer, fans of A Discovery of Witches and now Shadow of Night nonetheless eagerly await the still-unannounced release of Book 3. With the first two instalments of this utterly thrilling trilogy, Harkness is right on point in creating an epic work of literary fantasy.
A professor of history at the University of Southern California, Harkness boldly imagines a world where past, present and future are greatly influenced by demons, witches and vampires. All Souls tells the enchanting story of these creatures -- their desires and fears, hopes and sorrows, successes and failures.
Harkness began with A Discovery of Witches in 2011. Book 1 of the trilogy, also Harkness's first novel, introduced readers to historian and reluctant witch Diana Bishop and her would-be husband Matthew Clairmont, a powerful, 1,500-year-old vampire, as they embark on their search for the mysterious, bewitched alchemical manuscript Ashmole 782.
In Shadow of Night, the star-crossed lovers' journey takes them through time and space to Elizabethan England. After a dizzying arrival just outside of London in 1590, what follows is a heart-pounding quest for answers as still more questions arise, tensions mount and tempers flare.
The pair travels to Lyon, Prague and throughout London as they seek the manuscript and, more important, a witch to tutor Diana in the arts of magic and witchcraft.
Yesterday is always being rewritten. Tomorrow is unpredictable. And today is worth fighting for. These are the ties that bind Harkness's tall tales into a delightfully dark and original narrative full of paradox, but not without whimsy.
Character development is surely one of Harkness's greatest strengths. In the world of All Souls, notorious Salem witch Bridget Bishop lives on in the 21st century as a ghost, Gerbert d'Aurillac, more widely known as Pope Sylvester II, is a power-hungry, age-old vampire, and Elizabethan playwright and alleged spy Christopher Marlowe is none other than a demon.
More than half of the supporting characters in Shadow of Night are based on historical figures.
Despite its deep roots in the past, the All Souls Trilogy contains subtle similarities to recent works of commercial fantasy, including Harry Potter, Twilight and True Blood. Melding the ancient with the modern proves to be a winning combination for Harkness, who, in Shadow of Night, smartly punctuates one intimate moment between Diana and Matthew with a discussion of sex and dominance in contemporary vampire lore.
"Their stories are full of crazed alpha-male vampires throwing women over their shoulders before dragging them off for dinner and a date," Diana tells Matthew.
Seamlessly weaving history and science with romance and horror, Harkness builds on the strong foundation laid in her first outing. Her formidable knowledge of the history of science, especially alchemy, complements her creative flair regarding the supernatural.
Written with sharp attention to detail, beautiful imagery and a strong sense of justice, Shadow of Night certainly leaves readers thirsty for more. Once again, Harkness hits her mark with a stunning cliffhanger ending.
Jennifer Pawluk is a Petersfield-based writer and proofreader.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2012 J7
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