Review: “The Book of Life” by Deborah Harkness

16054217This is a review of the third book in a trilogy, so if you don’t want spoilers DO NOT READ ON!

Consider yourself warned.

The Book of Life, the conclusion of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls trilogy, finds the witch Diana Bishop and her husband, the vampire Matthew Clairmont, back in the present after their long trip to 1590s Europe. A lot has happened while they were in the past, including the death of Diana’s beloved aunt, Emily.

But the de Clermont family does not have time to dwell on tragedy, as Diana’s pregnancy with Matthew’s twins means trouble from the Congregation, and Peter Knox’s feverish search for Ashmole 782 spells trouble for everyone. Diana enlists the help of witches, vampires, and daemons, friends and enemies, to discover the secrets of the Book of Life before it is too late.

One thing I love about this series is the complete casualness with which supernatural creatures are introduced. From the get-go in the first book, A Discovery of Witches, it feels totally natural for witches, vampires, and daemons to exist in the world Harkness has created. She even finds a way to include time travel without it feeling ridiculous or out of place. All of the fantasy and science fiction aspects of the book are deeply rooted in history and science. Admittedly, that may make it boring for some people.

I am a history buff, and I find witchcraft lore fascinating, but even my eyes started glazing over during some parts of the book. There are a lot of alchemical, historical, and scientific facts that require explaining and the result is pages filled with lessons rather than plot. For me, those sections don’t detract from the overall story, which is brilliantly concluded in this novel.

What does detract from the story, though, is the sheer number of characters Harkness has accumulated since the start of the series. They all come together in The Book of Life and are often in the same scenes together (mainly at Sept-Tours, or any time the massive de Clermont family is amassed). Harkness does an admirable job of keeping tabs on everyone, but as a reader I found it difficult to keep each character, their supernatural status, their relationship to Diana, and their back story straight. Often it was distracting and I was focused on figuring out who was who, rather than on what was happening in the story.

But let’s focus on that story for a second, because it is, in truth, excellent. It is one of the most original fantasy series I have ever read, and its ending is  both satisfying and realistic. There was not one plot twist I could have predicted, and Diana’s character somehow manages to become even more bad ass than she was in the second book. She is probably my favorite heroine in contemporary sci fi/fantasy, because she is legitimately powerful in her own right even without the help of her vampire husband. With the exception of those passages I mentioned above, where she stops to explain things, Diana’s sense of urgency moves the story along.

Overall, I really enjoyed this conclusion to Harkness’s masterpiece trilogy. As in all trilogies, though, the last book is not necessarily as good as the first. I would recommend this series to any fantasy nerds who enjoy a lot of history, but if you can’t handle a lot of background information- don’t go for it!




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