The Book of Life – All Souls Trilogy #3 – by Deborah Harkness

The book of life

Vampire stories are so not my thing. Usually. I must be about the only book nerd not to have got past the first 20 pages of Twilight and although I love fairy tales and stories of magic I pretty much avoid anything to do with the bloodsuckers.

So why I have absolutely loved this trilogy remains a bit of a mystery. Perhaps it is the combination of witches and vampires that has done it – there are just enough witches to water down the vampires. Or maybe it’s because these stories actively try not to be the stereotypical vampire story. I love this quote from Matthew (the main vampire character): ‘And before you ask, I can go outside during the day and my hair won’t catch fire in the sunlight. I’m Catholic and have a crucifix. When I sleep, which is not often, I prefer a bed to a coffin. If you try to stake me, the wood will likely splinter before it enters my skin… No fangs either. And one last thing: I do not, nor have I ever, sparkled’.

The emphasis in these stories is not really on what a vampire must do to survive. Don’t get me wrong, that does of course form part of the story but its rarely gruesome and when it is, the gruesomeness is for a very specific reason. Far more important than blood and death are the incredibly detailed and rich story, and the characters themselves. To some extent, whether they are human, witch, vampire or daemon is actually irrelevant. Ultimately, this is actually a very beautifully told, though never simple nor mushy, love story: ‘To every question I have ever had, or ever will have, you are the answer’.

It’s also very rare for me to enjoy the third in a series just as much as the first. Perhaps the fact that there has been a significant gap between all three volumes has helped. A Discovery of Witches (Volume #1) was published at the beginning of 2011; Shadow of Night about 18 months later in 2012 and this concluding volume in July 2014.

The gap has also been helpful because these are not quick, easy reads. Well, they weren’t for me anyway. Each volume clocks up over 560 pages and contain so much rich and absorbing detail that I wanted to savour them slowly: ‘Dried herbs and flowers hung from twine strung up between the exposed rafters. I could identify some of them: the swollen pods of nigella, bursting with tiny seeds; prickly-topped milk thistle; long-stemmed mullein crowned with the bright yellow flowers that earned them the name of witches’ candles; stalks of fennel. Sarah knew every one of them by sight, touch, taste and smell’.

In some ways, I wish I had re-read the first two volumes before embarking on this. I’m sure that there are things I missed as a result of not doing so, but it certainly didn’t detract from the read. Harkness is very good at reminding the reader of significant events in the past so that there were quite a few ‘Ah yes’ moments for me whilst reading this.

With each successive book, the characters have somehow ‘settled’, grown and developed. The relationships between them have also deepened and I couldn’t help but be swept away in the story, just as I was when I first picked up A Discovery of Witches three years ago. If you prefer not to know anything about the plot, I would advise you not to read past the blurb summary…

What the blurb says:

After travelling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, Historian and Witch Diana Bishop and Vampire Scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies.

At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches, with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency.

In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and University laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

This book is mainly concerned with four issues and all the resultant issues that branch off from them. All are interrelated and in order to explore them fully, the narrator changes throughout. The issues are the traumatic death of Diana’s Aunt Emily and the circumstances surrounding it; Diana’s pregnancy; ‘Blood rage’ – a hereditary condition passed from vampire to vampire and lastly, the search for the secrets of the Book of Life and Ashmole 782 which continue in this book with even more urgency: ‘The witches believed that it contained the first spells ever cast, the vampires that it told the story of how they were first made. Daemons thought the book held secrets about their kind, too… My job is to find the missing pages… then put it back together so that we can use it as leverage’.

Diana’s pregnancy inspires a great deal of interest in, and research into, ‘creature’ DNA and reproduction and this brings together a whole host of fabulous characters including Diana’s human best friend Dr Christopher Roberts, Matthew’s scientist second-in-command who is also a vampire, Miriam and a whole team of researchers with nicknames ranging from Mulder and Scully to Game Boy and Xbox.

The desire to have a greater understanding of the differences between creatures, and creatures and humans are to some extent resolved by the end of this volume and this has an impact on the ‘covenant’ which I won’t go into here at risk of writing serious spoilers. ‘Creatures had long ago agreed to a covenant to minimize the risk of their world’s coming to human attention… The ninemember Congregation enforced the covenant and made sure that creatures abided by its terms’.

Most of the wonderful characters from Book 2 return in Book 3 from those we love, to those we love to hate: ‘The mention of Benjamin’s name made my blood run cold. Matthew did have a son of that name. He was a terrifying creature, one whose madness was of unfathomable depth’. And the humour is still there too: ‘Peter Knox murdered Em. There’s a tree growing out of the fireplace. I’m pregnant with your children. We’ve been evicted from Sept-Tours. And the Congregations could show up at any minute and force us to separate. Does that sound fine to you?’

The book is full of Castles, Vampires, Witches, dusty old tomes of magic and a firedrake called Corra. What on earth is there not to like? This book manages to combine a rip-roaring plot with brilliant characters but is also full to the brim of completely realistic description and detail – if you’re a mother, I challenge you to read the childbirth scene without panting! All in all I’m rather sorry to have finished it and am hoping that Harkness decides to forget the ‘trilogy’ description and write a fourth volume. The perfect curl-up-on-the-sofa-and-forget-about-everything, read.

‘Our family had begun with the surprising love that developed between Matthew and me. It grew because our bond was strong enough to withstand the hatred and fear of others. And it would endure because we had discovered, like the witches so many centuries ago, that a willingness to change was the secret of survival’.

**

Treat yourself or someone else – a great trilogy for Christmas!

The Book of Life is available on Kindle: The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy 3)

And Hardcover: The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy 3)

Book 1 – A Discovery of Witches is also available on Kindle: A Discovery of Witches

And paperback: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy 1)

Book 2 – Shadow of Night on kindle: Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy 2)

And paperback: Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy 2)

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