Celebrated author Deborah Harkness’s All Souls trilogy comes to a thrilling conclusion today, when the final book in the series, The Book of Life, is released in bookstores.
Following a witch named Diana Bishop and her vampire husband, Matthew De Clairmont, and their hunt for an enchanted manuscript whose secrets contain the secrets to the survival of their species, the series has enchanted readers the world over and won Harkness millions of fans. Recently Harkness sat down with BookPage to talk about the release of The Book of Life; we wound up with more material than we could fit in our print interview, but these tidbits were too good to keep to ourselves!
On the appeal of alpha males: “I think there is a level at which [alpha males are] a fantasy that is just about being able to imagine, within the safe parameters of a fictional world and fictional relationship, that you could absolutely give up all control. I think what it really stems from is that so many of us are so very busy and pushed and pulled in so many directions. We're asked to make so many decisions and choices in a day, from what size your coffee is all the way up to putting food on the table and getting your kids to soccer practice in between your job and cooking dinner for six people. So there's this kind of sense that it would be nice if someone just walked in and said, ‘Put down your purse, no questions, we're going to dinner.’ You don't have to discuss it, you don't have to think, it would just be done. I think it's a fantasy, weirdly, of a deep breath.”
On challenging traditional gender assignment for witches and vampires: “I never considered flipping the standard gender assignment of male vampire and female witch because with the character of Diana, I was committed to the idea of a female witch in large part because one of the things I wanted to really explore was there is this general sense that it would be great to be a witch and I've always thought, ‘Really?! You would be unequivocally happy to have strange supernatural powers?’ I don't really think having bizarre supernatural powers would necessarily be a ‘thumbs up’ experience. So, once I had Diana and she was a witch and she was a female then Matthew had to be a vampire.
I do think, though, that Stephen Proctor, Diana's father, has been much more of a presence than Rebecca, because I did want to have a male witch. In much the same way, I wanted to show a female vampire in Isabel and Miriam as two of the other creatures in this world.”
On the importance of publishing her works under her own name: “[As a historian], I study a period where we say Anonymous was a woman and I think that's a double-edged sword, to protect yourself under a pseudonym. The number of cases of academics publishing popular novels rather than scholarly works is small, and most people who do publish fiction publish it pseudonymously. . . . One of the things that I think has been great is that I have seen an increasing number of academics writing under their own names.”
On her favorite book in the All Souls trilogy: “Shadow of Night, because it was on my home turf. It was the world that I knew very well and had the great pleasure and joy to show to other people. It was so much fun to go through all of my research outtakes and know I could use them.
It is really hard to choose among them, because I'm fond of each one for very different reasons. In some ways, nothing will match the sheer pleasure and joy of writing A Discovery of Witches, or the fun of writing Shadow of Night, or the satisfaction of bringing the whole thing into port with The Book of Life.”
On her favorite characters: “I am particularly attached to Philippe. He is my favorite character, because Matthew—for all his growling and moodiness—it’s Philippe who is just basically is master and commander of everything. I find him fascinating because he is this character who watches and waits and maneuvers people around. He's very ruthless but very genial and he's kind of got the alpha male thing down to a science, so much so that you don't really notice that he's running the world and everyone in it. He's sort of the un-Matthew and that was very interesting to me to be able to explore that.
However, the character who is the most fun to write is Gallowglass. No question!”
On the greatest unexpected reward to arise from writing these books: “One of the things that I hear a lot and is such an enormous privilege is when people say to me that they read history now or go to museums now or have even started rowing or they want to go back to school to get their BA or MA. People whose love of learning has been piqued, now they're starting to travel when they never did before. To somehow be able to have people read these books and to get all of these things out of them is kind of unimaginable and is the gift that keeps on giving.
It's not probably as important to every author, but as a teacher, this is why I do what I do and to be able to do it on the scale of fiction is very rewarding.”
On her favorite “big books” and long reads: “A series that has [really allowed me to inhabit a world] is an older series by a woman named Dorothy Dunnet. She first wrote the Crawford of Lymon series and then the House of Niccolo series, which was a prequel. I just adored those books!
I also remember buying Anne Rice's The Witching Hour, and it was the only book that I just simply couldn't go to sleep until I had finished it. Also, that was my introduction to Anne Rice, and it just transported me because I didn't really know where I was when I was reading it; I was in L.A., but I wasn't.”
On whether she’d rather be a witch, a vampire or a demon: “Demon, no question! I think I'm most temperamentally like a demon—I'm a little bit like a maniac and I'm a lot disorganized; you can't even walk across the floor of my office right now! I think that really what the demons are in this story is the principle of chaos and creativity—that's what they are alchemically and that's where new things come from—and I think it's way more exciting to be there than to have the weighty responsibility of supernatural and preternatural power. I'll take creativity any day.”
RELATED IN BOOKPAGE
Read our complete interview with Deborah Harkness.
Read about the previous books in the All Souls Trilogy.