Tag Archives: Deborah Harkness

Harkness, Deborah: Book of Life (All Souls III) (2014)

I cannot help but love a novel written as intelligently as The Book of Life. Not only does Deborah Harkness demand that I use what little wits are left to me, but she also keeps herself in the river of words through the entire story. In addition, my autism bug sends itself off on missions of discovery and I have had a blast looking into genetics, history and Yale University Campus and surrounding areas.

These are NOT stand-alone books. If you want to immerse yourself in the world of Deborah Harkness, you will have to start at the beginning: A Discovery of Witches. You can read an excerpt of that story here.

At some point in our lives most of us will make at least one astoundingly stupid choice. Matthew Clairmont’s choice involved revenge and abandonment. Sometimes our idiotic choices come back to haunt us well into the future. In Matthew’s case it would be safe to say that the devastating consequences of his choice could be felt for centuries. He is being bitten about as hard in his ass as a person could be. Time also has a way of sorting things out and vampires have plenty of time (if they manage to stay alive).

The Congregation is all about racial purity. Matthew, Miriam, Chris and his assistants’ research will help to shove the Congregation’s ideas of racial purity right where they belong. I hate the idea of racial purity (shudder). Every time I hear the words I become anxious, and I am one of the majority. I cannot imagine what those who supremacists consider “less than” must feel. Thankfully, both the Claremont DNA research and modern DNA research shows us how much such ideas are worth. It would now be appropriate for me to show my middle finger to those who entertain such ideas, but alas …

Friendship is such a strange phenomenon. I have people I love dearly and hardly ever meet or speak with. But they continue to hold a strong place in my feelings. When we meet, our friendship usually seems to have survived. People I meet often do not necessarily resonate with me. There seems no rhyme or reason to how these relationships come about. Several of the characters in The Book of Life experience the same thing. For some of them friendship comes in the most unlikely places. In other cases people who seemed like stinkers turn out to be strong friends. Then we have those who discover that their love has survived all the challenges thrown their way.

Political scheming, assassinations, power-struggles and betrayal are definitely a part of this last book in the All Souls trilogy. You will find plenty of near-death and death experiences in it, none of them of the peaceful kind.

I must not forget that a large chunk of the All Souls trilogy is about the love story between Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont. The two of them fight for their lives and their right to be together across the lines of their genetic variations. Some of their story is together and some of it is apart from each other.

Highly recommended.


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Harkness, Deborah: Shadow of Night (All Souls) (2012)

NPG 5994; Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke by Nicholas Hilliard
Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke by Nicholas Hilliard
watercolour on vellum, circa 1590: NPG 5994
Only for non-commercial use

A Discovery of Witches was one of the many books that my librarian, Ragnhild, recommended to me. I loved it and was highly motivated to read Shadow of Night. Now I have, and am left with a feeling of a book well-written. Deborah Harkness manages the difficult art that putting music to text is. Shadow of Night was one of those books that leaves my husband and children frustrated. I had trouble putting it down and being there for them. Sometimes I wonder if there ought to be a Books Anonymous.

One of my favorite things about Shadow of Night was the knowledge that Deborah showed in her telling of the tale of Diana and Matthew in 1590 Europe (especially England). There was a sense of reverence in the treatment of the milieu. Another excellent thing was my learning a new word. I don’t often have to use a dictionary while reading, but this time I got to. I love that. Her word was so perfect in its context as well (termagant). Thank you for that gift.

Being a 21st century Western woman in Elizabethan England was not easy for Diana. The world for women was so different back then. Being property cannot have made life pleasant for most. Diana left the modern world to seek help in mastering her magic and peace from persecution. What she ended up with was a world where humans were hunting witches.

While Matthew belonged to the richer part of society, Harkness also showed us the poorer side of these times. This was a time of changes in England. Farmers were losing their livelihood, people were moving to the cities seeking employment and poverty was rising. In fact, we are looking at the perfect recipe for a time where scapegoats were looked for. By now, wise women were equated with witch/devil/plagues/curses. Being different was dangerous and no-one was as different as a vampire and a witch together.

Looking for traces of Ashmole 782 turns out to be an extremely difficult task, hindered in part by Diana’s own challenges. Fortunately for Matthew and Diana they have Matthew’s friends (George Chapman, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Harriot, Sir Walter Raleigh and Lord Northumberland – Henry Percy) from the School of Night to help them.

Diana becomes acquainted with Mary Sidney (Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke). Together they work on Sidney’s alchemical projects.

Along with their own challenges in finding peace and education, Matthew’s role as spy for Queen Elizabeth and son of Phillipe de Claremont will bring them face to face with their own demons.

Harkness, Deborah: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls) (2011)

The Duke Humfrey’s Library in the BodleianWhen you go to Deborah E Harkness’ website, you will find information not only on her All Souls trilogy, but also on Ashmole 782, alchemy and a reading guide. Deborah teaches history of science and medicine specializing in the period from 1400-1700. As such, Deborah is Diana  Bishop – our female protagonist.

Diana is not only in Academia, she is also a witch with a few issues. In fact, she is an anti-magic witch and tries to use her magic as little as possible. After discovering a disturbing volume in the Bodleian library, Ashmole 782, her magic seems to be having a will of its own. Ashmole 782 zapped Diana somehow and she banishes the book back to the stacks.

Other creatures like herself (witches) and vampires and daemons have a difficult time believing that she has gotten rid of the book and a time of stalking and persecution begins.

Like Deborah, Professor Matthew de Claremont (our male protagonist) also has an interest in history. In his case it is the history of genetics (among other things) that he researches. Because of the zap, Matthew takes an interest in Diana. Matthew finds himself drawn to Diana, and she to him.

I really, really like the fact that A Discovery of Witches stays at Oxford and the Bodleian through a major part of the book. It is highly interesting to read about the feeling of reverence that Deborah has for the library and the important role it plays in society. Words are music and the music of A Discovery of Witches is the kind that enters your soul and leaves you replete.

Diana and Matthew are fun and frustrating characters. In many ways A Discovery of Witches follows the pattern that a great many action and romance books do. The main protagonists are on opposite sides to begin with and through hardship they are brought together and become friends/lovers.

I’ve read complaints about all of the things that I liked about the book – lots of data, frustrating characters, library. Kind of funny really, how different our tastes in books are and how we are drawn to such different facets of them. I would say that this is a non-typical yet typical supernatural story about adventure and identity.