Shadow of Night is the sequel to last year’s best selling vampire romance, Discovery of Witchcraft. Continuing the story of a forbidden relationship between a witch, Diana Bishop, and a vampire, Matthew de Clermont, the book has the couple using Diana’s newly unleashed time-walking powers to escape their pursuers to England in 1591. Once there they have two major goals: find a witch to train Diana and discover more about the mysterious book, Ashmole 782, which they believe contains secrets about the various paranormal creatures (witches, vampires and daemons) and can perhaps help Matthew reverse the genetic trends which seems to be forcing these creatures to die out.
Harkness is a history professor at USC, and so we are treated to a unusually well researched foray through western Europe in 1591 and 1592. Matthew was already a vampire back then and his friends included Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlow. However, one surprisingly feature of the novel is not the presence of these and similar well-known historical figures, but the fact that many of other people they encounter are also known in the historical record as documented in Harnesses appendix to the book.
As I noted in my review of the previous book, Discovery of Witchcraft is probably the most explicitly Pagan mass-market novel since Mists of Avalon, and that fact continues in this sequel. The witches in the 1590′s know and worship the Triple Goddess as in the prior book, but the breadth of Paganism expands in this book. The vampire, Philippe, who turned Matthew and who is the patriarch of the de Clermont clan has clearly been worshiping the Roman and Greek Gods since Roman times. (There is not much controversy about the survival of pre-Christian religions in a world where some individuals live for centuries.) And one of the de Clermont vampires, Gallowglass, is clearly a northern Heathen. Religion is not central to these books, but it is, nevertheless, refreshing to enter into a world with such a wide variety of European traditions represented.
Diana and Matthew also encounter John Dee in one scene, and later their adventures take them to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in Prague where they encounter Edward Kelley, Dee’s erstwhile medium. Diana also spends some of her time helping Countess Mary Sidney perform alchemical experiments. Thus, the novel is thoroughly grounded in real historical occult practices as well as the fantasy of Ashmole 782.
This novel is less exciting than its predecessor (well, at least, it’s predecessor’s huge climaxes and twists that followed a markedly sedate beginning). Shadow of Night really only has one scene in which any of the characters face any real jeopardy. Diana and Matthew are newlyweds several times over by the middle of this novel, and, hence, are generally going at it like bunnies, but lets just say sex scenes are not Harness’ strong suit and she mostly elides the down and dirty. Similarly, Harkness strangely avoids narrating Matthew and Gallowglass’ theft of Ashmole 782 from the Emperor’s palace.
That being said, both the relationship between Diana and Matthew and the central mystery of the series as embodied (literally, as it turns out) by Ashmole 782 are compelling and provide a sturdy skeleton upon which Harkness builds her plot. By the end of this second book Diana and Matthew have returned to the present and are more ready to confront their enemies and solve the mystery of the book and its relationship to the paranormal creatures which inhabit Harkness’ world. I expect that we will be treated to an exciting conclusion in the final book of the trilogy.