The Midnight Guardian by Sarah Jane Stratford
I usually tend to ignore the little blurbs from other authors on book covers, unless the blurb comes from an author I trust. For instance, I picked up Robin McKinley’s Sunshine based on the Neil Gaiman blurb found on its cover. (And thank God I did, or I would have started with Beauty and written the lovely lady off completely!) When I finally got my hands on a copy of The Midnight Guardian, I noticed that the first blurb was by Eric Van Lustbader, who penned First Daughter and Last Snow, two subpar thrillers with some women issues. Still, Alex Kurtzman, the gentleman who co-wrote the script to the latest Star Trek, also provided a favorable blurb. I could trust him, right?
Then again, he also co-wrote Transformers.
The Midnight Guardian follows a group of British vampires as they head to Germany to try and stop the Nazi war machine from the inside out, fearing a war that could deplete their food supply to famine levels. Each vampire on this elite mission is over a thousand years old, making them wildly formidable. Chief among them is Brigit, who pines for her lover, Eamon, left behind in England for being too young. The book follows Brigit as she travels to Germany and attempts to flee with two mysterious charges, and Eamon as he reflects upon their shared history.
The idea of vampires attempting to fend off Nazis in order to protect their food supply interested me. It pitted two evils against each other with humanity in the unfortunate middle. However, Stratford takes the exceedingly bizarre approach of making her vampires downright heroic while vilifying any and all Germans, Nazi or not, that make an appearance. Despite the fact that she cheerfully seduces young men to their death twice a week (and has done so for the past thousand years), Brigit is horrified to learn of the cruelty of the Nazi regime. She massacres an entire theater full of Germans with unnecessary cruelty to blow off steam, and it’s apparently justified because they’re listening to a particularly vile Nazi orator and they won’t stand up to the Nazis, a viewpoint presented again and again in the novel. With the vampires presented as heroic and even noble and all Germans as cruel and cowardly racists, it feels like a particularly tortured revenge fantasy. Inglourious Basterds did it much, much better, and their supposed heroes were presented as the sociopaths they were (and it didn’t vilify every single German they encountered!). This is bad enough without Brigit’s… ah, perfection.
Let me toss out a term here–Mary Sue. (Kiss your productivity goodbye!) For my fellow geeks, it says, “Remember the fanfiction we wrote when we were preteens? Let’s pretend that never happened.” For the uninitiated, a Mary Sue is a type of original character often found in fanfiction, usually a wildly idealized version of the author playing merry havoc with the laws and rules of the world she has inserted herself into. (We can forgive the wee lasses doing this–it’s an important step in a lady nerd’s development!) While I haven’t thought of the term as applied to fiction in a long time, Brigit made it all rush back. During Brigit’s vampire birth, Stratford describes the normal vampire birth–but special Brigit surpasses most of it, because she was so filled with rage when she was made. Her love with Eamon is so perfect that other vampires don’t understand it and it gives her strength. She knows she wants a true love but apparently doesn’t even know the words for it while she’s human. (What.) She’s impossibly gorgeous according to modern standards, which I normally give a pass on for vampires (part of the tool kit, really), but gets points deducted for apparently discovering razors in the 900s. In the climax, she survives an attack that no vampire should. In short, my suspension of disbelief was absolutely shot since Brigit was too perfect–her main flaw, her temper, is not enough in the face of such perfection.
I did like the fact that the novel emphasized the fact that love makes life worth living (true!), but despised the fact that it equated love with sex, especially in a section where Eamon helps out a young soldier and hopes he gets laid, because life isn’t worth living without it. (You can see why this doesn’t quite gel with me.) The love between Eamon and Brigit is presented so gushingly that I rolled my eyes whenever Eamon discussed it. Again, Stratford misses an opportunity to explore complexity–vampires are expected to become their sire’s lover, and that obviously presents a problematic power dynamic. But it’s never really discussed–Brigit’s sire is annoying and disposed of as the plot demands, while it’s quite honestly love at first sight for Eamon and Brigit. The most annoying part is that Eamon and Brigit can barely handle being apart. I started laughing when Stratford described how Brigit would wake up in tears since Eamon wasn’t with her. It’s not organic or complex at all–it’s just flatly “perfect”.
Now, The Midnight Guardian isn’t all bad. The vampire lore is interesting, especially the concept of millennials and the history of vampire hunters, and Mors, a Roman general turned vampire, is a great character–bombastic, wicked, and seductive, cracking very black jokes even as he slaughters humans. (In short, an actual vampire.) While I wish the story was told in a more or less chronological order, Stratford plays well with suspense as jump between chapters set during the group’s infiltration attempts in Germany and Brigit’s escape from Germany, respectively. The history behind each vampire is usually quite interesting–I especially loved when Mors reflected on the beautiful music of Rome, now forever lost to history. But still, too much is unexplained, vague, or undeveloped. Each vampire apparently carries a demon within them–a nice enough concept on an intellectual level, until we learn they are apparently physical, since they hide in female vampires’ uteri. (Again, what.) And I haven’t even touched on the fact that some vampires have partial souls. The Midnight Guardian had plenty potential, but it’s almost all wasted.
Bottom line: By vilifying all of Germany and making her vampires heroic, Sarah Jane Stratford wastes a potential for complexity in The Midnight Guardian in favor of a ridiculously perfect vampire heroine and a love story so gooey you’ll hurt yourself rolling your eyes–and not even the interesting minor vampires or vampire lore can save it.
I rented this book from the public library.