Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book of Life by Deborah Harkness, Two Reviews

 There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

― Washington Irving 

I deeply believe that tears can be a wonderful relief and a way of easing our pain or of expressing our joy as readers when we've finished a good book, or in this case, a series, and realize that we're no longer going to be able to spend time with the characters in the novels who have become our friends. That's how I felt after finishing the Book of Life, the final novel in Deborah Harkness' "Discovery of Witches" trilogy. Harkness has a way of allowing us to get inside the mind of her characters, all the while creating background and events from their lives that serve to fill them out and make them seem real and living, though they live fantastical lives filled with magic and creatures out of fairytales.
Here's an overview review from Shelf Awareness, and I will comment more following it.

Review: The Book of Life
Picking up where book two of the All Souls Trilogy (Shadow of Night)
left off, The Book of Life reunites readers with witch Diana Bishop, her
vampire husband, Matthew Clairmont, and their many friends and enemies.
After traveling through time in the previous novel, Diana and Matthew
are back in the present at his ancestral home, Sept-Tours, where they
learn the horrifying news that Emily, Diana's aunt who was also a witch,
has died.

The witch-vampire couple must also contend with Matthew's family, who
distrust Diana (particularly Baldwin, who wonders "how that witch
tricked a blood vow from a dead vampire"). As their visit wears on,
Diana learns more about her husband's past, that he is more than a
"scientist, vampire, warrior, spy, and prince" and that his blood rage
flows through the veins of others. Her in-laws, meanwhile, ponder the
incredible and seemingly impossible fact that Diana is pregnant with
Matthew's twins. If it's true, Baldwin claims, "they'll be the most
hated--and the most hunted--children the world has ever known. Creatures
will be baying for their blood."

Characters from the first books--such as Gallowglass, Miriam and
Chris--aid Diana and Matthew in their continued quest to find the
missing pages of the Ashmole 782, also called The Book of Life.
Firedrakes, daemons, a tree that grows in the living room and a house
that produces strange objects swirl around the couple as they travel to
Connecticut, France and Italy in search of answers to the questions that
have chased them through the centuries. And by using modern genetic
analysis, the couple hopes to find out what makes it possible for some
witches to carry vampire babies and why blood rage is found in a few
select vampires.

Full of tender love, immeasurable anger and humor, Harkness's prose
adroitly blends modern science with fantastical creatures, ideas on the
origins of all species, and the way past deeds can affect the future.
Though readers of the series will surely enjoy The Book of Life,
unfamiliarity with the intricate plot begun in the earlier volume may
make this a confusing read for newcomers. Instead, start at book one, as
the entire trilogy is a delightful plunge into the world of magic,
witches and vampires, where love breaks all rules and happy endings are
possible. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer
and book reviewer
I was thrilled that Matthew and Diana were back in this century, but at the same time, they both felt out of sync with this time period, and it set up an unease that was one of the threads woven throughout the book. Then there was the tension of Matthews vampire son, a psychopathic killer named Benjamin, who hates his father for abandoning him (instead of killing him, which is what he was told to do once they discovered his penchant for murder) and is determined to impregnate a witch as Matthew has done with Diana, though he rapes and tortures the witches he's kidnapped. Add to that the search for Ashmole 782, or the Book of Life, and that makes for a suspenseful, page-turning read. And though I've never been a fan of 'possessive' men who can't be out of sight of their beloved woman, whom they act like they own, Harkness made it clear that this is part of Matthews pathology as a vampire, that it is a physical need for him to be with his life mate, and that his old-world upbringing also comes into play, though he made an effort to give her as much freedom as he could muster. Meanwhile, Diana comes into her own as a witch, weaver and a 'time walker' and once her twins are born, she becomes the true force to be reckoned with, as she returns the Book of Life pages to the book itself, and then becomes the book, and ends up saving the day for everyone.  I felt that every loose end was woven into a whole cloth with this book, though with the twins, I have a sneaking suspicion that Harkness could come out with a series about their lives as the offspring of a witch and a vampire. I must also mention how interesting I found the ancient horoscope signs and their meanings at the beginning of each chapter. Even if you view astrology as archetypes, as I do, you still find yourself marveling at the accuracy of the descriptions of what each sign is prone to bring into the world. I could not have enjoyed this book more, and of course it deserves an A, with the recommendation that anyone who has read the other two books by Harkness needs to finish the series with this fine volume. Plus, we can all still hope for the stories of the Bishop-de Clermont clan 15 years down the road.

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