Tag Archives: Deborah Harkness

Review of ‘The Book of Life’ by Deborah Harkness

imageThanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the ARC of this book.

Hooray, I’ve finally¬†found time to sit down and read this enormous book and finish this trilogy! It feels like an achievement because these books are so unnecessarily long.

I enjoyed the first in the trilogy but I feel like the final two really needed a thorough edit. They rely on you having such an affection for the characters that you wish to read even the most mind-numbingly dull conversations and lengthy descriptions of situations where nothing really happens. This book is definitely better than the second in the trilogy which suffered from the author wanting to show off all her detailed historical research; however it is still far too verbose and just does not get to the point quickly enough.

I often find that when you read these epic fantasy trilogies that the conclusion feels too easy and the stakes aren’t high enough and there’s never any doubt that everything will be all right in the end. This book definitely suffers from this problem. Everything plays out in quite a muted way and the problems are solved fairly quickly and easily without much tension.

The trilogy also has too many characters and they are picked up and dropped with little explanation. Characters that I thought would be important such as Nathaniel and Sophie barely feature in this book. Characters who were terrifying in the first book such ar Satu are pathetic and easily foiled in this book. It feels like the trilogy was not entirely planned that well from the first book to the last in terms of some of the characters and their development.

I also found the pregnancy and childbirth and babies storyline weak. For most women, being pregnant with twins would be a major consideration and once they were born the mother would be exhausted and able to focus on little else. However, for Diana in this book, her children always feel like an afterthought. A few days are they are born she is jetting of to other countries to save the day and leaving them in the care of others. When they are born she doesn’t even try to feed them straight away. Surely she would want to know as quickly as possible if they could survive on milk or needed blood? None of the childcare elements ring true at all. The pregnancy and children just didn’t feel as important as they should have.

I read this book fairly quickly and easily so I must have enjoyed it, but looking back on it I find it hard to express why as I’m only really coming up with criticisms of it. I think the good faith engendered by my enjoyment of the first book encouraged me to finish the trilogy. I’m glad I did even though I found this book particularly exciting or memorable.

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Review of ‘Shadow of Night’ by Deborah Harkness

imageThanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the ARC copy of this book.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for so long now. I read the first in the trilogy ‘A Discovery of Witches’ in 2014 and loved it, but shortly after I finished it I found out I was pregnant and my ability to focus on long novels vanished, so I failed to start the next book which I had been so excited to read.

It’s taken me a long time to plow through this book, it is sooooo long and such a little amount happens. The previous book ends with [spoiler alert] the two main characters Diana and Matthew travelling back in time to the Sixteenth Century with two aims: 1. find a witch to help Diana learn how to do magic; and 2. find a copy of an old book. The book is 630 pages long and we do not meet the witch until half way through and the book is not discovered until the final quarter of the book and even then they do nothing with it.

I spent the whole book waiting for something dramatic to happen but really nothing does except for a couple of pages where Diana’s life is under threat from Matthew’s sister. Any exciting action, such as [spoiler alert] Matthew stealing the book from an emperor, happens off the page. The rest of the book is just the author enjoying being in a historical setting and having Diana meet lots of real life historical figures, most of whom I had never heard of. It’s pleasant enough to read but just isn’t compelling and the central relationship between Diana and Matthew, even though they embark on a sexual relationship for the first time, is just flaccid.

It’s such a shame because I loved the first book, but this one is just rambling and could easily be condensed into 50 pages which actually advance the story. The rest is just historical filler. I may be proved wrong when I read the next book, maybe there’s a load more relevant stuff happening which I didn’t pick up on but will come back into the story, but it didn’t feel like it.

The other issue I had was the time travel. Diana and Matthew spend 7 months in the past and we’re supposed to believe that they don’t irrevocably change the future so that the world is completely different when they go back to the future? They don’t seem at all careful not to change things. It’s impossible to believe that past Matthew will never run into someone they influenced while they were in the past who asks ‘what happened to your wife Diana?’ or ‘I thought your were supporting the witches now, why have you changed your mind?’ when he will have no idea what they are talking about. It just doesn’t make sense. I hope this is addressed better in the next book and not glossed over.

I’ve invested so much time in this series that I’m definitely going to read the next book. I hope I’ll enjoy it better as it’ll be set in the present and hopefully will have more plot tension as it has to conclude the story.

 

 

Review of ‘A Discovery of Witches’ by Deborah Harkness

WitchesThanks to Bookbridgr and Headline for the review copy of this book.

I knew I was going to love this book as soon as I saw it described as “Twilight for grown ups”. I have not been this engrossed in the world of a novel for a long time! It definitely has a lot in common with the Twilight books but it has a lot more depth, with interesting themes of literature, history and science.

The similarities to the Twlight series include:

  • Overprotective male vampire protagonist
  • Seemingly normal, slightly whiny, female protagonist who actually has stunning abilities which could save the world
  • Loving vampire family
  • Vampire doctors
  • Questions over whether vampires can procreate
  • Lots of kissing but no sexual consummation of relationship
  • Evil authoritarian powers trying to divide the main couple and the question of whether to turn the female into a vampire in order to solve this problem

I also thought the book had a lot in common with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, with its authoritarian male love interest and intellectual middle-aged female lead. That comparison is likely to grow even stronger in the next book which appears feature time travel more heavily.

I absolutely loved the first two thirds of this book when reticent witch Diana meets ancient vampire Matthew. The love story builds slowly and beautifully. The story is told mostly from Diana’s point of view but there is the occasional chapter about Matthew written in the third person, which helps to move the story along and breaks up the repetitiveness of Diana’s thoughts.

I found the last third slightly less compelling. This may be because it’s less interesting to read about a couple who has got together and is happy, but also because there are a lot more characters in this section, so the story is less focused. Also, I did not enjoy the out-dated gender politics which come to the fore at the end of the book. It’s fine for a 1,500 year old vampire to believe that he should be in charge and single-handedly make all the decisions but it’s not OK for a 21st century woman to agree to these conditions so quickly and happily.

I also loved the settings for the first two thirds of the book. I thought academic Oxford and ancestral France were beautifully drawn and really atmospheric and also grounded in reality despite the fantastical storyline. However, the haunted Bishop house in Madison was a less convincing setting as was the plot line in this section setting up the next book, which involves time travel. I don’t think the mechanics of the time travel were explained well enough, people seem to travel back into their own bodies, yet they can still travel back to before they were born?

That said, I still have high hopes for the rest of the series. The writing in the first half of this book is masterful and the storyline is intriguing and I can’t wait to read more.