First a warning: The second book in the All Souls trilogy is not for kids. Matthew and Diana are married now, and the relationship is as tempestuous as you can imagine between an immortal vampire and an elemental witch. There are graphic descriptions of just how physical these creatures can be. However, if you started with A Discovery of Witches you are by now twitching with expectation and wonder. Where are they? When are they? Are they alive? Are they captured? Shadow of Night is the only antidote. Just be aware that it comes with a heavy dose of titillation.
And it's not unnecessary. The primary theme in this trilogy is reproduction and species preservation. Vampires are failing; they cannot make children. Daemons are turning wild, going mad with their own unspent and uncontrolled creative energy. The power of witches is dwindling to petty spells of hedge and hearth. Matthew, a geneticist, and Diana, a historian whose focus is Renaissance science, are both at the center of the quest for answers. When they marry, of course their first instinct is going to be to try to create a new generation. Mysterious lore about the child of a vampire and witch and an ancient prophecy that seems to point to Diana being the chosen vessel for this new generation only add to their purpose and sense of duty. And Matthew has been grieving for his lost son for millennia. He is made to be a father. Hence, there is going to be sex involved.
A Discovery of Witches focused on mothers and the female archetype. Shadow of Night concentrates on the male side of creating and molding the next generation. The relationship between child and father is often vague and undetermined, more so than that of mother and child. Perhaps because expectations are vague for both father and child, there are feelings of failure on both sides. Matthew is father to many vampires, male role model to a vast number of creatures, and son to a vampire who had no role in physically creating him but whose hand in molding Matthew is expressly evident. His relationships as both father and son are key motivating factors. Patrimony plays an unusual role in Diana's story as well. Diana's father is the wilder and more elemental force in her inheritance, a reversal from the typical female intuitive powers vs. male rational. In Shadow of Night Diana must learn to understand her shadowy father before she can fully be who she is.
Like Diana, Deborah Harkness is a historian whose focus is that boundary intellectual period when magic and science were still fused. So not unsurprisingly, All Souls is rich in historical and alchemical detail. I do think it's a little over the top in Shadow of Night though. Diana's surprised awe at her immortal and powerful husband's friend list becomes a bit tedious at times. But maybe it's that Diana is struggling to accept exactly how powerful Matthew is and her exclamation at each new acquaintance is just her way of expressing that. Still, sometimes it feels like Renaissance A-list celebrity name-dropping.
As a result, it takes a while — there are a LOT of introductions — to get into the action. But once the adventure starts, it never relents. Matthew and Diana are in a race to find the one book that contains the secret to creature survival, to learn to control and wield Diana's powers, and to accept each other for who they are — secrets, powers and all. And this race must be run without treading on the wrong toes (and there are such a lot of big toes in the way) or becoming so integrated into the past that they alter the future in paradoxical ways. Or merely find it impossible to say goodbye.
The ending in the advance reader copy that I have in hand is a little confusing. I'm hoping that's early editing oversight. Still, it sets up a long, breathless wait for the conclusion!