Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy is a complex and lengthy set of books. As I eagerly began reading this last installment, I realized immediately I couldn’t begin with only a hazy memory of the previous books, published two years and three and a half years previously: I would have missed out on crucial connections in this conclusion to the series. So I sat down and reread them in a bit of an All Souls binge: a solid week and a half of immersion in the world of witch Diana Bishop and vampire Matthew Clairmont. It was a wise decision, though time-consuming: I had forgotten a lot, and this allowed me to get the big picture all in one sweep. I don’t have Matthew’s memory, after all.
The Book of Life picks up immediately where Shadow of Night left off, which had picked up immediately where A Discovery of Witches left off. Diana and Matthew have just returned from their months-long sojourn in 1590/1591 Elizabethan England (not to mention stops in Prague and France) and are determined to do what they need to do, which is find the missing pages from Ashmole 782, recall the book from the depths of the Bodleian Library, reunite the pages with the book, discover its secrets, and get the Congregation to stop breathing down their necks and stop their enemies from trying to kill them. Diana is also pregnant with twins, and she’s just learning to control and use her newfound powers. They have also gained a new (old) and particularly ruthless and dangerous enemy, one who is difficult to find, let alone defeat. This finale packs a lot of detail and information into one book, just as the previous books did, and it’s engaging, edge-of-your-seat reading. Harkness brings her formidable background as researcher and historian to bear, as always, and makes this series a richly satisfying one for readers who are well-read and educated. It’s not fluff reading. But it’s entertaining, no doubt.
My only complaints are these: first, the book devolved into some fairly heavy-handed moralizing about being accepting of and welcoming those who are different (OK, OK: don’t hit me over the head with your point, Deb). Second, while Harkness wrapped up the plot in many ways, I felt she left out some crucial answers about the manuscript to questions I’d had since she’d introduced it in the very first pages of the first book. Some missing information may be just be to questions my mind churned out, but I feel sure she introduced certain questions herself several times throughout and didn’t answer them. When it came to Ashmole 782 itself, it was a vague wrap-up (oh, sure, Diana has all the answers, but that doesn’t help ME as the reader; I wonder if Deborah has the answers!). Despite my minor feeling of being unsettled, I am still mostly happy with the series. Definitely recommended reading.
Rated: Moderate, for two uses of strong language and maybe 20 or 25 uses of milder language (the books just don’t have much language in them; this one has the most, but still not a lot considering how long they are, mostly thanks to one character who gets to appear more in this book). There is a fair amount of violence and some torture that isn’t generally very detailed but the implications are enough. There are just some bad, bad people who do bad, bad things. Sexual content includes several sex scenes, a couple of which are moderately detailed but not lengthy, and brief, non-detailed references to abuse and rape. There are also homosexual characters in long-term relationships throughout the series. The series is solidly moderate thanks to its themes; there doesn’t tend to be much in the way of detail but themes are not for younger readers, especially since this is an adult book.