by Deborah Harkness
Released: July 15, 2014
Published by Viking Adult
“While paranormal fans will enjoy the series, I think the entire trilogy would be enjoyed by lovers of historical and contemporary literature as well.” ~ Under the Covers
I can’t believe it’s over! The Book of Life was a VERY highly anticipated release for me. I’ve followed the All Soul’s Trilogy from its first installment, A Discovery of Witches. I’m a paranormal fan, but I sometimes find paranormal to be too free with the death and destruction. Characters are killed off here and there with little emotion and it often seems like an intense video game. While there may be a time and a place for that, I appreciate Deborah Harkness for writing this trilogy as what I would call “realistic” paranormal. That’s my own category, one I reserve for paranormals whose characters tend to play by a wide variety of human rules. In the All Soul’s Trilogy, the plot centers around a vampire/witch romance. Diana and Matthew are two mature beings that live in the very concrete world of academia. If you’re reading this review and haven’t started the series, I won’t give any overwhelming spoilers, but The Book of Life is not a standalone. It directly builds from installment to installment and has a vast cast of characters that you’re better off learning from the beginning. It’s even sometimes hard to keep track as a seasoned reader.
Diana, a witch, and her vampire mate, Matthew, return to the present time in The Book of Life to a world in turmoil. In their time in the past hiding from their enemies, much has occurred and it sends their world into a tailspin. Diana and Matthew are anticipating something wonderful in their lives and Matthew can’t help but be the protective vampire he was made to be. Their quest for the Book of Life is one of significance for all living beings, including the entirety of the paranormal world. Unfortunately, there are enemies that see to destroy any hope of peace. The overwhelming theme of the trilogy is love of family and love of self, finding the courage to accept the magic that lies within each of us. Matthew’s family is an integral part of the story, with characters that I’ve come to love returning to join in the fight. Not all of his family is well intentioned, however, and a vampire from the past becomes the enemy who will force an epic battle.
This finale has the same wonderful characters, but it’s a different type of book than the first two installments. If I were to choose a favorite, it would have to be A Discovery of Witches, as the romantic in me loves the anticipation of new love. It was a mysterious, spellbinding read. The Shadow of Night is a historical, time travel adventure, where Matthew and Diana must find their place in an established history while developing their epic romance. In contrast, The Book of Life reads in plot structure more like a paranormal adventure, leading up to the epic final battle. I found it to be a very fitting ending to the series, with enough loose ends to perhaps generate at least a novella or two. I sometimes found the cast of characters a bit overwhelming and not every intricacy of the Book itself fully explained, but it had also been 2 years since I’d read The Shadow of Night, and that’s a decent break for a world so complex. It’s also notably light on sex, so readers shouldn’t expect too much in that regard. Not that I’m complaining too much. Matthew never fails to rise in all his alpha vampire glory, wrapped up in an Oxford professor package. It’s hard to resist that in the end. Diana is never one to be considered weak. She shines as she comes into her own as a weaver witch. While paranormal fans will enjoy the series, I think the entire trilogy would be enjoyed by lovers of historical and contemporary literature as well. I hope we get to see more of these characters again, as I’m not really ready to give them up for good!
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THE BOOK OF LIFE AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK MAY 26, 2015
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A CONVERSATION WITH DEBORAH HARKNESS
In your day job, you are a professor of history and science at the University of Southern California and have focused on alchemy in your research. What aspects of this intersection between science and magic do you hope readers will pick up on while reading THE BOOK OF LIFE? There’s quite a bit more lab work in this book!
There is. Welcome back to the present! What I hope readers come to appreciate is that science—past or present—is nothing more than a method for asking and answering questions about the world and our place in it. Once, some of those questions were answered alchemically. Today, they might be answered biochemically and genetically. In the future? Who knows. But Matthew is right in suggesting that there are really remarkably few scientific questions and we have been posing them for a very long time. Two of them are: who am I? why am I here?
Much of the conflict in the book seems to mirror issues of race and sexuality in our society, and there seems to be a definite moral conclusion to THE BOOK OF LIFE. Could you discuss this? Do you find that a strength of fantasy novels is their ability to not only to allow readers to escape, but to also challenge them to face important moral issues?
Human beings like to sort and categorize. We have done this since the beginnings of recorded history, and probably well back beyond that point. One of the most common ways to do that is to group things that are “alike” and things that are “different.” Often, we fear what is not like us. Many of the world’s ills have stemmed from someone (or a group of someones) deciding what is different is also dangerous. Witches, women, people of color, people of different faiths, people of different sexual orientations—all have been targets of this process of singling others out and labeling them different and therefore undesirable. Like my interest in exploring what a family is, the issue of difference and respect for difference (rather than fear) informed every page of the All Souls Trilogy. And yes, I do think that dealing with fantastic creatures like daemons, vampires, and witches rather than confronting issues of race or sexuality directly can enable readers to think through these issues in a useful way and perhaps come to different conclusions about members of their own families and communities. As I often say when people ask me why supernatural creatures are so popular these days: witches and vampires are monsters to think with.
While there are entire genres devoted to stories of witches, vampires, and ghosts, the idea of a weaver – a witch who weaves original spells – feels very unique to THE BOOK OF LIFE. What resources helped you gain inspiration for Diana’s uniqueness?
Believe it or not, my inspiration for weaving came from a branch of mathematics called topology. I became intrigued by mathematical theories of mutability to go along with my alchemical theories of mutability and change. Topology is a mathematical study of shapes and spaces that theorizes how far something can be stretched or twisted without breaking. You could say it’s a mathematical theory of connectivity and continuity (two familiar themes to any reader of the All Souls Trilogy). I wondered if I could come up with a theory of magic that could be comfortably contained within mathematics, one in which magic could be seen to shape and twist reality without breaking it. I used fabric as a metaphor for this worldview with threads and colors shaping human perceptions. Weavers became the witches who were talented at seeing and manipulating the underlying fabric. In topology, mathematicians study knots—unbreakable knots with their ends fused together that can be twisted and shaped. Soon the mathematics and mechanics of Diana’s magic came into focus.
A Discovery of Witches debuted at # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and Shadow of Night debuted at #1. What has been your reaction to the outpouring of love for the All Souls Trilogy? Was it surprising how taken fans were with Diana and Matthew’s story?
It has been amazing—and a bit overwhelming. I was surprised by how quickly readers embraced two central characters who have a considerable number of quirks and challenge our typical notion of what a heroine or hero should be. And I continue to be amazed whenever a new reader pops up, whether one in the US or somewhere like Finland or Japan—to tell me how much they enjoyed being caught up in the world of the Bishops and de Clemonts. Sometimes when I meet readers they ask me how their friends are doing—meaning Diana, or Matthew, or Miriam. That’s an extraordinary experience for a writer.
Shadow of Night and A Discovery of Witches have often been compared to young adult fantasy like Twilight, with the caveat that this series is for adults interested in history, science, and academics. Unlike Bella and Edward, Matthew and Diana are card-carrying members of academia who meet in the library of one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Are these characters based on something you found missing in the fantasy genre?
There are a lot of adults reading young adult books, and for good reason. Authors who specialize in the young adult market are writing original, compelling stories that can make even the most cynical grownups believe in magic. In writing A Discovery of Witches, I wanted to give adult readers a world no less magical, no less surprising and delightful, but one that included grown-up concerns and activities. These are not your children’s vampires and witches.
Interview posted in coordination with Penguin Books.
THE ALL SOULS TRILOGY BOARD GAME!
Penguin has created a gorgeous, limited-edition All Souls Trilogy board game and they’ll be giving 10 board games total away via their Twitter @PenguinPbks over the course of the next two weeks (among other great All Souls prizes). These will be random giveaways taking place on Tuesday 5/26 and Thursday 6/4. To enter, check the Penguin Twitter during the mornings (ET) on those days and be sure to retweet the giveaway post by 4:30 p.m. ET—they’ll be randomly selecting winners around 5 p.m. from among the people who retweet.
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Penguin Books is giving away a signed copy of Diana’s commonplace book (a small book that Diana Bishop, the main character in the All Souls Trilogy, keeps as a sort of journal in SHADOW OF NIGHT). This is signed by Deborah Harkness. (US only!)