When I first read the book, several things REALLY bothered me. Top among them was the fact that in a book that should be tying everything up, Harkness began introducing new threads and characters. Now, as any academic writer can tell you: you NEVER introduce new information in your conclusion!
However, I thought she might be turning this into a series rather than just a trilogy. [I don't know if it is true, but it seems plausible given the fact that BoL reads more like a transition than an actual ending.] Once that thought sunk in, I wasn’t as irritated by the book on the second read-through.
Things that are still not good:
1. Gallowglass. Never once in SoN did I have the impression that G was more than a loyal, kick-ass friend and ally. Now he has been turned into some pathetic thing and it feels incredibly untrue to the character! It also (unintentionally?) sets Diana up as the “look at how everybody is in love with me” kind of woman–which seems antithetical to who she is.
This felt like Harkness was grasping at straws to either create family tension–which is unnecessary–or that she just wanted to stretch the length of the novel.
2. The anticlimactic everything (or, how there is NOTHING at stake in this book)…
A. Babies. Yeah, she has ‘em. Yep, they get names. Blah blah blah. Mostly, they just sit there being part of the background.
B. The Congregation. Seriously? I know writing about board meetings is a bit dull, but essentially Diana walks in, waffles around a bit, and–poof–the end of the covenant. How was this body of people any threat to anyone?
C. Benjamin. He’s the “big bad” and somehow he’s hidden from the Congregation (and the entire deClermont clan) for hundreds of years. And, even though he’s caught Matthew and is doing his level best to breed with captive witches, no one feels in jeopardy (even the tortured Matthew). In the end he just falls away with very little effort.
I’m not sure how Benjamin became the “big bad” for this story. He never seemed like much more than a passing side-thread in either of the other books. And now, in book 3, he is some super-psychopath? It just didn’t work for me.
3. New characters (with new threads to tug…)
Janet Gowdie (conveniently the granddaughter of Benjamin+witch). Fernando (only previously mentioned in Bk 1). The Madison coven folks. The London coven folks. More congregation members. The students working in the lab.
4. Parade of former characters without much import tied to them (basic name dropping to show “I was here”).
Sophie/Nathaniel/baby Margaret/Agatha. Philippe. Emily. Rebecca/Stephen.
5. Minor characters who just show up as plot devices: Chris, Jack, Father Hubbard, Alain, Marthe, Timothy.
What do I think on a second read?
I still think the book isn’t up to scratch–there are too many loose connections that fail to execute the story properly as an end to a trilogy. She needed another year and at least two more serious revisions to get that plot sewn up.
I know I am in the minority (according to most publishing standards), but I would have been much happier to wait for a good book than to sit through one that was published too soon.