Saturday, August 4, 2012

My first review:
2.5 bookworms
Leslie's review of Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

I couldn't wait for this book to come out. Luckily it came out when I was on vacation so I was able to read it right away. Turns out it was a good thing I was on vacation because I ended up having to go back and skim through it again to answer some questions ... and I also flipped back through A Discovery of Witches, too. And I'm still not sure I have all the details straight!

I given this 2.5 stars but I do appreciate the depth of historical knowledge Ms. Harkness has and I am hopeful that some of my issues will be clearer in book 3. And I am committed to Matthew and Diana's story -- it's just so heavy-handed here.

I don't think these comments are spoilers, but I'll post it here just in case you haven't read it yet and don't want to know some of the issues I had.

1) The intermittent present day chapters -- I am hoping that we'll get more on what was happening now in Book 3 because what's shown is not very clear. Diana and Matthew are back in the past for quite awhile and the family in present day is looking for historical blips that may appear that mean Diana and Matthew have changed something in the future. They don't want that information to fall into the hands of the congregation. My question is: How does a mention that Mary Sidney had a helper named DR mean anything to anyone? How did they know the miniatures were of Matthew and Diana so they could swoop in and buy them? How does an article about the "telescope" mean it has anything to do with them? Right, I know it was a Shawdow of Night figure ... but how would they ever put the two together? Weird blips that seem very obsure and also only a handful of blips -- more must have been changed during the many months Diana and Matthew blundered around.
2) Time travel -- this is also wrapped up in the blips. Present day Ysabeau looks for a note from Phillipe that will tell her he's seen Matthew and Diana ... meanwhile present day Verin (introduced with practically no background) gets a call from Gallowglass during which she says that she guesses her father's ravings were true about a time traveling witch, and we have a present day Gallowglass sharing that he basically followed Diana in her present life to see how she turned out so he has the memory, but everyone else is keeping it from 1590s and 2012 Matthew?-- I feel like the time travel is all screwed up. Wouldn't everyone's history now include memory of the 1590s?
3)I honestly had to go back and find a mention of 1590s Matthew -- where was he, what happened to him? In two tiny places in the first book and in the second, throwaway lines, really, it is mentioned that you can't exist at the same time, so 1590s Matthew is just sucked away into some void, to appear when 2012 Matthew leaves. For all of the many, many, many pages devoted to history lessons and Matthew's blood rage and/or guilt, this is buried. So he's going to be sent away out of England when he returns? So Elizabeth 1 will never question what happened to him? So all of the servants and family never slip up and tell him or get confused in the next 500 years? What about Louisa? And also remember they were traipsing all over the Hapsburg empire ... you need to have some consistency over what affects the future and what doesn't.
3) The ribbons ... am I the only one who can't tell if they are real, actual ribbons or metaphorical magical ribbons?
4) And being a weaver and how to do it ... lots of words around it but again can't really say I get it. And it did sort of come along very quickly at the end. (Diana herself admits that she should have been concentrating on it.)
5) Diana's father -- this I did try to find more of in A discovery of witches. The description of him here doesn't really seem to match the description of him in the first book.

I usually go with the flow, and I'm a pretty forgiving reader. But reading this is very hard, almost drugery -- not light reading at all. Which normally isn't an issue for me ... but this time I feel that the author lost track of the story trying to shoehorn in all the historical element. I hope everything is straightened out in the third book.

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