At the end of Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches, the 21st century witch Diana and her 1,500-year-old lover the vampire/ex-Crusader/geneticist Matthew travel back to the year 1590 to seek out the mysterious book that’s caused them so much trouble in 2009. What better way to solve the mystery than to find the book before hostile witches, daemons and vampires get to it?
We were so charmed by A Discovery of Witches that right after we speed-read it we rushed to the bookstore in search of its sequel, Shadow of Night. By chapter one the spell was broken, and by chapter two we had done what Dorothy Parker recommends for certain books: hurl it across the room with great force. How did our fascination end so fast?
A Discovery of Witches had a whimsical nerdiness that distracted us from its main flaws, breathless prose and meandering to the point of randomness. This whimsical nerdiness, expressed in amusing historical detail, long passages about the correct way to prepare tea, and annotations on Darwin’s Origin of Species pertaining to vampires, daemons and witches, is gone from the sequel. It has been replaced with a self-conscious nerdiness that feels defensive, viz. “This isn’t just another tale of vampire lust, it’s an entertainment by a scholar of Elizabethan history and science.” It is crammed with so much exposition, so many digressions, and unnecessary historical cameo appearances that our soul left our body and traveled to the publishing house in 2011 to bludgeon its negligent editor with the 584-page trade paperback. Pass!