I did read a few of the Goodreads reviews after I bought this book, back in July 2018; the recent ones were a bit dismal about it; I may not have bothered buying it, had I read these before. That would have been a real shame, because this is a well-written and absorbing historical fantasy, which I am glad I have read; I suspect that Stephenie Meyer was holding Deborah Harkness’ beer while she was writing it (although I did actually quite enjoy Twilight at the time!). I’ve already put the sequel, Shadow of Night, on my Christmas list (if I can wait that long – experience says not likely).
The blurb reads, “Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell…
..Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. “
I devoured this 600+page book in two and a half days flat; I couldn’t put it down for long. I was invested in all the main characters, and despite finding the romance aspect a little too suffocating for my taste, it didn’t spoil it for me. I have the same sort of issue with the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas; while I enjoy reading it, and terrifically strong female characters are to be applauded, something about the relationships with dominating, fierce, brooding males, who are devastatingly attractive, doesn’t quite sit comfortably with me, however pulse-racing it is! And it is pulse-racing, albeit a slow pulse in Matthew’s case.
If I have any criticism of it, for me personally, it’s simply that there are slightly too many descriptions of what the characters are eating, drinking and wearing. Some of this of course, is necessary. I completely get that when preparing a meal for an alluring vampire, one may have to go the extra mile on researching a suitable menu and sourcing the ingredients, and how those, once having been assembled, are received by said Ancient.
However, we quickly learn that fine wines will be being quaffed, copiously and especially during the evening, and that Diana will be famished and wearing black leggings and a variety of turtleneck jumpers, and Matthew will be donning a cashmere sweater in one of all shades of monochrome. I thought that some of the extra unnecessary detail detracted a little from the storytelling.
There are many aspects which I really liked; I love a university library reading room for a start! It’s intelligently written; the academic in the author is evident. I found the alchemical references and the scholarly discussions within the university setting and beyond, absorbing and interesting. Some people who have reviewed it said that they found it boring, but I wouldn’t agree, despite the level of detail. I would qualify this by admitting that I have an enormously high tolerance for boredom. Now I think about it, I don’t believe I’ve ever actually felt bored in my entire life, and I’ve lived a very unremarkable one. I’m not sure what that says about me. So, I can understand why some readers got bogged down with it, but I didn’t at all.
There are some smart scientific ideas here too; I enjoyed the exploration of the evolutionary discussion. The threatening behaviour towards Diana feels realistic and the dialogue throughout is convincing. The fact that love is love, no matter who it is between and whose social sensibilities are offended, is well communicated and heartfelt. The descriptions of all the residences in the novel are rich and atmospheric; I particularly love Sarah and Em’s chaotic, unpredictable and riotous home. It’s also a good mystery; you really don’t know what exactly is going on. The suspense is well-managed and timed. The history is enjoyable too. It’s part Dan Brown in places, but I mean this as a compliment. It keeps the pages turning quickly and gives a bit of an education while it’s at it.
And it all goes all Outlander at the end, so I’m itching to get my hands on the sequel! It’s also been made into a TV series this year, so I’m sure to be watching that too.