The Book of Life, by Deborah Harkness

Review published on August 12, 2014.Reviewed by Marleen Kennedy

Matthew Clairmont and Diana Bishop return from their travels in Shakespearian times and reunite with friends and family in the present, but somebody is missing and danger still surrounds them. While the real threat to their future is still masked in obscurity its effects are clear and present. Once the mystery is revealed the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages becomes even more urgent.

The future of three species is in peril as are the lives of loved ones, and unless Diana and Matthew can provide the answers to century old questions, destruction and bloodshed lie ahead.

The Book of Life takes the reader from ancestral homes to university libraries. The characters combine ancient knowledge with modern science. Relationships formed in the past are re-established in the present. And in the centre of it all is Diana as she becomes what and who she was meant to be.

Even the darkest places need to be brought into the light of day, or else they’ll grow until they swallow a man whole.

I’m always slightly apprehensive when I pick up the much anticipated final instalment to, what has been up until then, a fantastic trilogy. There is always the fear the finale won’t live up to expectations, that the author won’t be able to pull all the threads together. And those fears were busy niggling at me before I picked up The Book of Life. I loved both A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night when I read them. I had fallen for Diana Bishop, the witch, and Matthew Clairmont, her vampire. In the first two books the author had woven a mesmerising web filled with mystery, suspense, danger, magic and love. I needed The Book of Life to be at least as good as its two prequels had been.

The wonderful news is that it is. This book is the crowning glory of this trilogy. It more than lives up to expectations, answered all my questions and kept me enthralled from the first chapter.

The story picks up more or less where Shadow of Night ended and drops the reader right back into the story. There are enough small reminders to refresh the reader’s memory although I would strongly advice against reading this book unless you’ve read the prequels.

I really don’t want to say a whole lot more about the story. I know part of my enjoyment while reading the book was that I was never completely sure what might happen next, or who would show up and why. I will say that I loved reconnecting with characters I’d come to love while reading the first two books.

The love between Matthew and Diana is as beautiful as always and yet stops short of being overly idyllic. The author has her characters say things you wish someone would say to you; things you would have loved to have said to a loved one.

“My heart no longer knows where I end and you begin.” – Matthew

And,

“If you truly love someone, you will cherish what they despise most about themselves.” – Fernando

I loved the following quote about social media. Since blue is a relaxing colour for me too, I completely get this line of thought. In fact it was one of those ‘that’s so blindingly obvious I can’t believe it hasn’t occurred to me before’ moments.

“She could not imagine why these companies all chose shades of blue for their logos. Blue had always struck her as such a serene, soothing color, yet all social media offered was endless agitation and posturing.” – Ysabeau

Or the moment when Matthew declares that he does not and has never ‘sparkled’.

One of the strengths of this book is that it doesn’t provide all the answers. We’re not given a fairytale ending. There are no miracle cures (not even for vampires) and problems don’t just evaporate. In fact, one or two problems continue to form a threat. I wouldn’t mind if that meant we might get to visit with Diana and Matthew again in the future but I won’t be upset if it doesn’t. The author leaves us at a point where things have slotted into place for this couple. Yes, they will face obstacles in the future, but we know they’ve reached a place where, together, they can face pretty much anything.

This was very close to a perfect reading experience. I lost myself in the story on the first page and didn’t resurface until I had read every single word. It is the sort of book you want to race through because you need to find out what will happen next and how they are going to solve their problems. It is also the sort of book you want to drag out for as long as you can because you know this is the last of it and you don’t want the story to end. I can’t wait to see what Deborah Harkness is going to come up with next.

“To every question I have ever had, or ever will have, you are the answer.” – Matthew

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Terra, by Mitch Benn

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A Feast for Crows, by George R. R. Martin

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