Shadow of Night

Shadow_of_Night_2012_NovelShadow of Night
Deborah Harkness
Published July 10, 2012
577 pages (hardcover)

If you happened to be friends with my husband and me for any appreciable length of time, then chances are we would’ve posed a critical question to you at some point during our friendship. It is a question that represents one of the few things about which we fundamentally disagree.

What is it? Life after death? Abortion? Gay rights? Please. We agree on all those things. No, the question to which I am referring represents a far more serious, important matter.

It is simply this: What is your ranking of the Back to the Future movies?


One of us (the right one) ranks them in order of release: 1, 2, 3 (Hover boards over petticoats. Every single time). The other (the wrong one) ranks them: 1, 3, 2.

We have not kept a scientific record of the results, but, if I were to estimate, I would say that they are evenly split. Interestingly, women often favor 2 over 3 (like me), and men often favor 3 over 2 (like Bryan). Significantly (and not at all surprisingly), every person we have ever polled has ranked the first movie in the top position.

There may be a few exceptions (this list posits twenty sequels that are better than the originals . . . but it includes movies like Addams Family Values and Hellboy 2, so I think it may speak more to the terrible nature of the originals than the excellent nature of the sequels), but it is safe to say that Back to the Future is representative of the rule: the original reigns supreme. Usually, the sequel just doesn’t live up to the original . . . but, on occasion, a delightful original can be downright embarrassed by its atrocious sequel. Need some examples to be convinced? Here are a few:

  • Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
  • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  • Batman & Robin
  • Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
  • The Hangover Part II (and The Hangover Part III, for that matter)
  • Grease 2

Really, the list could go on and on and on and on.

And, when it comes to books, the rule holds true (although I will concede that the Harry Potter series is a glaring exception). Obvious examples include the Divergent Trilogy and The Hunger Games Trilogy (for the record, I liked all three of The Hunger Games books, but the first is definitely the best).

And, now, I can add to that list Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy (you can read my rather glowing review of the first book, A Discovery of Witches, here).

Rating: 1.5/5

Shadow of Night begins precisely where A Discovery of Witches ended: Matthew and Diana travel back in time to Elizabethan England in search of a magic manuscript and some witches to teach Diana how to be a witch. The book’s six hundred pages are devoted almost entirely to their seven months in 1590. If that seems excessive, it’s because it is.

In case you’d forgotten, Deborah Harkness isn’t just a novelist; she’s also a history professor. This book is clearly just an avenue by which she can show off her vast (and boring) historical knowledge.

There is little action (and what little action there is is poorly written and utterly anticlimactic). There’s a lot of romance-novel drivel (“Matthew quieted me further with a kiss. The slow movements of his hands were causing an entirely different reaction as the tension in my body rose.”). There is a lot of ridiculously boring repetition (way too much talk, for example, about Diana getting used to ruffs and other 16th-century articles of clothing).

And, just to bog things down further, Diana and Matt come in contact with well over 100 characters, many of whom are actual, historical people. They spend time with Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher (“Kit”) Marlow. There are meetings with the Elizabeth I and Rudolf II. There are even gratuitous encounters with William Shakespeare.

To say that this book is slow and boring would be a massive understatement. It took me WEEKS to finish it. Diana doesn’t meet her witch teachers until page 311, and she and Matthew don’t find the magic manuscript until page 459. It is unbearable.

This little historical jaunt moves the trilogy’s overall story along . . . but only minimally. It could have been handled in a hundred pages. It certainly didn’t need its own book. Basically, this is a six-hundred page book of historical filler that is nothing more than a slow (VERY slow) set-up for the final book.

The hype:

  • An Amazon Best Book of the Month for July 2012
  • An Indie Next List pick for July 2012

Who should read it: I’m reluctant to suggest that anyone read this, because it is so slow and long and boring. But my mother, who has now read all three books in the trilogy (following my review of the first book), assures me that the third book, The Book of Life, gets back on track. If you’re a big Elizabethan-history buff, knock yourself out. Otherwise, just read a summary of this book online and skip directly from the first to the third book. Seriously.

Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:

  • We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler (the soon-to-be released novel from the author better known as his alter ego, Lemony Snickett)
  • The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant (an Amazon Best Book of the month for December 2014 and an Indie Next List pick for December 2014 by the author of The Red Tent)

7 thoughts on “Shadow of Night

  1. I stand by Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.

    • To suggest that it comes close to the original would be pure insanity. I mean, NOTHING can beat lines like this: “Baby, is that your name? Well, let me tell you something, Baby. You don’t know shit about my problems. Go back to your playpen, Baby.”

      • I agree that the original is a classic and I will never sit in a corner without thinking of it. But Havana Nights had its own charm, especially after imbibing several (culturally appropriate) mojitos just before watching.

  2. I didn’t think it was that bad ; )–slow, yes…maybe I’m just more interested in Elizabethan England than you are–hahahaha.

    • I think it’s a safe bet that you are more interested in Elizabethan England than I. But my beef with this book is the length. If you’re going to write a six-hundred page book, it better be damn good. Six hundred slow and boring pages = downright unacceptable. I wasted LOTS of valuable reading time on this. Not OK.

  3. BTF = 1,3,2.
    Indiana Jones, 1,3,2 {Sean Connery in 3)
    Lethal Wepaon 1,4,2,3
    Bourne 3,2,1, They got better.
    Thin Man 1,2,3,4, etc. (for the oldtimer set).
    French Connection 1,2 – both excellent

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