Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review: The Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson

Release Date: March 11, 2014
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Source: Purchased
Author Links: Website | Goodreads

A Southern girl. A wounded soldier. A chilling force deep in the forest.
All collide at night’s darkest hour.
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.”

At first, I was a tad disappointed that there wasn't much magic in this one. I mean, it's supposed to be a retelling of Tam Lin, right? Maaaagic! 
But Tam Lin's fairies are replaced with practitioners of voodoo, and the magic hoodoo stuff doesn't come into play (much) until the end.
So, not a story steeped in magic.
Well, unless you count the fact that Violet has some sort of affinity with bees. And let's face it, unless you can order them to ATTACK!, how freaking useful is that?
What she can do is call the bees, and they sorta sit on her and give her a feeling of calm. And I think once or twice they hovered around an area that she needed to go or something.
GPS? Useful.
Bees? Not quite so much.

Ok. Strip all the expectations I originally had away, and this turns into a pretty decent book about a young southern girl during the Civil War.
She doesn't meet Thomas (the Union soldier) until mid-way through the story, and in the meantime you get a feel for what her life is like on a small southern farm. Her mother is long dead, and she lives with her father and their two slaves, Lainey and her husband Michael. Violet and Lainey grew up together like sisters, and both she and Michael are treated like family. Now that Lainey has a child, Violet can feel a gap widening between them. And the possibility that the War may free Lainey is also a source of unspoken tension. While Violet doesn't think of Lainey as her slave, she's still afraid to talk to her about her feelings and fears. On one hand she wants Lainey to be free, but on the other she doesn't want to lose her friend.
I think Nickerson did a good job with Violet's character. She didn't truly understand why slavery was wrong, because not only was she raised in an era that had condoned it, but her personal experience slavery was relatively benign. Of course, benign to her because she wasn't a slave.
It was interesting to see her grow, and have her feelings on all sorts of things (including slavery) change over the course of the book. She was a good person, and when confronted with the truth of things, she was willing to bend her opinions.
As far as a story about a girl goes, this was a fine way to pass the time.

Ok. I live in South Carolina, which is in the Heart of Dixie and gateway to the Bible Belt. I'm not technically southern, because I spent the majority of my life in Florida. And while that state may be geographically southern, it ain't part of the South. Or so I've been told. On numerous occasions.
Still, I've lived here (read: True South) long enough to find myself sort of wanting to defend these guys somewhat.
See, there was this one line in the book that got under my skin and crawled around. It was an innocent enough statement made by Thomas to Violet, in order to calm her fears. This isn't a quote, but it went something like this:
Don't worry the Union soldiers won't burn down (civilian) houses. And if they do they will make sure no one is inside...
First, get real, dude. This was a war. Shit like that happened all the time.
Besides, every southerner I know has a grandma. And that grandma has a friggin list. And on that list is every family home burned, every woman raped, and every item stolen from those Damn Yankees.
Nobody holds a grudge like the Rebels. Seriously.
Second, it seems to be a prevailing theme in some of these books that Union soldiers were the Good Guys, fighting on God's side for nothing other than the freedom of the oppressed.
Again. Get real.
While freeing slaves might have been the battle cry, it wasn't the only objective. Now, I don't think anyone in their right mind thinks that it didn't need to happen. Slavery is an ugly blight on our history, and we're still feeling the repercussions of it today.
But there were lots of factors involved, slavery was just the official reason.
Kind of like 9/11 was the battle cry for invading Iraq.
Oil and grudges didn't have anything to do with that one...

On the whole, though, I thought Nickerson wrote an interesting story. It might be a little slower than I wanted it to be, and it was definitely lighter on the retelling part than I was hoping, but it was still well-written. The characters stand out as the high point, with very few being truly good or evil. The stepmother and stepsister are both examples of how people can straddle that line, since they each turned out to be wildly different than I originally believed.

The reviews for this book run the gamut between Totally-Lurved to DNF'd-the-Sucker. If you're thinking of buying this one, you might want to paw through some of the other reviews and make sure this lines up with your taste.


Carmel @ Rabid Reads said...

I'm going to take your advice Anne and read a couple of other reviews before a fully decide on this one. The whole "Totally-Lurved to DNF'd-the-Sucker" has me a bit leery...


It's just one of those books, you know? I would hate to mislead anyone just because I liked it. If you like southern gothic, give it a try.

Tabitha (Pabkins) said...

See that was the impression that I got from reading the description, that it wasnt really going to be much about magic and I have never cared a ton for historicals unless they are fantasy based, glad you still enjoyed it tho!


I'm normally right there with you, Tabitha. If I had known how little fantasy was in this, I probably wouldn't have read it.

Lily B said...

ah I thought there will be magic in this one as well, oops. At least it was still good despite

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