Book Review: Shadow of Night

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Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness is a novel in love with its characters, history and knowledge. The way it’s written reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s, The Picture of Dorian Gray, but it also feels like an instruction manual on how to become a witch.

Oxford scholar, Diana Bishop is a witch from Book 1 of the All Souls Trilogy. She fell in love with a vampire named Matthew. In Shadow of Night, Diana and Matthew escape to 1590 England for two reasons: to search for an enchanted manuscript and to complete Diana’s teaching on becoming a witch. The reason I say this novel reminds me of the layout and style of Oscar Wilde’s, The Picture of Dorian Gray is because it is rich in conversation.

The first half of the novel seems focused intently on the history of 1590 England and how Diana struggles to blend with its inhabitants as a modern-day American. She has to learn how to write, speak and dress like an Elizabethan. While the dialogue and novel were impressive in knowledge and interesting, I really began to become bored by it all, yearning, instead, for more action. The Picture of Dorian Gray lost my interest in the same way. That book I did not finish. Shadow of Night I did reluctantly finish. While not an expert at classic works, Shadow of Night seemed to imitate some of the classic works I’ve read. It also read too intimately like an instruction manual on Wicca.

Christian novels tend to need the main character to become saved, and this is what they are most criticized for, because it’s almost formulaic. In much the same way, Shadow of Night felt like it was written for the occult audience. I have read secular fantasy/speculative fiction and even enjoyed them, like The Soul Mirror by Carol Burg and the first book in J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series, but in those novels it focused on the story and not the intimate details of Wicca and the occult. Shadow of Night uncomfortably crossed my Christian worldview. Shadow of Night reveals between the sentences a deep knowledge of the occult and of history. It’s also a book with great character development.

The complex relationship between Diana and Matthew was intriguing, even if the scant sex scenes did nothing to add to the story. I loved how the value of commitment was enforced when Matthew said a vampire mated for life, but the distraction was the minute details of the occult as Diana learned of her past and her future and tried to escape the Congregation and their rules against marriages between witches and vampires. It’s interesting how Shadow of Night felt like it reenacted parts of Romeo and Juliette.

Shadow of Night is an interesting read and thorough in its research. However, I lost interest in it halfway through. Too much conversation, not enough action until halfway through when it began to get intense, and too much occult information. A secular person who loves the way the classics read and has a love affair with history will enjoy this novel. It is unique. A Christian will not get past the first few pages because some of what it speaks exists in this world today (Wicca, goddesses, etc.). I gave this novel four stars for its well-researched pages and the complex marriage of Diana and Matthew, but it did not interest me enough to read Book One or any further books in this series.

*Book given by publisher to review.

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