As with The Stress of Her Regard, Tim Powers has created historical fiction where the historical details are as accurate as they can get, and the story he weaves draws those details into something truly macabre. It’s one of the hallmarks of Powers that makes me admire him as a writer. When I found about this pseudo-sequel to that other novel, my first question was whether or not he could capture lightning in a bottle twice. The previous novel started slowly and built itself into one of the greatest vampire stories I’ve ever read to date. For the first third of this novel, I was thinking this was a 3-star book. I shouldn’t have doubted him.
Where The Stress of Her Regard deals with Byron, Keats, Shelley, etc., as told through the POV of his character Michael Crawford, this one deals with the next generation of poets and artists, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his sister Christina, via the POV of Crawford’s son, now grown and with a life of his own. I say this is a pseudo-sequel for just that reason. The events of the story here are clearly overshadowed by and as a direct result of those in the previous novel, but this does stand on its own as well. On its own, it morphs into a magnificently sinister read. It’s only when compared to the original that this one lacks anything. Even so, it’s still a 5 star read by the time you hit the halfway point. I know of very few vampire stories that can hold up comparatively. It’s because Powers takes the time to set everything into place, and he tells this story as though it were written like the works of the period. It just feels right. As a bonus, because the historical events are there for anyone to verify, the weirdness practically invites the reader to get to know (or to reacquaint with) the Rossettis just as the first one did for Byron and his ilk. It’s the perfect on-ramp for (re)discovery of the Romantic era.