Vampire literature continues to hold audiences in a thrall. In recent decades, vampiric literature drastically evolved beyond the horror depicted in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, few of these novels actually present a semi-realistic vision of modern vampires. Novels today either venture into high drama á la Anne Rice or seem overly angst ridden. One problem I have with modern vampire stories is perfectly summed up in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series or the Vampire Diaries TV show. Why would a centuries old vampire waste time repeating high school? If a person possesses an eternity to explore the world, why hang around a revolving door of depressed teenagers? Thankfully, excellent non-teenage obsessed vampire literature exists. Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy presents a refreshing change from the vampire-teenage drama norm.
Warning: This post does contain some spoilers, though I attempted to minimize them.
Themes : vampire/witch lore, 16th century societal structure, love, meaning of family, personal acceptance, destiny, rising above conflict, death, loss, mourning, redemption, human evolution, Christianity, atheism, eternity, time-travel
All Souls Trilogy Reading Order:
Synopsis: This is a synopsis of the entire series. Diana Bishop is a historian focusing on ancient alchemic practices. However, she is also a reluctant witch who struggles to accept her familial legacy. While conducting research for a keynote address, Diana stumbles across a bewitched manuscript known as Ashmole 782. Shortly afterwards, she meets the mysterious Matthew Clairmont, a fellow professor and a centuries old vampire. Throughout the series, Diana and Matthew race through time in an effort to understand the meaning behind Ashmole 782. Both ancient and modern forces combine together to prevent Matthew and Diana from finding the answers they seek. Over time, Diana and Matthew slowly form a romantic attachment and learn the power of acceptance. However, an ancient covenant prohibits romantic interaction between vampires, witches, and daemons. Matthew’s family and the worldwide witch network attempt to keep him and Diana forever apart. Multiple witches and vampires conspire to kill Diana and glean the knowledge she finds hidden in Ashmole 782. With time running out, Diana and Matthew have to make life-altering decisions in order to survive.
Review: Deborah Harkness teaches European and scientific history at the University of Southern California. She has also published two non-fiction books exploring the history of alchemy and Elizabethan London during the scientific revolution. As a result, the All Souls Trilogy bursts at the seams with historical references and accurate descriptions of past events. These descriptions are most apparent in Shadow of Night, which is the novel where Diana and Matthew travel back to 16th Century London. Ms. Harkness’s glee at describing Elizabethan London pours off of each page. The other two novels describe time periods ranging from the Crusades to the 1920s.
Other than the mesmerizing descriptions, the strength of the trilogy relies on the character development of Diana and Matthew. At the beginning of the series, Diana comes across as a shy historian who does her best to blend in with the crowd. She does this by denying her witch powers. Diana would rather believe in science than in the supernatural. However, Diana develops a healthy respect for her gifts after several near death experiences. The trilogy deals with her struggle to accept herself and believe in her ability to control her gifts. On the other hand, Matthew deals with his tendency to keep his emotions under tight control. While he loves Diana, he struggles to trust her with his troubling past and his current emotional state. Both characters experience personal growth as the trilogy progresses and they have to trust/rely on each other. Without this character growth, the trilogy would merely be another histrionic forbidden love story. Ms. Harkness depicts Diana and Matthew as individuals who happen to be either a witch or a vampire, which make them more sympathetic and believable.
My main problem with the series is the overabundance of supporting characters. Between Diana’s family, Matthew’s clan, and the numerous villains, I almost needed a flow chart to keep track of everyone. This mainly becomes a problem in the second book, Shadow of Night. Ms. Harkness does her best to introduce multiple literary/scientific/political greats from the Elizabethan era. While this fleshes out the story, it also bogs down the main narrative with frivolous sub-plots. However, this still remains my favorite vampire-witch trilogy. And there is not a single mention of high school romance.