It’s very rare that a series starts off and continues to pick up steam the entire way through. In my previous experience, there is usually a middle-book slump. In the case of Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy the middle book of the trilogy, Shadow of NIght, was the stand out, followed closely by The Book of Life and in a distant third, the trilogy opener A Discovery of Witches.
This could be because the entire series takes place over about a year (give or take a few months because of time travel), but more than likely I think it has to do with the amount of action continuously increasing as the series moved forward. This wasn’t necessarily a good thing as I’ll talk about below, but that’s my conjecture.
One of the primary aspects of this series is that it is a star-crossed lovers’ tale. And I loved that Harkness decided during this book to get meta about it:
“‘Oh, you two had the star-crossed-lovers part down—and I understand how romantic it can be to feel it’s just the two of you against the world.’ Sarah chuckled. ‘Em and I were star-crossed lovers, after all. In upstate New York in the 1970s, nothing was more star-crossed than two women falling in love.'” (337)
It made me smile, not only because of the self-reference, but also because of the matter-of-factness of LGBT characters. I absolutely adored that Harkness included openly lesbian and gay characters in this series (a gay daemon, a gay vampire and a lesbian witch or two). They were just part of the world, and with no mention of their struggle other than this passing reference to 1970s rural politics.
I also found this line swoon-worthy:
“To every question I have ever had, or will ever have, you are the answer.” (410)
I feel like it’s been said before, but either way it just made me incredibly giddy. Imagine having someone say that to you when you ask them why they love you. Swoon, right?
The strongest part of the series also serves as the biggest detraction of the series: the action. Overall, the series is relatively slow-paced and more like a political thriller than a murder-mystery. This works great in that the whodunit dragged out over the three books is fairly obvious, but Harkness gets to slowly dissect it over centuries of storyline and hundreds of pages. It doesn’t work great in that the actual action throughout the series is often times rushed and not given enough room to breathe.
This was clearly a choice by the writer, but for a book that relies so heavily on traumatic (not sure that’s the right word) instances, the lack-of-focus on those and the ensuing retribution/revenge/justice seemed wanting. Now I’m not saying Harkness should have written out every grisly detail à la George R.R. Martin, but the ENTIRE series wraps up in fewer than 50 pages. This includes a lot of planning, action and the “x moments” later. I wasn’t disappointed in the end, but I felt like it could’ve been done a lot better and with a lot more detail.
Recommendation: READ IT. I think if you like slower paced books, are a history buff, can get really lost in a world, and/or love the merging of fiction and history you’ll enjoy this better. It’s not as much like Twilight and Harry Potter for adults as I first thought, but I still think that’s a pretty reasonable comparison.
Opening Line: “Ghosts didn’t have much substance.”
Closing Line: “Without beginning or end.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
Additional Quotes from The Book of Life
“After Sidonie’s visit the coven was grounded for a full year—no flying, no apparating, and positively no exorcisms. They still haven’t recovered.” (180)
“I tramped up the staircase to the main level of the library. Here, glass-encased books formed the Beinecke’s spinal column, the core of knowledge and ideas around which the collection was built. Rows and rows of rare books were lined up on the shelves, bathed in light. It was a breathtaking sight, one that reminded me of my purpose as a historian: to rediscover the forgotten truths contained in those old, dusty volumes.” (204)
“It was a welcome reminder that, different though we might be, we were a family of sorts—no stranger or more idiosyncratic than thousands that had come before us.” (339)
“The gramarye had become convoluted, the spell’s intention murky, and now instead of protecting Amanda it was the magical equivalent of an angry Chihuahua, snarling and snapping at everything that came close.” (394)
“Sol in Sagittarius: Sagittarius governs faith, religion, writings, bookes, and the interpretation of dreames. Those born under the signe of the archer shall work great wonders and receive much honour and joye. While Sagittarius rules the heavens, consult with lawyers about thy business. It is a good season for making oaths and striking bargains.” (418)
“The babies’ first Christmas was as loving and festive as anyone could wish. With eight vampires, two witches, one human vampire-in-waiting, and three dogs in attendance, it was also lively.” (449)