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REVIEW: The Midnight Guardian by Sarah Jane Stratford

REVIEW SUMMARY: A new take on the vampire with a kick-butt heroine too.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Alternate history vampires infiltrate Germany to stop The Third Reich.

PROS: Stratford’s lush voice brings weight to a fantastical and potentially over-the-top alternate history story.
CONS: Stratford’s lush voice might be too much work for some readers who expect a lighter treatment.
BOTTOM LINE: The Midnight Guardian breathes new life into the undead. I definitely enjoyed this book.

Even before being turned into a vampire, main character Brigit (nee Brigantia nee Hilda) was a woman apart in an early 900s Briton community near York, England. This independent streak is what drew the attention of one particular vampire, but this same quality later sets Brigit apart from other vampires and enables her to survive when others cannot. Alone among her vampire clan, Brigit seems to have the power of fire — a burning demon within in addition to the vampiric demon who has possessed her for over a thousand years.

The story proper begins in 1936 when England’s remaining vampire clan sends its oldest members, all “Millennials,” to Germany to thwart The Third Reich. This over-the-top premise is given dimension by Stratford’s lush narrative voice, which I loved. While I often stick to and enjoy grittier reads, Stratford’s dense prose fit that of a thousand year old character, grounded the plot, and enabled me to suspend my disbelief for the duration of the story.

While many of the vivid characters, the least of which Brigit, stayed with me when I put this book down, some may find the story structure somewhat disorienting. Stratford jumps the story back and forth from Germany in 1936 and 1940 to 917 (thereabouts) and 12th Century York. The technique does add tension and suspense to the story, but I found myself slightly confused a few times. Stratford holds a Master’s in medieval history and since The Midnight Guardian is slated to be the first in a trilogy, I’m hoping for more information on Brigit’s eternal love Eamon, formerly Jacob of Emmanuel from a Jewish community in the aforementioned 12th Century York.

In addition to Brigit’s fundamental independence, another facet that lends originality to this story is the presence of a Jewish vampire. In Stratford’s vampire world, Jews turned into vampires retain more of their original human soul and can pass as human more easily than other vampires. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it is this quality of Eamon’s that partly enables Brigit to survive her main ordeal. That a Jewish vampire like Eamon holds onto at least part of his original soul is a telling irony juxtaposed against the “souless” epithet several of the Nazi characters voice more than once against Jews. This is not a topic I have so far in my reading seen dealt with in any other vampire story.

I also appreciated that Stratford didn’t shy away from depicting the ferocity of her vampires. The reader fully witnesses the brutality with which the vampires can deal with humans and the bloody consequences their enemies face. Despite this power, the story exploits the weaknesses of Brigit and her cohorts to increase the stakes very well. I’m definitely looking forward to future installments of the Millennial trilogy. If you enjoy a good vampire story as well as some historical details, you will like The Midnight Guardian.

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