This review is just going to be straight chaos from start to finish. I’m going to try very hard to stay focused, but I’m going to dissolve pretty quickly into shouting about the misogyny in this trilogy, so you’ve been warned. As always, the tl;dr of this review is I liked this series at the start, but the staggering amount of issues that started to unfold mean that I vastly prefer the show. Thus, I’m going to be talking about the entire trilogy and the adaptation. Let’s dive in.
(How does Tumblr just know? I logged on so I could grab gifs for the review, and there’s Andy from The Old Guard as a moodboard of eating, sleeping, anger, and drinking, and I am immediately happier now and will probably take twice as long to start shouting now.)
Look, let’s get this out of the way. Sundance’s adaptation of A Discovery of Witches is near perfect. Not only does it manage to include all the important plot points of a 500+ page book into a single season, it never feels rushed, it gets rid of all the things that don’t belong in a 21st century work about powerful women, and it’s beautiful. I 100% prefer it over the books, and I know that’s controversial because “books are better”, but there are some cases, my friends, where that’s not the truth. It definitely helps that Diana is played by Teresa Palmer, who is wonderful in all ways, and the way Matthew Goode brings Matthew Clairmont to life is just a thing of joy to behold. This is one of those few instances where an adaptation not only met all of my expectations, but far exceeded them. Honestly, brava to Sundance for not only staying true to the source material, but for really breathing authentic, vibrant life into it. And, at the end of the day, while I’m so glad to be done with the books, I am definitely going to watch the second season because they’ve given me such hope.
A few years ago, someone recommended the trilogy to me, but they did it in a way that was guaranteed to make me not pick it up. “It’s like a trashy romance, but with vampires.” And I just–checked the hell out of that conversation. I’ve read and watched plenty of those, and they’re always bad, so no thanks. And while All Souls definitely has its trashy romance, but with vampires vibes, it’s a lot more than that, too. I’m glad that I did end up reading it eventually, though I’d also like to quickly dash into the past and whisper a warning to myself.
Here’s the thing about vampires. They’re not real. Hell, I wish they were, and life would be infinitely more interesting if they were. I write vampire stories. Don’t you think I’d just about die to find out that these monstrous creatures of the night were actually a thing? YES. But, take away all the potential excitement, and they’re still not real. (Bet you I could convince you they are, though, like that time with dragons.) Thus, the lore is up for grabs.
Truthfully, if we were going to break it down right to the original lore, our vampires would be horrific-looking, occasionally transform into bats and wolves, creep around like someone possessed, and do a lot of high-pitched banshee screaming. So, when I say that I’m really just so godsdamn over the blatant and constant misogyny in All Souls, and the response I always get is, “Well, that’s vampire lore,” MATTHEW CAN GO OUT IN THE SUN WE’VE ALREADY DEPARTED FROM LORE. If you wanna come at me with the that’s vampire lore, he can also coherently talk to people instead of just hissing, he doesn’t transform into anything, he can’t fly, he has even the smallest amount of control (he’s got a lot, really, but vampire lore = no control because they’ve been reduced to mindless creatures), and he’s super attractive. And no, when I’m talking about original vampire lore, I’m not talking about Dracula. He was not the first. He was a product of the original source material, and even Stoker’s Dracula is terrifying, creepy af, and literally crawls up the side of his castle in the middle of the night before howling at the moon and bursting off into bat mode.
In All Souls, Matthew’s got a lot of issues. Frankly, most of Diana’s character becomes stagnant and relies primarily on Matthew’s issues after the first book. She’s got a lot of great development and individuality in the first book, but the second they get married, that’s it for women’s rights, friends. And don’t even get me started on the hellscape that is the third book. I just–lost all will to believe in women writing women’s stories for several hundred pages there. What is the point of creating a badass, most powerful witch ever, you will respect my boundaries character only to reduce her to a weeping damsel in distress that literally falls apart the second her husband is gone?
The possessiveness is not cute. It’s abusive. The obsessiveness and demands to constantly act as Diana’s “knight” or “prince” (Harkness’s words, not mine) is not endearing. It’s manipulative. The sheer level of violence that Matthew displays at Diana, to anyone that comes near her, or just in reaction to her is not a show of his passion for her. It’s gross. I don’t know how Diana’s aunts or friends don’t look at Matthew and immediately start wondering what’s happened to their brilliant, capable niece/friend. Ffs, there’s a scene when Diana deliberately “softens her body” (not a direct quote, I’m not going back into the book to find it) so that Matthew can basically flex his predatory instincts and feel like he’s caught a prey.
I’m going to have to walk away for a second.
Honestly, thank Satan for the adaptation because I probably would have quit reading the books without it. Every single issue that I have with Matthew’s character is almost nonexistent in the adaptation, so if you’re still craving that witch/vampire romance with a heaping side of nerds, watch the show. There are some instances of ingrained misogyny, but Diana addresses pretty much all of them, and there’s never a discussion about how Matthew is grossly possessive because he’s a vampire, and it’s okay to explain it away with that. IT’S NOT, FRIENDS, IT’S REALLY NOT, WE’RE IN THE 21ST CENTURY, WOMEN DON’T NEED TO BE HELD AGAINST THEIR WILL TO PROVE A MAN’S LOVE FOR THEM.
This is such a complicated review. I liked A Discovery of Witches, I really did, but you lost me with Shadow of Night and The Book of Life. It read like really, really poorly done self-insert fanfiction where the author has this weird fantasy about women needing to be constantly saved via passionate love after an act of violent, abusive possessiveness is enacted upon them by someone who is supposed to love and adore them. Every single instance of the blood rage excuse just makes my blood rage. Every single time Diana makes herself seem like prey so that Matthew’s instincts can be appeased, I just wanted to vomit all of my hard-won freedom as a woman straight at the page.
I think I need to walk away again.
Look, I like a lot of the ways that Harkness has adapted the vampire lore. I particularly love how she explains away things like why they can be out in the sun. I talked a lot about this in my post about why I love vampires so much, and Harkness has done a lot of good for revamping (HA) the old lore. There was just so much that could have also been revamped so that, instead of Diana falling to pieces every time Matthew wasn’t in the same room, we could actually have a goddess-blessed witch that could command literal armies?
Yeah, Dracula is a misogynistic asshole, but Matthew doesn’t also need to be. If he can go out in the sun, why can’t he respect Diana as a person?
If you thought we were done, nope! My background, as a reader, is pretty varied, but sometimes very obscure, too. If someone handed me a fantasy novel that revolved around 1300s Portugal and featured John I as a primary side character right now, I would be over the damn moon. But, like? Probably a small percentage of people are also in this camp with me. In college, I, uh–well, I did everything in my power to avoid taking American literature courses because I just have zero interest in literally anything that kind of even looks like Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ancient & Medieval European texts, however? Sign me the heck up. I am here to read Chaucer in Middle English and make you miserable with my philology talk. I will lose it over discussing root words that look similar in Beowulf’s Old English to the way it’s translated in modern times. Come at me with your “Shakespeare didn’t write his plays”, and I will sit you down for a dissertation.
This is a little more palatable for a lot of people, so I’m definitely in more of a majority here, but the second ADOW book leans very heavily on this. There is almost no explanation of who the people Diana is meeting are, despite the fact that all of them are pretty prominent figures in history, and when Diana realizes who they are, we’re still not given any information. We’re just expected to trust Diana when she gets all holy shit it’s Kit Marlowe. That’s it, you get no more information besides the fact that Kit Marlowe is a character. Nothing to tie him to the modern world. He’s probably forgettable. EXCEPT HE’S NOT. And it just continues like this with everyone they meet in Elizabethan England. If I didn’t think Elizabeth was the coolest, if Shakespeare wasn’t one of my favorite authors, if I hadn’t studied in that time period, I would have been so pissed at the second book in the trilogy. I honestly might have put it down because we get introduced to so many new characters and are just expected to take them at face value. There’s no development in their characters because Harkness just decided that since we should blindly know who Walter Raleigh is on our own and use that for our character development.
Did I have a grand old time in the second book when it came to famous men of literature? Hell yeah. But it was also glaringly obvious that no consideration was put in for those of us who may not. As I’m working on my own ancient vampires story, I’m not just throwing out the names of the sultans in Greece while the country was under Ottoman rule and expecting every single reader to know who I’m referencing. That’s just lazy writing. You’ve got to show us who your characters are.
I feel like I’ve got to wrap this up. You’ll notice I didn’t talk very specifically about the third book. Honestly, I gave it two stars, and I feel like this whole review does a good job of discussing why I’m angry with how this series turned out. I don’t want to keep harping on it because that’s not productive, and I’d just start repeating myself. The third book is a mess, and that’s all I’ve got to say on it.
This trilogy is weird for me because there were a lot of moments where I shouted in joy during the third book (basically any Ysabeau or Gallowglass scene), but it was also a two-star read for me. I started out really liking the story and characters in the first one, and just progressively disliked it more and more as I kept reading until I was literally banging my head against the wall during the second one. All Souls is an interesting trilogy with a lot of pieces that I enjoyed, but I don’t know that it’s something I’m ever going to recommend. The show? Hands down, sim, you should all watch it, and I’m so excited to see what they do with the second season. But the book? Probably not.
Anyway. If you can handle a lot of eye-rolling and outright ignoring when it comes to outdated values in exchange for badass magic and mostly intriguing vampire lore set all over the world and through time, the first book is a good read. I don’t recommend the third in the slightest, though it does have a predictable, nobody dies, and there are never any stakes ending.