Reviewed by Samantha Hui

A dreadfully delightful homage to Gothic classics that offers something entirely of its own

Children of the Night by Zan Safra bewitches readers every step of the way. Drawing from multiple Gothic literary influences like Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Bram Stoker, Safra beckons readers to lean their ears in close, to listen for the haunting whispers that tell this captivating story.

Combining science fiction technology with Gothic and grotesque fantasy, this novel feels timeless yet futuristic, an anachronism well-juxtaposed.

“The uncanny feeling, the menacing sense of wrongness soaks the colors in my head, deadening them to a sea of rotten blood.”

Ayanda Draculesti navigates a world of “Naturals” and “Unnaturals,” a world dividing humans from those who have been tested on, mutilated, and reconstructed by alchemists who prey upon helpless children. A common enemy for the Naturals and Unnaturals, however, are the Risen Dead: vampires.

After five centuries of inactivity from these Dead, the cool and calculating vampire Isadora comes to Venice to wreak havoc, feeding on the Naturals and turning the Unnaturals against them. Ayanda’s particular set of skills, similar to those of vampires, may make her the perfect hero to fight against these killing things.

“‘We are alike. Unnaturals and the Dead,’ [Isadora] says, ‘The meat murder us all.’”

Ayanda does not have to fight this evil herself. The resurfacing of a familiar evil will connect Ayanda with other Unnaturals such as Jette Jekyll, Belle Frankenstein, and Yurei. Each character comes with their own set of skills and abilities as well as their own set of demons they must reconcile with.

While Ayanda is determined to take down the evil that is Isadora and her lackies, the other Unnaturals are hesitant to fight against such a lethal creature. They must also wrangle with the understanding that in fighting against the human-eating vampire, they would also be fighting for these Naturals who have forced an unbearable existence upon the Unnaturals.

“Its black fangs are so large that they distort the creature’s mouth, freezing the lover half of its face into a grotesque smile.”

For centuries, monsters and Gothic fiction have been utilized as representations of the cultural anxieties that took hold of the populations during the corresponding time periods.

Safra has done an excellent job of implementing this storytelling tradition. Times have become more complex and convoluted, requiring more characters to represent a wider array of anxieties and identities that exist in today’s society. Each chapter is dedicated to a different character’s perspective, such that we not only see through Ayanda’s eyes but that of Yurei, Belle, and Jette’s as well.

Because of these shifting viewpoints, the stakes feel much higher and more personal. We see how similar events impact characters in completely different ways. The characters’ own fears are often used against them, creating a sense that danger not only comes from outside players but from internal demons as well.

“But something is here. I feel it, a ripple, a distortion, as though the world itself is recoiling, twisting away from something foul, poisoned, wrong.”

I would highly recommend this book to those with a penchant for steampunk fiction and Gothic tropes. The novel begins in the action of the plot and engages its audience through implicit, active worldbuilding rather than relying too much on exposition. Safra’s storytelling is grotesque and captivating, both repulsing and intriguing us to keep on listening.

Genre: Gothic / Science Fiction / Fantasy

Print Length: 354 pages

ISBN: 978-1737313427


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