My Review of Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2) by Deborah Harkness

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Info from Goodreads

Picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night takes Diana and Matthew on a trip through time to Elizabethan London, where they are plunged into a world of spies, magic, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the School of Night. As the search for Ashmole 782 deepens and Diana seeks out a witch to tutor her in magic, the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them, and they embark on a very different—and vastly more dangerous—journey.

Hardcover, 584 pages – Published July 10th 2012 by Viking Adult

4/5 stars

This book deserves a Wow as well. Forgive me as I stumble over reviewing this because I’m not so sure how to do so without spoiling some of the first book. It’s like seeing a preview to a movie sequel before you’ve seen the first one, now you definitely know that one lady lives because she’s in the second trailer. So then I say to you dear reader, if you haven’t read the first book, A Discovery of Witches, and you think you will, don’t read this yet. I recommend you just go right to reading it or you can read My Review of A Discovery of Witches. I have no doubt if you enjoy the first one at all you’ll have to read the second. By all means if you’ve read the first and are still unsure, then read on! Or please if you’ve read them both or the whole trilogy and want to discuss your thoughts and feelings read on and let’s chat. I’d love to hear how you thought it worked or what didn’t. However, PLEASE do not spoil book three for me!

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Okay, some basic spoilers to follow…

This book got saucy with the romance, which we knew it had to but not being a regular romance reader it made me blush. While the author went there with the intimacy I don’t think she overdid it. The scenes weren’t long and drawn out and many times they concluded or started with other bits of useful information. I really appreciate that about a writer, when they don’t box a scene up to serve one purpose. If you don’t like romance or reading about intimacy AT ALL, you’ll probably get more than a little annoyed. That being said, Diana and Matthew’s relationship is central to this story so, pick your battles. Oh and for those of you that might be triggered, there are a couple aggressively passionate love scenes between Matthew & Diana. They’re not abusive or unwanted, they’re just…intense to say the least. If you ask me, regardless how you feel about love scenes, the overall story is worth it. The scenes are at least PG-13 – R-rated, but don’t quote me on that.

Traveling back in time as we did was really interesting. I wondered how it would work out and if it would. Harkness did not disappoint with her research and ability to make it work in a natural way even though time travel is so unfortunately unnatural. Spoiler: she did not force the concept of hiding it from everyone. Lesser or less experienced (pardon me) authors might try and make you believe no one noticed Diana was out of place. You don’t just slip back into the 16th century unnoticed. Nope, not Harkness, she works with and through that. The other characters’ responses to such details are great.

Now, do I think this book had to be 584 pages? No. It would not have suffered from leaving some more pages on the cutting room floor. At least halfway through the book you might be feeling like you’re more than ready to move on from time traveling. There were at least a few places where they mentioned going back to the…future/present and I got excited for a change of pace. Alas it did not yet come. But that’s not to say the time spent in the past was full of the same monotonous routine. Not at all. A lot happens in 1590-1, interesting twists and turns full of creepy people. Nonetheless, there’s still a lot we could have skipped.

That’s probably my biggest critique besides Deborah Harkness’ love for lots of setting and time period details, not my favorite. If I liked this amount of detail than she deserves a high five. 😉

This book is full of emotion. There’s so much going on what with Matthew returning to a past he once knew, people he once knew and loved. We get to dive into his vulnerability and watch him fight to unfold, unfold and then come back together again. The relationship with his father Phillipe is very special, never mind that Phillipe himself is a well-written, nuanced character. I do hope they personify him well in the TV series because he’s so iconic. It would be an enormous shame should they miss the mark. We meet a lot of other great characters, including Matthew’s nephew Gallowglass. The characters alone are a great reason to read this book.

This book really gives us a chance to get to know Matthew better. Plus I really enjoyed getting a better look at the history of witches, vampires, and daemons. The traditions and ceremonies were fun, sometimes drawn out, but still interesting.

Lastly…

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I want to address something I saw people complaining about in the first book: Matthew’s dominant, aggressive personality and behaviors. It seemed his character got the feminists all riled up. Don’t forget that Diana is more than attracted to Matthew, she’s wildly in love with him, all of him. She’s more than capable of handling herself and is in no way an unwilling participant or victim here. I am not implying that whatever he does is made okay because she loves him. Nor am I saying that love somehow makes abuse okay. I’m also not saying that a woman who can handle herself can’t be abused. All I’m saying is keep it in the context of the story. Diana is not abused or taken advantage of by Matthew. But there are OTHER people who abuse and physically harm Diana, as we saw in the first book.

It’s not okay to hurt or (try to) control another person, whether you’re a man, woman or child. It’s also important to be able to distinguish an abusive person from a personality you just don’t care for. Masculinity is not toxic, but not unlike femininity, it can be.

Deborah Harkness didn’t create a chauvinistic prick in Matthew. No, she created a 1,500+ year old alpha male vampire with heavy emphasis on the fact that he is a predator, and I mean predator as in the animal kingdom, not a sexual predator. Matthew is very cognizant of his domineering behavior and worries about the parts of him that make him dangerous. In the first book you discover that he is avoiding being intimate with her. He’s worried about the possessive nature of a vampire once they take a mate. I get it if the aggression triggers you and any trauma you may have experienced, and for that I’m sorry if you have those experiences. I’m very sorry if you or anyone you care for has been affected by abuse and/or violence of any kind. It’s never acceptable for anyone to be taken or used in any way against their will. I do not condone violent masculinity and I’m not supporting it here. But there’s a difference between highly masculine men and abusive masculinity. However that is NOT what is happening in this story with Diana and Matthew. His over-protectiveness is not the abusive kind; he has EVERY right to be worried about and for her. His behavior cannot be taken out of context. And lest you forget, Diana more than handles herself when she thinks people MIGHT being pushing her around.

Diana and Matthew’s relationship is not an abusive one. While there are elements that might trigger you, kept in the context of the story, you will see that there is a real relationship of love and compassion. And let me tell you, Diana does more than what she wants. There are more than plenty of instances where Diana will annoy you because she doesn’t listen and just goes and does what she wants. Trust that Diana very much her own woman no matter.

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I welcome your thoughts and comments, but not your book three spoilers. 😉 If you read this based on my referral please give me a shout out on your blog and link back to me here. I will start reading Book 3, The Book of Life, immediately following so stay tuned for my review of that in the next couple weeks. Then I’ll give watching the AMC TV series a try, although I’ll tell you right now, I don’t like their pick for Matthew.

Thank you! If you want to read more of my reviews, CLICK HERE.

You can also see what I’m reading at 2019 TBR

Or what I plan to read soon Spring 2019 TBR

My Review of The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst

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Info from Goodreads:

(My review follows)

The natural magic of the classic The Island of the Blue Dolphins meets the danger and courage of The Hunger Games in this dazzling, intricate stand-alone fantasy novel set in award-winning author Sarah Beth Durst’s beloved world of Renthia.

Life is precious and precarious on the islands of Belene. Besieged by a capricious ocean full of malicious spirits, the people of the islands seek joy where they can. Mayara, one of the island’s fearless oyster divers, has found happiness in love. But on the day of her wedding to the artist Kelo, a spirit-driven storm hits the island with deadly force.

To save her loved ones, Mayara reveals a dangerous secret: she has the power to control the spirits. When the storm ends, she is taken into custody by the queen’s soldiers and imprisoned with other women like her.

They vary in age and social status, but to many they are heroes who will aide the country or witches that will sacrifice themselves trying. No matter who they are, the women are sent to a terrifying place—an island filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits, and left without food, water, shelter, or any tools except their own instincts and magic. Whoever survives the Island of Testing will be declared heirs to the queen. But no matter if she wins or loses, Mayara knows that the life she dreamed of is gone.

368 pages – Published March 19th 2019 by Harper Voyager

My Review of The Deepest Blue

3/5 stars

It was very difficult for me to rate this book. In part because I’m a fan of this author and her Queens of Renthia trilogy as well as her book Lost (unrelated to this world or series). I think reviewing a book is made even more troublesome when you’ve been anticipating its release and it doesn’t live up to your expectations. That’s what happened here.

While I enjoyed the story, and I already enjoy spending time in Renthia, there are a number of things that felt superficial and missed their mark. I liked the main character Mayara. She’s tenacious and brave, and full of love for the people she cares about. The book opens beautifully on Mayara and Kelo’s wedding day. Right off the bat we get a taste of why Mayara’s family sometimes calls her reckless. We know this protagonist is going to take us on an adventure. For the most part the opening to this story was spot on. There is some spoiling that goes on in the rest of this review, not in detail but enough detail to spoil the story some or a lot.

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But then there were things that started to get to me. For instance, mentioning repeatedly how Mayara gets ready for a deep dive, how she compares so much to getting ready for a deep dive and every time she takes deep breaths we have to remember that that’s what she does when she’s getting ready for a deep dive. *Sigh.*

A major pet peeve of mine when it comes to reading in general, and something I’m trying to remember as I write my own book, is opportunistic writing, as I like to call it. I don’t like when characters are just made to fit because you need them to. Or turns in the story just go that way because the author needs them to, not because they flow naturally. In the case of this story, Mayara’s new found friend Roe has apparently been studying in secret and yet she seems to be no better at controlling the spirits than Mayara? How and why? In this case, if you’re going to make your character be awesome, more awesome than they should be, then build that case for us please. Don’t just say yup there you go, that’s how it is, Mayara is just a natural. Break some scenes down for me. Don’t just tell me oh yeah she’s not so good but then, she’s still got this. What does she figure out that helps her that she didn’t know before? How does she break through what she doesn’t know? Don’t just keep reminding me she’s not practiced but then showing me she’s plenty capable. Show me something in Mayara’s character that makes her special with regard to the scene. Other than her ability to swim and dive. Expand on these things.

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Again, these are notes to myself as I write and to all of us writers in addition to critique of this story. Remember show-don’t-tell is a relevant, worthwhile piece of advice. Even if it’s just a little scene or a little tidbit or even something that isn’t obvious, put it in there to show us this character has an edge. Show me, don’t just tell me they do. And don’t keep telling me about the same quality, that’s not enough to carry me through believing and rooting for her. Yes she’s brave and fearful and that’s real, but go deeper please. Show me how it comes to be that she navigates through these murky waters (pun intended) instead of expecting me to roll with it because she’s the main character, and ya know, that’s how it goes.

The author constantly tells us that Mayara likens every challenge to a deep dive and here’s the ritual that precedes it (please no more). Give us more of her inner character and how she breaks things down to get through them, but please know that once you’ve told us a couple times you don’t have to spell the same thing out every time thereafter. (Have I done it enough with regard to this detail? That’s how it felt reading.) It was things like that by the way that made me wonder if Mrs. Durst wasn’t getting confused with her art of writing middle grade. I’m probably reading into that since I know she writes in different age groups, nevertheless, that’s how I felt, that she at times forgot she was writing for adults.

Back to what I was saying: she tells us about getting ready for deep dives. (OMG, this again, really eLPy?) Tell us more about what’s happening that makes her capable of handling the spirits when, in this part of the world, girls hide their affinity for fear of being found out and sent to the island for testing. They don’t get to explore their affinities on their own or often. And maybe expand on this especially for those of us who have read the other series. What did Mayara miss by not being able to study her affinity? What does everyone miss? Don’t spend so much time on the same elements of love and Kelo and her family. Now she’s face to face with this affinity that she’s had to hide, how does she face it? What does that feel like for her to confront this?

It’s fair to say that we know from the start that this girl is going to be our hero, she’s going to go to the island. But what happens once we get there and even the immediate lead up to their departure feels so forced! She just so happens to be the last girl and now they’re off? So everyone else got to train for some undisclosed amount of time and she’s just shit out of luck? I know I’ve already given some spoilers here but I don’t think they’re too consequential however I won’t go into much detail in terms of other incidences that bothered me once they got to the island. All said and done for me it felt like the author tried too hard by not being creative enough to make Mayara the heroine. How? Why? How? There’s a lot that was opportunistic. Put her in a desperate situation because that’s what these stories do. Right? NO, don’t do that! I mean do it but show us readers how and why, not just because that’s what you think the story needs. Build us a sand castle but show us the tools, the methods, the failed attempts, the learning curves, the successes. Show us that the “it-just-so-happened-that” moments are realistic in your story, they don’t just happen. They happened. Don’t remind me I’m reading a made-up story.

Things like: so and so got injured so ya know, it’s all up to Mayara. Really? I mean, really? How perfect that our heroine has to do it on her own instead of someone more qualified with the spirits. Really? The whole scene on the island was tied up like a bow and way too neat. And I’m sorry but I was really hoping for the diversity of spirits that we saw in the previous trilogy. It’s really an inconsequential thing but I got sort of bored with the spirits seeming to be of the same five or so forms.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a fan of Sarah Beth Durst and I will continue to read her work. I do hope she continues in this world, in fact, I hope she explores the entire world, that whole darn map she drew for us! But please don’t sew them all up so nicely. I love happy endings, I’m not saying leave us with some sour bitter ends, but don’t make the bow so damn perfect!

There were some nice twists in this story, some conclusions that were satisfying but the end result as a whole was very disappointing because it was SO similar to another book she wrote. How did Mayara with her supreme lack of experience and training with spirits wind up in THAT position? I was left shaking my head going “REALLY! HOW?!” At least in one of the Queens of Renthia books the character built up, and worked up to her position. It didn’t “just-so-happen”. There are what should be deep emotional conversations that fall flat and/or feel like they’re written for a younger group. Then these violent scenes that are like whoa, was that for shock and awe, oh yes this is for young adult/adults. All in all, perhaps this book was rushed. It missed its mark for me. I don’t dislike Mayara or the other characters but I’m not connected to her. Do I want to see her again? Meh…sure? But give her some more meat please, more emotion, more depth.

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While you may think I’m a jerk and mean and all that fun stuff at this point – that’s fine – I will say I very much enjoyed the sociopath we met in previous books, Lady Garnah. She is a well-developed character who is both loathsome and likable in the strangest way. I dare say I had to root for her a few times. This character has had time to marinate and she works. She exhibits the difference between rushing a character and/or forcing their story to your will and allowing them to be who they are in the story. She was a welcome surprise and an A+ for me.

At the end of the book Durst explains that she wanted to write a book about someone growing and strengthening from love, not just pain. In her personal experience she grew a lot from her love for her husband and her family. I respect and admire her making this attempt to approach this from a different angle. That said while she didn’t completely miss the mark she kind of did because for me she tried so hard to stay on the love page that it felt like she may have deliberately avoided character and story development that leaned too much towards pain and hardship. I hope if we see Mayara again we get a full pallet of the colors of her personality and a deeper look inside.

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And it is with a heavy heart I give this book 3/5 stars. I have to be review with integrity so there it is. Sarah Beth Durst keep going, I can’t wait to read more, but this one I think IMHO needed more time in the oven especially given the deep philosophy behind what you were attempting.

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Note to myself and all authors, not every main character should be a queen.