All Souls Trilogy
By Deborah Harkness
- fantasy – supernatural
- historical fiction
Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
Overall series rating:
This series is far from my favourite one despite the relatively high overall rating I gave it. It’s the final book. It made me realise that while it is a fascinating series, it has serious flaws. Some characters appear only to be completely ignored later on, and the villains feel far from the powerful entities they were in the first book the more the story progresses. In fact, at some point they are removed from the story entirely and I can’t help but feel cheated of a great conflict. I’d guess the new powers main characters suddenly develop and the deus ex machina moments robed the series of the tension. But what makes it a worthy read is the strong historical background and truly fascinating take on past politics and world history. I loved the idea.
Supernatural elements in the series are divided into three groups: we have two groups of witches, one drawing on elemental magic and others on herbs, all kinds of vampire families, and daemons, which are more of really talented humans, geniuses and artistic prodigies. All these groups are governed by a strict covenant overlooked by a group of nine elected judges. And the most sacred rule of all? No mingling of blood between these groups, and no involvement in human politics. You can guess what will happen, no? 😀
Our protagonist is Diana Bishop, a witch who denies her heritage and lives a normal life in the academia. It is her studies of ancient alchemical texts that make her stumble across a book other creatures have an eye on for centuries – Ashmole 782. Before she realises what she had in her hands the various forces move in on her to force her to retrieve the book.
An enigmatic and powerful vampire is at hand to help her out but he has own designs on the book. Matthew Clairmont will do anything to get the book, but along the way he realises there’s more to Diana than just her accidental summoning. He connects to her in an unexpected way and the two soon fight not only to protect her but to protect their fledgling and forbidden romance.
I liked the pairing very much. It is also realistically written – they both have to adjust to each other’s differences and expectations. This is something you rarely get to read in supernatural books and it’s one of the strong points of the series. What I find regrettable is the way other pairings in the book are pushed aside or just glossed over. Aren’t the side characters important enough to warrant some time? Matthew’s vampire son Marcus Whitmore is an integral part of the story and yet we see so little of him.
I was fascinated with the story of Matthew’s vampire family, especially the romance between his maker Ysabeau and her husband Philippe de Clermont. This is one amazing power couple and I find it very bad form for the writer to not write more about them. I was thrilled we got to meet Philippe in the second book and heartbroken because I knew he would not be in the last book. The Clermont’s are a Shakespearian family and absolutely fascinating. The issues Diana and Matthew go through appear almost trivial when compared to what Ysabeau and Philippe survived to carve a place in this world for themselves. I’d love to read a book about them.
While The Book of Life gave us some much-needed answers, I thought another power spike for Diana was just too much. I like my characters in balance with others and not overly powerful. The conflict just frizzled out or got shifted on other characters. I never felt the required amount of dread because I just knew that everything would be fine. That level of predictability is bad for a series that depends on unpredictable turns of events or the past influencing the present and future. But it is still a series with a lot to offer and many potential side-plots and characters to discover. It’s like this is only the start of a line of books about this fictional universe where humans, daemons, vampires, and witches live together.
This series is for people who are not tired of vampires because they feature here quite prominently. The amount of historical detail will astound you and make you a fan, but the somewhat cheesy romance, and unbelievable elements will temper your enthusiasm. You’ll love the technology and alchemy combined in the book, the ghosts and magic spells, but you’ll love the Shakespearian plotting far more than anything to do with the supernatural. It’s the mystery of the Ashmole 782 that propels this story. All Souls trilogy is a worthwhile read and one you won’t regret. 😀