A Discovery of Witches, Diana and Matthew have travelled back to the Elizabethan Age in order to find someone to teach Diana about her powers and find the complete Ashmole 782. While Matthew and Diana have rather naive visions of being able to participate in the past without affecting it, as soon as the step into the past they realize that neither one of them is prepared. Matthew's former choices and secrets become a heavier burden than he foresaw, and Diana's modern day independence and historian's eye is a huge hindrance when trying to go unnoticed. As their goals become more hazy and their seemingly small choices make huge changes in the future, one thing remains certain: Diana's abilities and the Ashmole's insight to the genesis of witches, vampires, and daemons, are intrinsically bound together.
If you read my review of A Discovery of Witches, you know that I really enjoyed it: Deborah Harkness creates an amazing secondary cast and really develops a sense of place in her books. You also know I was rather put off by Diana and Matthew's relationship and how it didn't seem to have any foundation to develop. Shadow of Night does an excellent job of quelling those niggles I had about the series. As this book focuses in on their time in the Elizabethan Age, most of the book delves into their own relationship when they don't have to interact with the strong secondary cast that I love. Not to say that this book doesn't have a great cast, but I'll get to that later. At the beginning of the book Diana becomes rather frustrated by the secrets that Matthew has kept from her and his need to protect her by keeping relevant information from her. All the things that annoyed me about Matthew in the first book now annoy Diana too and shockingly they actually discuss them! Like adults! Who knew that could happen in a book with vampires in it? Yes, there is still some whitewashing done to create more depth in their relationship but it's not heavy-handed and it helps the overall storytelling. So thank you Deborah Harkness for nipping all two of my dissatisfactions in the bud.
Now let me tell you the good stuff, I love the fact that the timeline for this book is longer than like a month and a half, so much happened in A Discovery of Witches that it was rather easy to forget that it supposedly took place in I think less than two months. Shadow of Night spans almost seven months, and it's really quite something. As a reader I felt like the main characters flourished and the plot was allowed to twist and turn in a really great way. I found that I got a lesser sense of the goal of the plot in this sequel, but I kind of felt like that was the point. Diana and Matthew accomplished what they thought they needed to do, but ended up with more questions instead which makes this a great secondary book in a trilogy. It's not a cliffhanger per se but it makes the continuation of the series make sense and will make the climax fantastic (at least that's what I'm assuming).
But that's not all! Deborah Harkness does a rather indescribable job of building a historical setting that seems so right and natural that you swear that it really happened that way. Just how she describes walking through London toward St. Paul's Cathedral draws you in and paints an all-encompassing sense of place. Along with this is Deborah's portrayal of major historical figures: Christopher Marlowe, Walter Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph, etc. it's quite astonishing. I could absolutely picture Queen Elizabeth being a rather strange amalgamation of petulant, vindictive, and imperious. Kit Marlowe is portrayed as a rather sympathetic villain motivated by love and daemon eccentricities. They are all portrayed so realistically and yet they fit so perfectly into the magical universe.
Awesome job Deborah Harkness, I have no criticisms this time. I'm pretty sure that it'll be at least another year before the final book is published, but please don't delay I'm kind of fixated on this series. How is this all going to wrap up? I just can't see it, but I'm not the author so that's okay. Also thank you for having Diana and Matthew actually consummate their marriage. It would've felt very Twilight-y if they kept 'bundling.' So thanks for making it as excellent as you did.