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.

Book Review: Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

This book gave me the creeps, but in a good way. While I enjoyed the story, it never really felt like a fairy tale retelling.

4/5 stars

cover strands of bronze and gold

Goodreads Description

The Bluebeard fairy tale retold. . . .

When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.

My Review

I guess I should start by saying that I didn’t know what the Bluebeard fairy tale was going in to this book, and I’m still not really sure what it is. Though there are lots hair-raising moments, this book comes off as sinister historical fiction rather than a fairy tale retelling. If you are looking for a book that has clear paranormal or fantasy elements, this isn’t it, but the story it tells is definitely worth reading anyway.

Sophia was a likable protagonist. In the beginning, I kind of thought she was going to be annoying, but she wasn’t. She is young without being stupid. She’s strong and curious, aware of the larger picture and willing to put her own comfort aside to protect others. I respected and felt for her.

The setting–a Southern plantation with a Gothic abbey transplanted onto the grounds–was everything this book needed it to be. Nickerson’s imagery was incredible–I vividly understood the abbey’s dark interior, the gorgeous sprawling grounds, and the luxuries Sophia was surrounded by. Taking place on a plantation, the issue of slavery obviously came up, adding to the plot without feeling shoehorned in. Sophia’s character was deeply influenced by the treatment of the slaves on the grounds, one of the first things that helped her mature out of the flighty girl she was in the beginning of the story and into the strong and selfless girl who stood on the last pages.

The main plot of the book deals with Sophia’s relationship with her mysterious godfather Bernard de Cressac. He starts out as a loving and generous father figure and slowly evolves into a love interest, finally being revealed as an abusive and temperamental figure. From the first pages, it was clear that there was something off about de Cressac’s intentions toward Sophia, but I was transfixed by the subtle way his true personality was revealed. It was honestly creepy, giving the story a Gothic horror vibe and making it impossible to put down.

Sophia’s relationship with de Cressac provided an emotional window into dealing with abusive households. Trapped by her family’s financial issues, Sophia had to remain in de Cressac’s home, even as it became increasingly clear that he was a monster. I was genuinely terrified for Sophia, but she handled herself well, showing incredible bravery and selflessness.

The romance (not involving de Cressac, thank God) was simple but sweet. I liked the love interest enough, and I appreciated the conflicts that kept the two apart. There was nothing amazingly original about the romance’s arc, but it added a dose of positivity that the plot needed.

Though it lacked clear fantasy elements, I enjoyed this story. Fans of hair-raising historical fiction should definitely read this book, as well as people who appreciate strong female characters and vivid settings.