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The Mirk and Midnight Hour    by Jane Nickerson order for
Mirk and Midnight Hour
by Jane Nickerson
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2015 (2014)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

At first you think The Mirk and Midnight Hour (whose title is taken from The Ballad of Tam Lin) is same old, same old - a YA historical in which a young Southern belle falls for a wounded Union soldier. But it's new and fresh in many different ways, even aside from the paranormal element that's key to the plot.

Seventeen-year-old Violet is still grieving over the death of her beloved twin brother Rush in the war, when her father sets off to fight, after a sudden wedding. He married the widow Sluder, leaving Violet to deal with a stepmother addicted to laudanum and her spoiled daughter Anna Bess. She also takes responsibility for her eight-year-old cousin Seeley (heir to a large property), who is sent to live with them.

After her mother's death, Violet was raised by a slave, Aunt Permilla, and grew up with Permilla's blood kin Laney as a close confidante and friend. Though Laney (now a young mother) is also a slave, Violet does not treat her as one and avoids thinking about that part of their lives. Anna Bess's different attitude starts to change that. Violet also has an unusual talent, to communicate with, and summon, bees.

Violet takes on the care and entertainment of young Seeley, who has troubling accidents after Dorian brings him to stay. And though she's always been attracted to her handsome cousin Dorian, Violet worries about Anna Bess's flirting with him, given that her new stepmother lives in a laudanum haze and sees little of what goes on around her.

On an expedition in the woods, Seeley and Violet find Thomas (the wounded Union soldier of the tale) in ruined Carter Hall. He tells them that he has been cared for by the tall and graceful VanZeldts, who came from Africa and practice an old and dark religion, which demands human sacrifice. They call themselves the Children of Raphtah.

Of course you can see where this is going and can probably guess how the Ballad of Tam Lin comes into play in this Southern setting. I enjoyed the story very much. Violet is an engaging character as is Thomas, and their romance is developed gently and with empathy. Definitely recommended!

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