INTRODUCTION (from the publisher)
In The Book of Life, historian-turned-novelist Deborah Harkness delivers the breathtaking final installment of her #1 New York Times bestselling All Souls Trilogy. At the end of Shadow of Night,time-walking weaver witch Diana Bishop and vampire Matthew Clairmont are newly returned from the year 1591. There—after an extended sojourn in France with Matthew’s father, Philippe de Clermont—they pursued the mysterious volume, Ashmole 782, from the court of England’s Queen Elizabeth to Emperor Rudolf II’s Prague. Now back in the present, married, and expecting twins, Diana and Matthew must out-maneuver both the Congregation and an even more sinister enemy who’s been lurking in the shadows since the very beginning.
Much has changed since Diana and Matthew embarked on their journey. Emily Mather—the beloved partner of Diana’s aunt, Sarah—has died under suspicious circumstances. Was it the Congregation? Diana suspects yes, and she is prepared to make them pay. While Satu easily dominated a spellbound Diana in their first encounter, the witches in Elizabethan England helped Diana to unlock her unique abilities as a weaver witch. Accompanied by a firedrake named Corra, the Diana that returns to the present shimmers with power. As her nephew Gallowglass states, “I did warn everybody that Auntie Diana wasn’t going to be the same witch she was before” (p. 9).
Diana also returns as Philippe’s blood-sworn daughter. Baldwin—the official head of the de Clermont clan—was unwilling to defy the Congregation and support Matthew’s relationship with Diana. Now, Baldwin is compelled to treat Diana as a sister. Despite their father’s vow, however, the rift between Baldwin and Matthew grows wider—especially after Baldwin learns that Matthew is tainted by the vampire scourge known as blood rage. Meanwhile, Benjamin—the son whom Matthew renounced centuries ago—launches a ruthless game of cat-and-mouse designed to topple the de Clermonts and to acquire both Ashmole 782 and Diana for his own nefarious purposes.
At a Yale University lab, Miriam, Marcus, and Diana’s best friend, Chris, work furiously to uncover the genetic roots of blood rage. Although Marcus did not inherit his father’s blood rage, he is a carrier, and the de Clermonts must face the possibility that Diana and Matthew’s unborn twins will be infected—especially after two familiar faces from 1591 unexpectedly appear in New Haven. The secret of blood rage may also be locked within Ashmole 782, so Diana sets out to find the final missing page, hoping that—once returned to wholeness—the volume’s hidden text will reveal itself.
As old friends—and older enemies—converge for a final battle, Diana and Matthew must face their darkest fears to protect the new lives they have created. Masterfully drawing together timeless themes of passion, loyalty, and family with the history, magic, and science that have dazzled readers from the very first pages of A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness’s The Book of Life is a triumphant conclusion to one of the most beloved series of recent times.
A Conversation with Deborah Harkness about The Book of Life
**Warning: Contains some mild spoilers!**
Q. 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 wroteA 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.
Q. 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.
Q. 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.
Q. 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.
Q. 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?”
Q. 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?
Q. 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.
Q. 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.
Q. 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.
Q. 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.
Q. 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.
Q. 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!
Q. 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.
QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Throughout The Book of Life, the ghosts of Philippe de Clermont and Emily Mather observe what their loved ones are doing in the world of the living. Have you ever felt the protective presence of friends or family who have passed on?
2. Although we don’t meet Matthew’s nephew Gallowglass until Shadow of the Night, we learn that—under orders from Philippe—he has been protecting Diana from afar since she was born. We also learn that Gallowglass has fallen deeply in love with Diana. How did this knowledge affect your opinion of him? Are there ways in which he might have made Diana a better mate than Matthew?
3. After they meet at Sotheby’s in Shadow of Night, Marcus and Phoebe fall in love. Phoebe agrees to become a vampire in order to become a near immortal like Marcus. Compare her decision to Diana’s decision to remain a warmblood. What are the pluses and minuses of each woman’s choice?
4. Advances in genetics have now made it possible for us to learn if we carry genes for a variety of heritable diseases. Would knowing that your romantic partner was a carrier for something as potentially dangerous as blood rage prevent you from marrying and/or having children with him or her?
5. Matthew’s centuries-old decision to let Benjamin live set in motion a chain of events that threatens Diana as well as their newborn twins. To what extent is Matthew responsible for the suffering that Benjamin has caused?
6. Several characters from earlier in the series return to play a part in the final volume, including Jack, Father Hubbard, and Timothy Weston—the daemon from the Bodleian. Whose reappearance astonished you the most? Whose absence did you find most painful?
7. After his violent confrontation with Matthew at the twins’ naming ceremony, Baldwin transforms from imperious bully to gracious brother. If you were Diana, would you be able to forgive him for his earlier behavior?
8. Matthew deliberately walks into Benjamin’s trap, initiating the Queen’s Gambit, a chess move that he habitually avoids in order to protect his queen. In this case, he puts his queen—Diana—into play against Benjamin. Were you surprised by Matthew’s decision? Would it have been possible to overcome Benjamin if Matthew hadn’t allowed Diana to risk her life?
9. The de Clermonts eventually discover that Gerbert—the vampire who led the congregation in denouncing Matthew and Diana’s relationships—had himself been consorting with witches and daemons for centuries. Unfortunately, the news is full of illegal and often hypocritical acts committed by people in positions of power. Do you think that it’s power that corrupts, or are the corrupt more inclined than most to seek power?
10. What do you think the future holds for Matthew and Diana? Which characters from the series would you like to have learned more about?