Book Review: The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy, #3)

The Book of Life (All Souls #3) by Deborah Harkness

The Book of Life (All Souls #3) by Deborah Harkness

SPOILER WARNING

It took me way too long to finish this series, but seeing as I just reread book one for the autumnal vibes, I finally managed to get back into the groove of the series and wanted to see how it ended. And I really wanted to see how Matthew and Diana wrapped things up in the book (rather than the show, etc). I think overall it’s an incredibly interesting, vividly written tale, but I didn’t love it as much as book one, mostly due to the characters rather than the plot (which, again, I found quite interesting). That said, I am picking up book four promptly, so it certainly left me wanting more!

I will say, I missed the dark academia atmosphere of A Discovery of Witches. This one is more focused on the vampire family dynamics and Diana’s pregnancy – and Matthew’s overprotectiveness as a result of that pregnancy. I was particularly fascinated by how Harkness worked out mythology in the All Souls universe and props, because it was very scientifically done. It kinda reminded me of Underworld insofar as it’s fantasy with a focus on genetics and diseases and such. The dynamics of vampire families and the relationship that Harkness builds between fantasy and science fiction is also endlessly intriguing (I like the comparisons to wolf packs) and I found myself pondering the lore quite a lot (and still am whilst reading book four). It’s honestly super cool.

I did however find myself a bit frustrated at times by some of the characters’ decisions and relationships – especially their endless need to adhere to a hierarchy that is just constantly working against them and which none of them enjoy – but it is intriguing. (I did find the lack of werewolves an interesting exclusion, especially with how much focus there was upon wolves in general, and Matthew’s indignance at the idea of werewolves was quite funny.) There’s also quite a lot of talk of mitochondrial DNA, which went a bit over my head, I will admit.

Funnily enough, where Matthew and Diana’s love and relationship were my favourite aspects of book one, I found myself more invested in the wider de Clermont family in this one, but much less so in their relationship. Matthew’s overprotectiveness of Diana and the pregnancy became a bit much for me, personally. I don’t know how she tolerated it. Like, character wise I suppose it made sense, but him hissing and growling at Chris, Diana’s best friend, and Jack, the boy they raised together, seemed quite … territory marking, lmao. Around Baldwin, Benjamin and Peter, sure, go forth and lose thy shit, Matthew. But around family and friends it just got a bit irritating. That said, it was nice to see how their relationship’s progressed since book one and how Matthew is trying not to be so overbearing, and it’s good to see Diana putting her foot down a bit more. (Wish she’d do it even more, but I digress.) Towards the end Diana exerted more agency, but I just felt a little confused by her characterisation at times in the beginning/middle. Although maybe that was the point, what with her changing so much throughout.

Speaking of romance, Phoebe and Marcus were super cute and I really liked their relationship (and they’re why I picked up book four, which I’m quite enjoying!). I found them much less obsessed with each other as opposed to Diana and Matthew. They were quite practical about things, too, and always seemed like they were on the same page. Marcus wasn’t ordering her around the way Matthew often did with Diana (and everyone else). Garrowglass and Fernando were two of my favourites! Chris and Jack, too. I loved Chris just flat out refusing to put up with the vampires’ shenanigans. He was such a breath of fresh air. Baldwin, on the other hand, drove me up a wall, honestly. I did quite like when he and Matthew were exchanging barbs, although I wish Matthew had a bit more of a spine when it came to Baldwin. He was just so insufferable throughout. Ysabeau and Sarah remain fabulous, however. Marthe is great throughout! Benjamin made for an interesting villain, but I wish there was more focus on Matthew’s relationship with him. I feel like that was glossed over. Matthew’s so quick to claim other vampires – even abhorrent ones – and so much emphasis is on blood and the power and pull of blood, both in vampire romantic love and in platonic love and their ties to each other, and yet with Benjamin and his family line, it felt like they were almost one-sided in their villainy. It has been a while since I read book two, though, so I may have missed something. Benjamin just seems to come out of nowhere a bit and then he’s after Diana, but it all felt a bit convenient. Where was Benjamin her whole life? If Gallowglass and Philippe knew about her, then surely Benjamin knew, too. (And why did Gallowglass never try and save her parents? If he knew she was going to have such enormous power, why didn’t they go into hiding from Peter Knox when Diana was young? They could have introduced her to Matthew some other way if need be, no?)

I also feel like Matthew got away with a lot? If he spends like 5 (?) hours reciting the names of every vampire he killed in New Orleans during a spree to stop blood raged vampires, then he killed so. many. vampires. I don’t care for Baldwin, but Matthew I grew less fond of throughout this one, which wasn’t how I felt reading book one. His willingness to fold to Baldwin and sacrifice Jack until Diana told him not to was absolutely appalling. Matthew’s obsessive love seems to have some odd limits with his son where it doesn’t with Diana. Honestly towards the end I even mildly hoped Gallowglass would come back and Diana would pick him.

It is a fascinating read, and the characters are so layered, but the absolute devotion and adherence by everyone to Matthew didn’t feel earned for his character backstory. And it felt like Matthew earned it less and less with every chapter. Diana, maybe. She’s the first one to fight back against the Congregation in centuries. The first to say straight out that their laws are bullshit. But then Matthew comes in and I feel like he overshadows her story after she gets pregnant. She folds into vampire life, as Sarah rightly points out. And while she does eventually connect with the London witches, it still read to me like she was going to follow behind Matthew, rather than stand at his side. She was more forthright in book one, I found (ironically, I found it maddening every time she insisted on opening her door in that one [it happened like three or four times?]). They make a big thing of Matthew naming the scion after her family, too, but I dunno. He just frustrated me a bit at times. I do overall recommend this trilogy though, and I am excited to see where the next book goes.

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