Book Review: The Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson

A powerful glimpse into Civil War Southern society with fascinating characters and conflicts, this book was great historical fiction, but the fairytale elements never developed as fully as I would have liked.

4/5 stars

Companion to Strands of Bronze and Gold

cover mirk and the midnight hour

Goodreads Description

Seventeen-year-old Violet Dancey has been left at home in Mississippi with a laudanum-addicted stepmother and love-crazed stepsister while her father fights in the war—a war that has already claimed her twin brother.

When she comes across a severely injured Union soldier lying in an abandoned lodge deep in the woods, things begin to change. Thomas is the enemy—one of the men who might have killed her own brother—and yet she’s drawn to him. But Violet isn’t Thomas’s only visitor; someone has been tending to his wounds—keeping him alive—and it becomes chillingly clear that this care hasn’t been out of compassion.

Against the dangers of war and ominous powers of voodoo, Violet must fight to protect her home and the people she loves.

From the author of Strands of Bronze and Gold comes a haunting love story and suspenseful thriller based on the ancient fairy tale of “Tam Lin.”

My Review

I actually read this book before Strands of Bronze and Gold. Chronologically, it happens after SBG, but both stories stand on their own well, with only similar settings and eerie moods connecting them (and two side characters).

Ironically, this book focuses more on “real life” conflicts and characters, but it also has more clear fairytale aspects than its companion.

Violet was a good protagonist, though she wasn’t amazingly unique. Still, I liked her maternal instincts and honest emotions. The rest of the characters were interesting, with clearly painted personalities. Since there are a lot of side characters, I won’t go into each of them individually, but all of them grew over the course of the book, and by the last chapter they were more complex than they were in the first chapter–something I absolutely need in books.

The plot of this book is really a lot of subplots woven together skillfully. Foremost is Violet trying to accept her new family–the family her mother remarried into before he left to fight the Civil War. None of the family members are particularly nice–most of them are awful–but they were all realistic. Violet’s anger at the Civil War and the Union surprised me–I honestly had never considered how attacked and victimized some Southerners would feel. At the same time, Violet lived in an idealistic Southern household and was woefully naive about the horrors of slavery. (To her credit, she did eventually recognize this fact.)

The setting was vividly described and gorgeous. I felt like was in the South along with the characters, and I loved every scene in the dark but magical forest.

The romance took a while to get going, but once it started, I enjoyed it. The love interest was one of the most interesting characters in the entire book, and I loved the quaint but touching way that their relationship advanced. The issue of him being a Union soldier and her being a southerner created just enough conflict to be believable without going so far as to be melodramatic. The romance was never the main focus of the plot, but it subtly affected lots of other plot lines and helped Sophia’s character develop.

Throughout TMMH, there is a mild sense of creepiness. The prologue–perfectly short–introduced the paranormal element which faded into the background of the plot and then gradually came to the forefront again. The fairy tale aspect of this book was clear throughout–something that was missing from its companion novel–but I still felt like it could have been more prevalent. The eeriness never felt completely developed for me, though I did appreciate that a human villain helped to fill out the plot, while the fairy tale plot remained more subtle.

TMMH is more than just a fairy tale retelling–it is powerful historical fiction with realistic and emotional conflicts. Everything about this book is vivid: the characters, the setting, the sinister sensation lingering throughout the plot. All in all, I think I enjoyed this book more than Strands of Bronze and Gold, though both plots end up being so different that it is hard to choose between them.

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