“The Book of Life” by Deborah Harkness

the book of life

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“The Book of Life” by Deborah HarknessThe Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
Series: All Souls Trilogy #3
Published: 2014 by Viking
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 561
Format: ARC
Source: the publisher
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At long last, the conclusion to the All Souls Trilogy is here!  For anyone new to the series, it’s about a witch who stumbles upon an old manuscript at Oxford’s library that holds secret knowledge relevant to witches, demons, and vampires.  This review does contain some spoilers from earlier books, so if you haven’t read them, check out the first two reviews instead.

Diana Bishop is a witch who fell in love and married a vampire named Matthew Clairmont.  Witches, vampires, and demons are bound by a historical agreement called the Covenant, which prevents them from socializing with each other, let alone falling in love and getting married.  This means that Diana and Matthew are going against everything that the entire community of magical creatures believes, and it isn’t easy.

Diana is trying to adapt to being a Clairmont, because vampire families operate like wolf packs, where each member submits to the leader of the clan.  It’s rough on her, because she’s a very powerful witch who isn’t used to taking orders from anybody or to taking no for an answer.  As the book progresses, she starts to realize that she can’t pretend to be something that she’s not, and that Matthew loves her for who she is and doesn’t expect her to conform to every vampire tradition.  She has to find a middle ground that works for her, and in doing so wins the respect of the vampire clan and finds her place within the family.

Like any family, the Clairmonts have their fair share of skeletons in the closet.  One of these is Benjamin, Matthew’s mad son.  Benjamin has spent centuries searching for the Book of Life and will stop at nothing to discover its secrets.  Diana and Matthew are in race to find the book and its missing pages before Benjamin and to put a stop to his reign of cruelty.

I love the fact that this series revolves around an old book, and as such, there are plenty of references to literature, history, science, and libraries.

I’m also impressed by the way that Diana and Matthew’s relationship changes over time.  During the first book, there was kind of an Edward Cullen tone to it.  Gradually, the reasons for this were explained in more depth, and we began to see how Matthew’s blood rage amplified characteristics that vampires already have.  In The Book of Life, both Diana and Matthew had to learn that even though they’re in a relationship and mean the world to each other, they have to trust each other and be able to let each other go.  And by let each other go, I don’t mean a breakup or anything drastic, but rather that they have to realize that even though they love each other, they are two different people and sometimes have to do things on their own because that’s the way life works.  They have to realize that they have their identity as a couple, but they’re still individuals with individual strengths and weaknesses (and yes, some of those strengths and weaknesses have to do with witchiness or being a vampire).

When I first read A Discovery of Witches, I was unimpressed by the writing and the story.  This series grew on me, and by the time I read The Book of Life, I couldn’t put it down and was sad to see it end.  Harkness has evolved as a writer since the first book, and has finally found a balance between useful descriptions and repetitive details (there’s only one reference to yoga pants in The Book of Life.  Yay!).  Her ability to weave historical detail into the world of magic is impressive, and it’s so neat to see a trilogy get better and better as it goes rather than to see a strong first book and then watch it peter out.

9 thoughts on ““The Book of Life” by Deborah Harkness

  1. This is one of my favourite series of all time, and I already miss the characters sooooo much. I am having the worst book hangover ever :(. Great review!! I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

    1. Might be just me, but I felt like she did leave room for another story after this one in case she decided to return to it. 🙂

      1. Yes, I felt that way too, but I know from the All Souls Trilogy Discussion Group on Facebook (which you should join – it’s awesome), which she comments on quite a bit, she has many more stories to tell (related or not, I’m not sure), but she needs a major rest first. Her tour right now is huge, and she actually got laryngitis :(.

        1. I can imagine that her tour would be stressful. Even at book expo the line to meet her was insane. 🙂

    1. The old book elements were neat, and I love that the Voynich manuscript had a part to play in the story.

  2. I have The Book of Life, but won’t read it until I get Shadow of Night. I really enjoyed A Discovery of Witches, but somehow missed the next installment and don’t want to read the final book without filling in the middle!

    1. I liked Shadow of Night more than A Discovery of Witches. You’re in for a treat when you get to it. 🙂

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