Review: All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

“It begins with absence and desire. It begins with blood and fear. It begins with a discovery of witches.”


A Discovery of Witches  and Shadow of Night (book 3 is expected…)

This is the story of Diana Bishop, a descendant of the Salem witches. Diana is an alchemy history academic who is unwilling to embrace her witchy powers. She makes a surprising discovery in Oxford’s Bodleian Library: An enchanted book that she did not request. Although she doesn’t know it yet, this book will alter her life and completely rock her world. This unintentionally (or perhaps deliberately?) received manuscript also draws the attention of all sorts of creatures in this world. Thus Diana’s story begins....



“The manuscript let out a soft sigh.
 A quick glance over my shoulder assured me that the room was still empty. The only other sound was the loud ticking of the reading room’s clock.”

The first book, A Discovery of Witches, starts a bit slowly, laying as it does the foundation for the story like pillars supporting the plot. We meet the characters and get a taste of the world in which they live, a glimpse into the things that motivate them and make them tick.

The story picks up the pace about a third of the way into the book. Please stick with the story: You will not be sorry. It is like peeling away layers and finding surprises along the way. We meet Diana the witch and Matthew the vampire. We encounter a kaleidoscope of characters surrounding our heroes: Some help them, others try to kill them. We go with them on a complicated journey, through big cities, small towns, and landscapes around the globe.

Yes, I know you would like to know about romance, love, and sex in the story. Later.

While the first book’s events unfold in our modern world, the second book, Shadows of Night, transports us into the past, time-traveling back to 16th-century Elizabethan England, where Diana and Matthew continue their search. This book is even heavier than the first, both in details and weight (although it’s not that heavy on my Kindle!). Diana explores her magical abilities, and Matthew must confront his past. This book is fast-paced and full of events and adventures. You become immersed in the historical and political milieu of late 16th-century London and Prague, and in the alchemical research of that era. There are many intriguing characters here, genuine historical figures and fictional ones woven together. I admit that at times I felt it was too detailed, both in characters and in plot: I couldn’t breathe! I had to stop reading for a while, go for a lighter read, and only after that could I go on.

The quote from this LA Times review sums up my feelings precisely:

Shadow of Night is a fascinating, if somewhat flawed, entertainment displaying Harkness’ formidable historical knowledge and Renaissance talents. One hopes she continues to tame her impulses and weaves the last, magical spell in the trilogy’s final book that the series and her fans deserve.
 ~Paula Woods, Los Angeles Times
I am proud to announce publicly: I’m a history geek,and these books are loaded with history and science, especially Shadow of Night. But have no fear, this is a paranormal romance and also a thriller. There is a hunt around the world, mystery, and more.

The core of the story

The questions of where these creatures came from and how they are related to humans and to each other loom large in these books. What is the origin of vampires, witches, and humans, and did we all evolve from the same beings? The hunt for answers to these questions is the core of the story, which takes the reader through a myriad of times and places, love and hate, happiness and heartache.

“The question of why we're here — how we're all here — really does consume you," I said slowly...
Matthew studied his wine. “It’s the only question worth asking.”

What a wonderful world
   
The world of these books is our modern world, but it is full of different creatures, all living around and among humans: Vampires, Witches, and Daemons. 

Here vamps are rich, ancient, and beautiful. They are almost immortals and have super senses and speed. Predators at the top of the food chain, they live among us humans and work in all kind of respectable jobs: Your history professor might be one.

Witches can perform magic of all kinds, varying from one witch to another.

Daemons are highly creative beings; they “walk the tightrope between madness and genius. Rock stars and serial killers…”

This is all well-described. It may make you look left and right, checking people next to you and wondering whether these slightly pale people are not what they seem to be….

Harkness weaves a fantastical paranormal story, combining witches, vampires, and daemons with both fictional characters and real people (Christopher Marlowe , William Shakespeare, Walter Raleigh) in actual places and historical events.

"“Creatures have been around forever. Humans just have the ability to deny what they don’t want to notice.”
“If it went bang, involved blood, or promised to unlock the secrets of the universe, there was sure to be a vampire around.”


Love story

This story has all the classical elements of paranormal romance:  A strong vampire and a slightly naïve but strong-willed woman/witch, forbidden love combining with danger, lethal desire, and delayed gratification…


Our vampire hero is Matthew Clairmont, an old vampire and a scientist who studies genetics in his search for the source of all the creatures around the world. Matthew comes from a very old and interesting family (un?)living in France.  Among his hobbies are yoga and collecting excellent wines.

Our heroine is Diana Bishop, the witch who knows nothing about practicing magic and denies her abilities in this field. Diana’s discovery of the Ashmole 782 book puts her in danger, and Matthew is there to protect her (although he too is after this text). Diana, of course, doesn’t need his protection: She is a modern, independent woman who can fend for herself.
“I don’t do angry,” I said, turning away from him.
His hand shot out and whirled me back around to face him.
“You’re not getting off that easy.” Matthew’s voice was soft, but the sharp edge was back. “You do angry. I just saw it. And you left at least one hole in my carpet to prove it.”

Well, this is a vampire, good-looking and smart, (about 1500 years) old enough to know all the tricks in the book for wooing a lady witch. He has enough resources to do whatever he wants. Can a reluctant witch resist him?

Diana and Matthew walk a long way in their relationship; they learn to trust each other, to share things, and to let go when it is needed. They must learn to embrace and accept who they really are. Both of them grow along the way, improving and becoming stronger through time and events. Their romance does not take over the story: It is there, and it is not easy — in fact, it is dangerous in a time when witches and vampires are forbidden by a centuries-old covenant to be together. I must warn you that it takes a loooooooooong time for Diana and Matthew finally to do the deed.

Matthew is full of passion but reluctant to go all the way (he has his reasons). There are very few little erotic encounters. You have been warned! But I didn’t mind that.

Their romance is strong and intense, with only a few lighter moments between the two of them. One incident that I particularly enjoyed occurs when Diana tells Matthew how vampires are described in today’s vampire fiction/romances, and Matthew doesn’t get the appeal of being manhandled and then making love. 

 Diana tells him: 
“You’ve manhandled me, as you so charmingly put it. I seem to recall being hoisted into your arms at Sept-Tours on more than one occasion,” I pointed out.
“Only when you were injured!” Matthew said indignantly. “Or tired.”
“Or when you wanted me in one spot and I was in another. Or when the horse was too tall, or the bed was too high, or the seas were too rough. Honestly, Matthew. You have a very selective memory when it suits you. As for making love, it’s not always the tender act that you describe. Not in the books I’ve seen. Sometimes it’s just a good hard—”
Before I could finish my sentence, a tall, handsome vampire flung me over his shoulder. “We will continue this conversation in private.”
“Help! I think my husband is a vampire!” I laughed and pounded on the backs of his thighs.

A bit about food

Have you always wondered about that intriguing question: “What would you feed a vampire whom you invite to dinner?” Don’t worry, you will find the answer to this puzzling question in the first book. Diana, as a good academic, researches this topic relentlessly:

In the library I spent most of the day on the Internet looking for recipes that involved raw foods. Did vampires eat greens? Thanks to my mobile, I was able to reach the zoology department and inquire about the feeding habits of wolves.

Yes, there are humor and winks here and there. A lot of good food and wine is consumed between these pages. Wine choices and the descriptions of the taste of the wine and food are mouth-watering. That said, one drawback for me was the amount of milky tea consumed by Diana: I don’t like tea, and I am a coffee addict.

Deborah Harkness breathes life into her characters, weaving a wonderful tapestry of fantasy and fact, romance and mystery. If you enjoy paranormal historical romances that are both clever and intelligent, this is the story for you! So please, sit back, relax, and prepare yourself for a fascinating journey, a compelling story that will sweep you away with its richness and depth. Then join me in anxiously awaiting the final book in the series, for which we don’t yet have a publication date. I hope we won’t have to wait too long!



Official Wench rating:




How about you? Would you like to dive in?
I hope that you do and will share your thoughts with me.

Comments

  1. What a nice review, Merit! These books hadn't really made it onto my radar yet, but they are definitely on my TBR list now. I might wait until we find out when the third book will release, so I don't have to wait too long in between, since I am impatient and already waiting for the next book in too many other series, :-) But I look forward to comparing notes with you when I get to these!

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  2. Agh! One more series on my TBR list! I LOVE the RA gifs Merit :D a LOT!! Great review!

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  3. Wonderful review Merit. I have added this to my TBR.

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  4. Nice!! This review just reminded me how impatient I am to get my hand on the third book...how long are we supposed to wait... damn!!

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  5. Great review, Merit! These have been on my tbr list. I know they are popular!

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  6. I'm so reading this, Merit! I don't know how I missed this review when you published it, but I'm so reading this series next thing!

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