Plot Type: Historical Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)
A Discovery of Witches (2/2011)
Shadow of Night (7/2012)
The Book of Life (7/2014) (FINAL)
As this final book begins, it is almost exactly one year since Diana and Matthew first met, and they are now are back in the 21st century, dealing with family feuds, demands from the Congregation, and the ups and downs of their own relationship. Diana is searching for the final two missing pages and trying to figure out how she can get her hands on the original Book of Life. Matthew is still working on a cure for his blood rage, and in this book he and Miriam team up with Diana's Yale colleague, Chris Roberts, and his group of brainy students to use modern DNA methods and technology to attack the problem. Meanwhile, family politics and Congregation politics rage on in the background, and a new enemy reappears from the past: Matthew's psychotic son, Benjamin. Oh yes…I almost forgot: Diana is now pregnant with twins, so you would be correct in predicting that there is a major birthing scene towards the end of the book.
So...Diana's basic "to-do" list for this book includes the following: Stay healthy for the babies. Find the missing pages. Deal with Matthew's overbearing protective behavior. Help Sarah deal with her grief at losing Emily (and deal with her own grief at the same time). Stand up to Matthew's brother, Baldwin, head of the de Clermont family, when he tries to order her around. Gather support from fellow witches to help with the book search. Keep her status as a weaver secret for as long as possible. Save Matthew from both his blood rage and from his evil son (although it's really Matthew's fault that Benjamin is so evil).
Even with the darkness of the main plot, this book is much more humorous that the previous volumes. For example, when Fernando decides that Sarah needs a new diet and exercise plan, her sentient house helps him out: "One morning we woke to find that all the liquor in the house had been dumped down the sink and a makeshift mobile of empty bottles and silverware was attached to the kitchen light fixture…From that moment my aunt and the house were in an all-out battle for supremacy." (p. 148) Chris Roberts is the source of much of the humor. He isn't impressed by or afraid of Matthew or any other vampire and has little patience with formalities. He creates nicknames for all his students (e.g., Game Boy—for a female gamer, Mulder, Skully, Beaker) and when he writes a job description for a new lab manager, he lists "Mother Teresa or Mussolini" as the qualifications. In a sly jab at the Twilight series, Matthew concludes his introduction of himself to Chris's students by saying, "I do not, nor have I ever, sparkled." (p. 196)
Although I enjoyed the action-filled main story lines, I wish that the two major showdown scenes—with the Congregation and with bad-boy Benjamin—had not been so rushed. The build-ups to both were lengthy and suspenseful, but when each finale arrived, it was over and done with in just a page or two—much too quickly and easily. One other plot element that is bothersome is the one in which the goddess warns Diana, "You will have to give something up if you want to possess the Book of Life—something precious to you." (p. 370) Of course, my imagination went wild on that one: Will she have to sacrifice one of her friends? Give up Matthew? Give up her witchy powers? Well…when you read the big "reveal" of the "something precious," you will probably feel the same way I did: deceived and disappointed.
It's been two years since the second book, so when I began reading, I soon became swamped by the rapid introduction of characters in the early chapters. This is where Harness's character page is most helpful. Another story section that slowed me down was the part near the middle that deals in great detail with Matthew, Miriam, and Chris's research on mitochondrial DNA. Don't feel bad about skimming over that part quickly because it isn't very long and you really don't need that information to appreciate the rest of the story. Actually, I think that Harness has, for the most part, done a better job of blending scholarly details and flat-out fiction in this book than in the previous two novels.
As the publisher's blurb states, Harkness's themes for the series include "power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences." Other themes include the power and strength of diversity and the melding of ancient knowledge with modern scientific techniques. Harness is a good story teller, and she ties up her trilogy nicely, with just a few minor bumps along the way. Harkness's descriptions of Diana's burgeoning weaver powers are eloquently written, and her portrayal of Matthew's angst over the widespread effects of his blood rage is filled with heartbreaking emotion. If you are looking for a slightly different, and more literary, approach to paranormal romance, you might want to give this series a try. Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Book of Life.
Vampires in this world have few of the traditional characteristics. Here, Matthew Clairmont, the series hero, describes himself: "I can go outside during the day and my hair won't catch fire in the sunlight. I'm Catholic and have a crucifix. When I sleep, which is not often, I prefer a bed to a coffin. If you try to stake me, the wood will likely splinter before it enters my skin...No fangs either." (The Book of Life, p 196) These vampires can eat regular food, but they also need to ingest human blood.
Click HERE to go to an annotated character list for the series.
In her Acknowledgments, Harkness says, "...this is a book about books." And so it is. But it is also a book about paranormal lust at first sight, illustrated here by our heroine's thoughts when she first lays eyes on our hero:
NOVEL 2: Shadow of Night
As the story opens, Matthew and Diana have just time-traveled from 21st-century America to 1590s England. As Matthew summarizes, "We're here for only two reasons...to find you a teacher and to locate that alchemical manuscript if we can." (Chapter 1) The story is divided into sections, each one following the couple's activities as they travel from one place to another in their attempts to complete their tasks. First, they land at Woodstock, Mathew's lodge, where they meet up with Matthew's old friends Sir Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, Thomas Harriot, and Henry Percy. This opening section does little to move the story along and seems to have been been included primarily to allow Harkness (through Diana's voice) to acquaint the reader with the culture, life styles, and, especially, the famous personalities of Elizabethan England. Then, they head for Matthew's French family estate—Sept-Tours—home of Philippe de Clermont, Matthew's father, where Philippe accepts Diana as his daughter and the couple gets married—vampire style. Next, it's back to England—London this time—for a visit with Queen Elizabeth. Then comes a short trip to Prague and a string of interactions with the randy King Rudolf who takes a fancy to Diana. And finally, back to London to make their good-byes and head back to the present. Along the way Diana learns the truth about her witch powers and learns how to control them. The couple also regains possession of the ancient grimoire (Ashmole 782).
The constant appearance of famous people as characters gets old before the end of the first chapter, and their appearances do little to enhance the story line. In fact, the non-famous supporting characters (e.g., the young witch Annie, the street urchin Jack, Matthew's irrepressible nephew Gallowglass, and the kind old witch Goody Alsop) were much more interesting than the famous ones. The basic feel of the story is that of a teacher instructing her readers on the fine points of day-to-day Elizabethan life—in other words, it tends toward being dry and didactic.