Disclaimer: This was originally posted on my old website 10/09/19
Yesterday was crazy! I was away from my computer for most of the day so this post is later than usual, but as this post keeps getting delayed I really didn’t want to postpone it further. This week I’m reviewing the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. In the interest of transparency; I thought I read this series over the last couple of months. On reviewing my notes I realised that I read A Discovery of Witches over September/October 2018, Shadow Night over July/August 2019, and The Book of Life over August/September 2019. I reviewed Shadow of Night on Goodreads but I haven’t reviewed A Discovery of Witches or The Book of Life. If you follow me on Goodreads you might recognise some of the content from below.
I decided to read the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness because I’d heard good things about it and I’d seen Bad Wolf and Sky Productions were making a series (is it still a TV series if it’s made for streaming services? Do we need a new vernacular for the streaming phenomenon?) of it with one of my favourite actresses (Alex Kingston) so I wanted to read the books before I saw the show. I haven’t been able to see the show yet because I don’t have Foxtel. The internet tells me it is accessible on Foxtel or Amazon Prime, although I’ve not been able to find it in my Prime content.
I’ve read a lot of Urban Fantasy and the All Soul’s trilogy holds its own in the genre. There is something I can’t quite define that makes it different from other similar books, yet still satisfies the expectations and conventions of the genre. Perhaps this is because it is adult fiction. Young Adult Urban Fantasy is more common and other Adult Urban Fantasy seems to mirror YA tropes. The heroine, Diana Bishop, is in her 30s. I don’t recall Matthew’s “human” age (for as a Vampire he is like insanely old) but he is of a similar age. These are well rounded characters with their foibles and their gifts, and thankfully not the angst ridden teens of YA. I’m going to endeavour not to release any spoilers, although some plot points will be discussed.
The first one, A Discovery of Witches, was ok. I give it a 3/5 stars. I thought some of the scenes played out a little too long but it was an enjoyable read. I grew to really love the Diana character and felt that, if she were real, we’d get along great. A Discovery of Witches seemed to focus on Diana and Matthew’s relationship with a lot of world building. In contrast the later books seemed to focus more on the adventure/search for Ashmole 782 (a mysterious magical manuscript that creatures the world over are searching for) over their relationship, and whilst I enjoyed paranormal romances the search for Ashmole 782 interested me far more than Diana and Matthew’s relationship. This series, whilst having a distinct romance sub plot is more Urban Fantasy than Paranormal Romance.
In the world of ADoW there are four “distinct” creatures: humans, witches, vampires and daemons. The first three are pretty self explanatory in nature, having been staples of the genre for decades, although the daemons were a nice touch. These daemons are not hellish creatures such as you would find in Supernatural, Charmed or Buffy, these demons are more like fae creatures or muses. They are heavily creative forces often lurking in human society as “genius” poets, artists etc. As Diana and Matthew are Witch and Vampire respectively, their creature allies and enemies are focused on more often than the daemons; who I would have liked to learn more about. There is a council of 9 elders (3 from each creature group, no human representatives) called the Congregation who are effectively the creature law keepers, upholding the segregation of the species and keeping them safe from human discovery. Diana and Matthew’s relationship breaks their law so due in part to this Diana and Matthew disappear into history to buy themselves time at the end of ADoW.
I enjoyed Shadow of Night so much more than its predecessor. I give it 5/5 stars. I found the pacing much improved in SON and was impressed with the historical accuracy. In SoN Diana and Matthew are hiding out in Elizabethan England, in no less danger than they were before. In fact with witch trials happening in North Berwick, Scotland, they may be in more danger than ever. Which does pose the question of why they thought time walking to the past was the solution to their problems in modern day England. That said, the characters were enjoyable (both old and new) especially the Elizabethan ones, and I appreciated Shakespeare essentially being a footnote in the book and not one of the School of Night. It is unusual for a book/story centered on Elizabethan England to not focus on Shakespeare and I found it refreshing. I learnt quite a bit reading this book as there were figures from British history that I hadn’t come across before. Names like Dr Dee and Edward Kelley were familiar but not so much the other characters (with the exception of Sir Walter Raleigh). I enjoyed the Elizabethan coven as well, and rather wished I could have spent time with them too.
I was suitably horrified by the creeptastic revelation made regarding Ashmole 782 (which I will not go into here due to spoilers). It was horrendous yet seemed the perfect choice for the narrative. There was one part of the book that I thought the author glossed over where more detail would have been appropriate but again, I won’t mention that part due to spoilers. SoN kept me engaged through the whole story and I had trouble putting it down. Gallowglass became one of my favourite characters as did the Lord of Northumberland. Diana’s magic becomes more pronounced during SoN, and as such more magical events occur. These were written beautifully and were utterly fascinating. Upon finishing this book I rushed out to my local library to borrow The Book of Life. (Note I forgot to take a photo of Shadow of Night so to the left there’s a screenshot I took from Amazon. The copy I read was a red and black cover matching the two I remembered to take photos of.)
The Book of Life blended the first two books together, and while I enjoyed it much more than ADoW, I enjoyed SoN the most out of the three. I give TBoL 4/5 stars because I would have liked some of the story lines played out a little more. Diana and Matthew have returned to their own time and must resume the search for Ashmole 782, as well as contend with the Congregation who are out to punish Diana and Matthew for their forbidden romance. Like ADoW some parts were slow moving but it was enjoyable none the less. Like the Elizabethan coven, I enjoyed getting to know the coven Sarah (Diana’s aunt) belongs to in America, and I enjoyed some of the surprises TBoL held regarding characters from SoN. It was nice to see science explaining/justifying magic, complementing each other instead of creating the usual either or situation. As such revelations about the origins of the four creature groups conveyed powerful messages that can be applied to real life situations. I would have liked some of the characters story lines developed more. My favourite character arrived in book two and towards the end of book three he just disappears. There’s narrative reason for this, and it makes sense, but there’s a small epilogue at the end. It would have been nice to see him get his happy ending too.
It was really satisfying to see Diana really come into her own in TBoL, and take back the power she’d always denied. Diana and Matthew’s relationship is that of equals, something I especially appreciated, they are both powerful in their own right and great role models. Urban Fantasy as a genre can have a tendancy to promote relationships that are quite imbalanced, often to the detriment of the female character (I’ve discussed it previously here in regards to the Fallen series), and while Matthew technically is “more powerful” than Diana for most of the series he tries really hard not to rule over her. As with all relationships one partner will inevitably will take on a leadership role. In my opinion Chick Lit and Chick Flicks often portray unrealistic “perfect” romances that can be psychologically damaging when they can’t be found in the real world. Harkness has portrayed a relationship of two essentially equal partners working together to build their relationship. Neither partner is prefect and it’s not a “perfect” relationship but the characters as continually developing their relationship and communication skills together. It was refreshing to read and I really enjoyed seeing such a healthy relationship represented.
I wasn’t quite prepared for the horrors of the character of Benjamin, briefly mentioned in SoN, and a major antagonist in TBoL, but his actions were part of what made him so horrific and had a place in the narrative. Warning: I did find some of Benjamin’s scenes triggering. Although I did like that there was a bit of a role reversal in the story. Slight spoiler: in most Urban Fantasy books I’ve read if a character like Benjamin came along he would take Diana captive causing Matthew to rescue her. While there is a capture and rescue plot, it is Diana who does the rescuing which was a refreshing change, and she is helped by her allies in a way that shows strong friendships are an asset rather than indicating she is too weak to be the hero on her own. Diana is an excellent heroine, flawed and gifted all at once. She’s relatable and strong (kind of like Buffy) and the world needs more characters of this quality.
One thing that did disappoint me about this series is that in the Book of Life there is a scene that is eerily similar to a scene I wrote in 2017 for Samhain Sorcery (which comes out next month: eek). I suppose it goes to show, that even with the best intentions, nothing is truly original. I certainly hadn’t read this book prior to writing Samhain Sorcery, in fact I finished writing the book last year. And if I had I would have probably changed the scene I wrote. It didn’t make me enjoy the book any less although I’ll be honest and admit that I had a slight panic attack that people might think I’d copied Deborah Harkness on purpose. I didn’t; it’s just one of those things. I think that with Indie Authors flooding the market (which is good in so many ways) it is going to be harder for writers to write truly “original” content. It is quite possible, as this tale shows, to write extremely similar scenes, without having ever heard of the content that came first. There are only so many situations, types of character and props that we can write about after all. There have been so many times where I’ve gone back and changed scenes in manuscripts I’ve been working on after having read similar content elsewhere. I try to live my personal and professional life ethically and with honour. I want to be remembered for my writing for the right reasons.
I highly recommend this series. Harkness has a follow up book out focusing on the relationship of Marcus (Matthew’s son) and his partner. I’m definitely going to look for that at my local library. I hope that the author writes more, although judging by her Goodreads bibliography she tends to write non-fiction, because she writes well and is engaging.