Confused by the world’s daily chaos and the ways in which conflict seems to be the only way events are handled? Deborah Harkness’ best-selling All Souls Trilogy offers some solutions that can help.
I don’t know about you, but it’s a rare day — hour?? — where I don’t feel as if the world is maybe melting in front of me. Between global warming, chaotic economic markets and questionable leadership decisions (I’ll just leave that there so I don’t alienate everyone immediately), it’s hard not to feel a little like Chicken Little. Solutions seem like a chimera.
Then I had an epiphany one day while rereading Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches. Maybe the solution — or at least a solution — really just boils down to this: everyone should read the All Souls Trilogy.
Why? Because the series’ main themes of the importance of love, family and, finally, tolerance serve as a good reminder that, differences aside, we are all in this together. And if creatures as diverse and misinformed and obdurate as vampires, witches and daemons can get beyond their infighting and power struggles to unify for the common good, well, maybe, so can humans.
The potential for change starts with love. Thanks to an antiquated covenant overseen by a leadership council called the Congregation, witches, daemons and vampires are not supposed to be friendly, much less fall in love. Maintaining their supposed differences (cue ridiculous Dracula and vampire sunrise myths for starters) and preventing each other from even working together is, the Congregation insists, for the good of all. It keeps the species pure and safe by preventing humans from noticing strange goings-on.
Diana and Matthew shoot that theory to hell within days of meeting each other as they fall in love. “I choose you,” Matthew says to Diana at one point, while Diana describes her love for Matthew this way: “Somewhere in the center of my soul, a rusty chain began to unwind. It freed itself, link by link, from where it had rested, unobserved, waiting for him. My hands, which had been balled up and pressed against his chest, unfurled with it. The chain continued to drop, to an unfathomable depth where there was nothing but darkness and Matthew. At last it snapped to its full length, anchoring me to a vampire. Despite the manuscript, despite the fact that my hands contained enough voltage to run a microwave, and despite the photograph, as long as I was connected to him, I was safe.”
They refuse to listen to various emissaries from the Congregation and other “interested” parties claiming to have their best interests in mind by insisting they cease and desist. As fans know, things get a lot worse before they get better. But it is in this muck that the lessons that count are learned.
Like many families, the de Clairmont family is a hot mess of egos, Matthew chief among them. Matthew is a secret-keeper and used to leading and getting his own way. His leadership is not always appreciated by other family members, however, creating constant friction. His father, Phillipe, initially openly disdains Diana, as does his wife, Ysabeau. While she certainly has a reason to hate witches — they were responsible for Phillipe’s ultimate tortured death — she, too, is motivated as well by “the rules” and a sense that maintaining order is a way to protect her son, Matthew. They both test Diana in various ways, hoping to find a chink in her resolve. This love with Matthew is wrong and must be stopped.
Diana’s remaining family — Aunt Sarah and her life partner, Emily — are only slightly more evolved in their thinking. Sarah, in particular, initially can hardly stand being in the same room with Matthew. As for accepting Matthew and Diana’s love? That would be a hard no.
And yet, all these characters ultimately realize, some more begrudgingly than others, that family must stick together. Robert Frost may have noted that home — and by extension family — “is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in,” but the de Clairmonts and the Bishop/Mathers go far beyond that as they rally around Matthew and Diana. They band together not only to allow their love to thrive but also to fight the Congregation and the rules that they realize are actually hampering rather than protecting creatures’ development. Phillipe, in the ultimate sign of acceptance, makes Diana his daughter, placing his blood mark on her forehead so every creature will know she is a de Clairmont and under the family’s protection. Em, meanwhile, gives up her life. Family, they all realize, is the final refuge.
They come to this realization in large part because of love. They develop newfound appreciation for each other while watching the love between Matthew and Diana. It inspires them and reminds them of what truly matters. Love enables them all to grow and learn how to let go of misconceptions and mistakes.
(Re)learning that love and family matter above all else enables the de Clairmonts and their extended family and friends to go outside themselves and fight the bigger battles. In this case, it is for the very future of all creatures. United they stand, they realize; divided they fall, an understanding beautifully illustrated at series’ end by the ouroboros that symbolizes Diana and Matthew’s relationship and their family’s future. They are an “alchemical marriage of vampire and witch, death and life, sun and moon. That combination of opposites created something finer and more precious than either of us could have been separately,” Diana observes. It is a development that enables them to defeat evil but, potentially more importantly, sets the scene for acting differently going forward. They are forever changed. But unity comes from acceptance, from a willingness to consider the other, to take a moment to walk in the other person’s shoes. Accept — maybe even embrace — the differences.
Imagining a book as a solution to societal problems might seem, on some levels, a silly idea. And yet it is in hope that real change begins, and All Souls is, ultimately, a book series about hope. And that seems like a form of magic we could all use.