After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.
With more than one million copies sold in the United States and appearing in thirty-eight foreign editions, A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night have landed on all of the major bestseller lists and garnered rave reviews from countless publications. Eagerly awaited by Harkness’s legion of fans, The Book of Life brings this superbly written series to a deeply satisfying close.
“Weaving an extraordinarily rich story of magic and science, history and fiction, passion and power, secrets and truths, Harkness delivers an unforgettable and spellbinding finale that’s not to be missed.”—USA Today
“Juicy and action-packed . . . Even at 561 pages, this is one hardcover no one will mind lugging to the beach.”
“Pure escapist summer fun.”
—Jodi Picoult, Parade
“The epic and erudite vampire-witch romance comes to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion in the action-packed All Souls trilogy ender.”
“A stirring, poignant saga.”
“The charm in Deborah Harkness’s wildly successful All Souls trilogy lies not merely in the spells that its creature characters cast as they lurk pretty much in plain sight of humans, but in the adroit way Harkness has insinuated her world of demons, witches, and vampires into ours. . . . From the novel’s poignant opening, Harkness casts her own indelible spell of enchantment, heartbreak, and resilience. . . . She is terrific at bringing her magic world to life, maintaining a fast-paced, page-turning narrative.”
—The Boston Globe
“This trilogy is a superlative example in a subgenre you could call realistic fantasy—think Harry Potter but for grown-ups or Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Witches, vampires, and daemons exist, along with time travel. But this world also is recognizably ours, not a wholly made-up setting like George R.R. Martin’s Westeros. When done well, as it is here, this sort of fiction provides characters who are recognizably human in their desires and actions even if most of them are creatures with supernatural powers. Through them Harkness succeeds at the hardest part of writing fantasy: She makes this world so real that you believe it exists—or at the very least that you wish that it did.”
“Harkness has immersed and spellbound readers with her alternative universe. . . . Her ambitious melding of scientific and historical detail is inventive and brings surprising depth. . . . The Book of Life brims with sensuality, intrigue, violence and much-welcome humor.”
—Los Angeles Times
“There is no shortage of action in this sprawling sequel, and nearly every chapter brings a wrinkle to the tale. The storytelling is lively and energetic, and Diana remains an appealing heroine even as her life becomes ever more extraordinary. A delightful wrap-up to the trilogy.”
“Harkness herself proves to be quite the alchemist as she combines elements of magic, history, romance, and science, transforming them into a compelling journey through time, space, and geography. By bridging the gaps between Harry Potter, Twilight, and Outlander fans, Harkness artfully appeals to a broad range of fantasy lovers.”
“The witch Diana’s and the vampire Matthew’s quests to discover their origins and confront the threats to their star-crossed union tie up as neatly as one of Diana’s magical weaver’s knots. . . . It’s still satisfying to travel with these characters toward their more-than-well-earned happy ending.”
“The adventure never lets up. . . . History, science, and the unpredictable actions of paranormal characters with hidden agendas all swirl together to create a not-to-be-missed finale to a stellar series.”
**Warning: Contains some mild spoilers!**
When you first began the All Souls series, you were also writing about wine for your award-winning wine blog and teaching at USC. How did you find the time to write a novel? What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Every novel that has ever been written was written one word at a time, one page at a time. That’s how I wrote A Discovery of Witches—and indeed all of the books in the All Souls Trilogy. As time went on, and my life became a bit more complicated, something had to go. I haven’t blogged about wine in years, though I’d like to get back to it one day. My advice to writers is simply to make writing a daily practice, like breathing. Don’t psych yourself out, and don’t take on a whole novel at once. One word at a time. One sentence at a time. One page at a time. That’s how it’s done.
In The Book of Life you elegantly wrap up all the mysteries you introduced in A Discovery of Witches, including why creatures weren’t allowed to intermarry, what was hidden within Ashmole 782, and who committed London’s “vampire” murders. Did you have the entire arc of your fifteen-hundred-plus page saga sketched out from the very beginning?
Roughly speaking, I did. Some of the characters surprised me here and there, appearing and disappearing when they felt like it, so I had to jiggle some details but I did always know those features of the arc. The hard part was not giving too much away too soon.
You preface each section of The Book of Life with astrological information taken from an “Anonymous English Commonplace Book, c. 1590.” Did you write these yourself, or are they drawn from an actual text?
They are drawn from several early modern astrological texts printed in England in the sixteenth century, including a translation of French astrologer Claude Dariot’s A Briefe and Most Easie Introduction to the Stars (1583). A man like Matthew would have owned such a book, and astrological information was often copied into commonplace books. I was always amazed at how closely the astrological information in these texts related to the plot of the book.
Your field of study, the Elizabethan Era, predates the mapping of the human genome by more than four hundred years. What inspired you to make Matthew a geneticist and to bury the secret of blood rage in the vampire’s noncoding DNA?
I wanted Matthew to be a geneticist because of his theological difficulties. The questions of who Matthew was, and what his purpose was, unified his faith and his science in important ways. In my period of study, science and religion were not oppositional—they were complementary. As for the noncoding DNA, that was simply the best “mysterious” option back in 2008. Since then, noncoding DNA has become more important to geneticists, but I couldn’t have predicted that then.
Was researching genetics more or less difficult than researching alchemical texts?
For me? Much more difficult. I’m a historian of alchemy, so I’ve been researching those texts since 1982. But I’m not a scientist, don’t work in a laboratory, and (until recently) didn’t keep up on the scientific literature on topics near and dear to Matthew’s heart. Now, I read so many scholarly articles on the subject that I get emails with subject lines like “Problems running your agarose gels?”
Your storytelling prowess testifies to your skill as a weaver witch, but if you could choose another identity, would you want to be a vampire, daemon, or another type of witch? What is the one creature power that you wish you could have?
You know, I think I’m happy being human. Witches bear too much responsibility, vampire lives are long and challenging, and daemons are chronically misunderstood. I would like a vampire’s private jet, though. Does that count as a superpower?
Who—besides Matthew and Diana—are your favorite characters from the series? Do you still think about your characters and what they might be up to now?
Philippe is my favorite character. In many ways he is the central character of the entire All Souls Trilogy. But I truly do love all of my characters, with the exception of Benjamin Fox.
J. K. Rowling has famously expressed regret over the fact that Hermione marries Ron instead of Harry. In retrospect, is there any part of the series that you wish you had resolved differently?
Really? I think Hermione and Ron are perfect for each other! I wish Emily didn’t have to die, but there was no other way and I wouldn’t change it now, even if I could.
In the academic realm, a print run of 5,000 is considered substantial. Did you ever dream that you would become a #1 New York Times bestselling novelist with millions of copies in print around the world? How has your success affected your academic career?
Um, no. By the way, I believe my first academic book had a print run of 750. Seriously, who could imagine such a thing? I hoped—hoped, mind you—that someone would publish it so that I would have an excuse to write the rest of the story. But I never imagined that people would read it in Croatia and Japan. The hardest thing to reconcile between my academic career and my career as a novelist are the schedules. Academic schedules are made up well in advance, while publishing schedules change at a very different rate. So the hardest thing for me is saying no to things I would love to do—both academic and in terms of meeting readers—because I can’t be in two places at one time.
How has writing fiction changed the way you approach your academic work?
Absolutely. I’m struck all the time by the ways that the available historical evidence won’t permit me to demonstrate what I believe to be true. I can only argue what I can prove to be true, with the evidence. This is entirely right and proper, but I’m glad that I have fiction so that I can expand the limits of “truth” slightly.
What is the most surprising comment you’ve ever received from a fan?
“Your book made me a reader.” What courage, to take on a book longer than 500 pages when you don’t love reading! But I’m glad that they took the risk.
Do you have any details to share about the planned BBC adaptation?
At the moment, I’m afraid it’s all very much happening behind the wizard’s screen. So much happens in terms of production and development before we get to things like casting and filming: long discussions, frank conversations, planning. As soon as we have anything fit for public consumption, we’ll be sure to let you know!
What are you working on now? Do you plan to continue writing fiction? (Please say yes!)
Yes, I will continue to write fiction. I have lots of stories to tell. No, I’m not going to tell you what I’m working on now—but I am working on something, and I hope that readers will find it exciting.
It’s a wonderful moment to bring the All Souls Trilogy to its finale with The Book of Life. It all began with A Discovery of Witches, and in the third volume you, too, will find out what the witches discovered all those centuries ago.
Many people ask me why a professor would turn to fiction. I’m not sure I can answer that question—it’s still a mysterious process for me!—but I can tell you that in many ways the All Souls Trilogy is an extension of the work I do in the classroom. I’m a scholar of magic and science between 1400 and 1700, so I’ve spent the best part of thirty years trying to figure out the relationship between the two and how a belief that witches were your next door neighbors could exist at the same time that Galileo was peering through his telescope and Newton was developing calculus.
Readers of the trilogy know that magic and science happily co-exist in the All Souls universe, just as they did in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Matthew Clairmont, my 1500-year-old vampire, is a prominent microbiologist and geneticist. Diana Bishop, though a witch, is fascinated by the Scientific Revolution because she thinks (perhaps incorrectly) that this is the moment when science made the magic go away. Alchemical texts and modern laboratories both provide important clues into the mystery of the missing Bodleian Library manuscript Ashmole 782.
But there are even deeper ways that science influenced magic in the books. When Diana and Matthew do a bit of magical “timewalking” in the second volume of the trilogy, Shadow of Night, they do so within the parameters of the multiverse theory of quantum mechanics. And Diana’s magical abilities as a weaver were shaped by my fascination with topology—a kind of mathematics of transmutation—and her unbreakable “weaver’s knots” bear a strong resemblance to the Möbius bands familiar to mathematics students.
As a historian I know that science and magic have always had a close relationship. I wanted my imaginary world to reflect that synergy. Hopefully readers will come away with a renewed sense of the magic still present in the world, as well as an interest in the ways that modern science is always stretching the limits of what is known and what is possible.
I hope you enjoy the final chapters in the All Souls Trilogy.