Title: Hide Me Among the Graves
Author: Tim Powers
Genre: Gothic, Historical Fantasy
Publisher: William Morrow / Corvus
Publication date: March 28 / September 2012
Hardcover: 511 pages
Winter, 1862. A malevolent spirit roams the cold and gloomy streets of Victorian London, the vampiric ghost of John Polidori, the onetime physician of the mad, bad and dangerous Romantic poet Lord Byron. Polidori is also the supernatural muse to his niece and nephew, poet Christina Rossetti and her artist brother Dante Gabriel.
But Polidori’s taste for debauchery has grown excessive. He is determined to possess the life and soul of an innocent young girl, the daughter of a veterinarian and a reformed prostitute he once haunted. And he has resurrected Dante’s dead wife, transforming her into a horrifying vampire. The Rossettis know the time has come – Polidori must be stopped. Joining forces with the girl’s unlikely parents, they are plunged into a supernatural London underworld whose existence they never suspected.
These wildly mismatched allies – a strait-laced animal doctor, and ex-prostitute, a poet, a painter, and even the Artful Dodger-like young daughter – must ultimately choose between the banality and constraints of human life and the unholy immortality that Polidori offers. Sweeping from high society to grimy slums, elegant West End salons to pre-Roman catacombs beneath St. Paul’s cathedral, Hide Me Among The Graves blends the historical and the supernatural in a dazzling, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.
Stand alone or series: This is a sequel to The Stress of Her Regard published in 1989 but it can be read as a stand alone.
How did I get this book: Review copy from the publishers
Why did I read this book: I read and enjoyed The Anubis Gates and keep meaning to read more by Tim Powers. I did not read The Stress of Her Regard but ever since I saw the cover for Hide Me Among the Graves, I’ve wanted to read it.
In Tim Power’s 1989 acclaimed novel The Stress of Her Regard, the protagonist Michael Crawford battles vampiric forces of evil side by side with Byron, Keats, Shelley et al.
Hide Me Among the Graves is a standalone sequel to that novel, following John Crawford, the son of that novel’s protagonist as he battles the same sort of vampiric forces of evil, this time alongside another group of artists: the Rossetti family (Dante Gabriel, Christina and their siblings) and their surrounding group of friends.
The above is nothing but a cheeky, basic summary and Hide Me Among the Graves is a lot more than this basic premise. It’s a historical supernatural thriller that takes basic facts about the lives of its historical characters and plays with them in an atmospheric London of the late 19th century.
The Rossettis’ siblings have been haunted by the ghost-like vampiric presence of their uncle John Polidori ever since Christina succumbed to its allure when she was a young girl and opened the doors of her life (and that of her siblings, most notably Dante Gabriel) to this spectral presence. Years later, they are still struggling against this ghost and come to realise that Polidori is not the only vampiric creature and they are not their only victims. There is the veterinarian John Crawford whose father was a victim of the same sort of creature years before; as well as Adelaide McKee, a former prostitute whose daughter has gone missing. Her connection to both John and Dante Gabriel makes these two groups of people to join forces against a common enemy. Eventually they come to learn that there is a plan to destroy London.
There is a lot to enjoy about Hide Me Among the Graves. Starting with its particular take on vampirism: these vampires are spectral creatures who take over somebody’s dead form and function as succubi/incubi as well as muse to their victims. They exert influence and although they don’t make their living victims immortal they do expand their lifeline. This concoction of ideas serves as a great exploration of both the repulsion and attraction that these creatures engender in their victims especially those with artistic souls. This is sharply explored in the particular lives of the Rossettis and Christina has the biggest struggle of them all. Her repulsion toward her uncle is as great as her attraction. There is hatred and fear born out of her Christian upbringing and the knowledge that there is nothing natural about her relationship with this Polidori creature. But there is also love and lust and the certainty that her writing is at its best when she allows Polidori to exert his influence. There is a lot of tragedy here, present in the lives of the Rossettis and for them the biggest tragedy of all is their knowledge that their work is at its best only when they open their souls to possible damnation.
As interesting as this insertion of these characters into this Fantasy world is, Hide Me Among the Graves proves to be more engaging when it moves focus to the wholly fictional characters Crawford and Mckee. Mckee is a particularly well-drawn female character who is fully aware of this hidden London of magic, of curses and where ghosts can be trapped in birds. I loved McKee, her budding relationship with Crawford as well as her missing daughter Johanna – who turns out to be a funny and capable street urchin.
On the flip side, the basic plot of the novel – characters get together to fight the vampires and how this affects their personal lives – is rehashed many times throughout what can only be described as a very bloated book. This is a trap of Powers’ own making because by using the Rossettis as characters, he has to inevitably follow the course of their lives. In addition, despite the fact that so many characters suffer under this evil influence, Hide Me Among the Graves is a very plot-focused novel where events brought about by external influences kept leading characters here and there. Because of that, and I admit I am not usually a fan of plot-driven novels, it lacked something more substantial so that I could fully emerge myself and sink my teeth into this novel (pun not intended) with gusto.
Ultimately Hide Me Among the Graves is a very enjoyable, atmospheric read and I found it to be extremely engaging as I read it. I am trying to find a way to say that I think this is a good, solid novel but one that in spite of its clear qualities (and there are many), lacks a je ne sais quoi . And this missing… gravitas…prevents it from being a truly remarkable novel.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
1845: The Bedbug
The felt-padded base of the ivory bishop thumped faintly on the marble chessboard.
“Check,” said the girl.
The face of the old man across the table from her was in shadow — the curtains were drawn across the street-side windows, and the chandelier overhead hung crookedly because of the gas-saving mantle screwed onto it — and all she could see under the visor of his black cap was the gleam of his thick spectacles as he peered at the chess pieces.
Both of them hated to lose.
“And mate in … two,” he said. He sat back, blinking owlishly at the girl.
She sighed and spread her hands. “I believe so, Papa.”
The old man thoughtfully lifted the ebony king from the board and looked toward the fireplace, as if considering throwing the piece onto the coals. Instead he put it into the pocket of his robe, and when his hand reemerged it was holding instead a thumb-sized black stone statue.
Christina raised her eyebrows.
Old Gabriele’s answering smile was wry. “I carry it around with me now,” he said, “very close. Not that it does me any good anymore. Nothing does.”
He put it down onto the square where his king had stood, and it clicked against the marble.
Wanting to head off yet another melodramatic elaboration along the lines of his Nothing does, Christina quickly asked, “What sort of good did it once do? You’ve said it’s buona fortuna.”
She and her sister and two brothers had seen the little statue on a high shelf in their parents’ bedroom ever since they could remember, and they had even taken it down and incorporated the stumpy little stone man into their games when they were alone, but this was the first time in her fourteen years that she had ever seen it downstairs.
“It led me to your mother,” he said softly, “all the way from Italy to England, and I thought it might keep us healthy and prosperous, not — not destitute and losing my sight — ‘And that one talent which is death to hide, lodged with me useless …’ ”
Christina could see him blinking behind the thick lenses, and saw the glint of the tears that were always embarrassingly ready these days, especially when he quoted Milton’s sonnet about going blind. She wished she had let him win the chess game.
Additional Thoughts: Go HERE to read our exclusive interview with Tim Powers – we chatted about writing Hide Me Among the Graves and more.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan