The One with Too many Witches and Vampires

Deborah Harkness, The Book of Life (2014)

And so it is over. After an intriguing first volume, and a rather entertaining second volume, I’ve saved the final volume of this trilogy for the third lock-down, hoping that it will indeed be the last (I hope I don’t jinx it by posting it publicly). Indeed it took me very far away from my allowed 10km perimeter, to London, Venice, French countryside, Upstate NY, New Orleans, in a whirlwind. The characters travel by private planes from Europe to the US and back for one reason or another, blissfully unaware of any virus except for certain genetic diseases that I will spare you the details. For the lock-down, nobody can predict that it won’t return again (keeping fingers crossed for vaccinations soon!), but for this trilogy, I can safely say that I won’t return to it.

It was surely a difficult task to finish this mammoth story and to tie all the plot lines. But this is one big mess of a story, and 560 pages of it! There are way too many things happening in the book, far too many characters springing out of nowhere (oh by the way, I forgot to mention my best friend, whom I haven’t talked to in a year, and I obviously forgot to tell him that I fell in love, got married, ditched my job and got pregnant… and he’s taking it all in strides, even as I tell him I’m in fact a witch…) or disappearing altogether.

It is a page-turner, but this time I mostly turned very fast to be done with it and to get answers to my questions, which I didn’t really get in the end! The pace also is very uneven, and the story has many inconsistencies. I believe the writer is trying to push her luck and provide enough material for other books, but, really, no thank you. It finally pushed me over the edge, from benign amusement to real annoyance. I can suspend my disbelief for paranormal romances to some extent, but there’s only so much I can take, especially when the main characters become rather bland and too perfect to be honest. I’d say that the main weakness of this third volume is the lack of a powerful plot arch. Diana and Matthew are so good and powerful that I was never worried that they would succeed.

If you’re not into vampires and witches and you want to have a good laugh, there are hilarious 1-star reviews in Goodreads about this volume. It also redeemed the hours I spent on the book. Now, I would love to be swept off my feet by another big book, even without vampires. What would you recommend?

The One with Shakespeare’s Vampire Friend

Deborah Harkness, Shadow of Night (2012)

Oops, I did it again! I’m sorry I couldn’t resist (the book, and the Britney Spears’ pun). That’s all Covid’s fault I’m sure. The virus and the accumulation of bad news made me do it. After A Discovery of Witches, I couldn’t stop there. I had bought the trilogy on Kindle (an economic choice, as the trilogy was hardly more expensive than the first book), so I had to continue.

What is any good? I certainly can’t pretend to be objective. Well, for the people who enjoyed the first tome, it was a lot more of the same with a change of scenery. For people who found the first tome ridiculous, I don’t think the second will have any redeeming value. Witch Diana and her vampire lover Matthew have chosen to travel back in time at the end of the first volume, hoping to discover more about the coveted manuscript of Ashmole 782, and to escape their enemies. And so they arrive in… 1590, where Matthew used to have lots of friends like Christopher Marlowe, Henri Raileigh, Shakespeare etc. They spend time observing their surroundings with a lot of name dropping and details about clothes and food, like in the first volume, and then lots of shenanigans occur. Not very logical, nor very plausible shenanigans, but enough to keep turning the pages.

I’m all for a change of scenery. I don’t have witches and vampires on my heels, I just have a global pandemic and a very likely third national lock-down. So at this stage I have nothing against Elizabethan England, and lots of details about food and clothes. I readily confess that this is not a highly intellectual motivation nor a very challenging read, but this book is pure fantasy and escapism, and in that respect, it delivers.

Thank goodness there is yet another volume in the trilogy! I will probably start it if/when the government orders the third lock-down. I hope that will be the last lock-down before vaccine, because no more Diana / Matthew frolics after the next book!

The One with Fangs and Wands in Academia

Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches (2011)

How is it possible to both enjoy a book and be aware at all times of its problematic nature? This book is a bit like a guilty pleasure, not only because it is a romance, but because it is not the kind of romantic relationship I would condone in real life. But hey, it’s about vampires and witches, so I’m just throwing realism to the windmills anyway.

If you want to have a bit laugh, go and read some of the one-star reviews of this book in Goodreads. Go ahead, I promise you’ll have a great time. I did, and I laughed, and I did not stop me from devouring the whole book and buying the trilogy. Alright, I might be weird.

In fact, I’d watched the series on dvd before, and I agreed with Mr. Smithereens that it was too schmaltzy. I could practically hear him roll his eye on the sofa. I didn’t really enjoy Teresa Palmer as Diana Bishop, but I sure did enjoy Downtown abbeyesque Matthew Goode as Matthew de Clairmont (how confusing that they have the same first name!). But it was one of those stories where the book has to be better than the series, because the action on the page is much more forgiving and the suspension of disbelief more effective. Also, I wanted more alchemy and more bookish details and I suspected these had been edited on screen.

On the ahem side, I can’t imagine that a relationship between two heroes would still be written this way in a post me-too world. If you concentrate on facts only, Matthew de Clairmont is borderline abusive, stalkerish, sneaky, and the way everyone is ok with him having his way with his girlfriend raises highbrows. Apparently consent is not vampires’ forte. Diana is annoyingly naive.

On the positive side, it’s a sweeping romance among people who love books, libraries, tea and history. And also magic. And time travel thrown into the mix for good measure (Outlander, anyone?). I am aware that my positive arguments are twice shorter than my negative ones, but it does not reflect the fun I had while reading it. Clearly, it could have been edited and details about clothes and food are largely unnecessary, but it still is quite a page turner and I ended up wanting more.