Premise: When Christina Rossetti smears her blood on the little statue belonging to her father, she unknowingly releases a curse upon her family: the vampiric spirit of her late uncle John Polidori, physician to poet Lord Byron. Not only does Polidori’s spirit inspire great poetry and painting to Christina and her brother Gabriel, it threatens their other family members and resurrects Gabriel’s dead wife as a vampire as well. They agree that their uncle must be stopped at all costs.
The Rossettis are not the only ones threatened by Polidori. Adelaide McKee is a reformed prostitute who had a tryst with the veterinarian John Crawford seven years earlier, producing a child who had been previously presumed dead. When she discovers that the girl is alive and in danger of being claimed by Polidori, she strikes out with Crawford to find the Rossetti family for their help to save her daughter and to stop Polidori.
Racing across Victorian London streets, riding on carriages, and climbing through dark and mysterious sewers, they all discover there are strange supernatural unseen things in their midst, and the very foundation of London is at risk. With the help of Edward Trelawney, friend of Shelley and Byron, they must track down vampires, speak with ghosts, and discover the way to stop the destruction of their loved ones and of London before it is too late. Some are willing to give up the muse in exchange for stopping Polidori, but there are others who are willing to embrace him and all that entails.
Themes: One of the great themes in Hide Me Among the Graves is sacrifice. Several of the characters are faced with sacrificing their poetry, painting, and other writings in exchange for stopping Polidori. Not every character is willing to do so, and the cost of themselves and of others. It is interesting that the sacrifice can be seen as going either way, as a sacrifice of soul and life in exchange for the muse and eternity, or vice versa.
Hide Me Among the Graves is also a redemption story, with Adelaide McKee making up for her past sins by her relentless pursuit of Polidori and her daughter, Johanna, and with Christina attempting to redeem her mistake of releasing Polidori to begin with. Crawford seeks redemption for his mistakes by following wherever McKee leads him. We even find Trelawney faced with opportunities for redemption after an entirely unrepentant lifetime.
The love story between Crawford and McKee comes into full view when they discover their daughter from their tryst years before is still alive. The steps they take to save her lead them to face their feelings for each other years after their one night stand.
Pros: Hide Me Among the Graves has exquisite characters full of depth and faults, with opportunities for failure and for redemption. The setting plays such a huge part in the story and is so well established that, even though I have never been to London, I felt like I was riding in the cabs and crawling underground right along with the characters. The supernatural elements are so full of intrigue that I felt transported to another world within a world, and was especially fearful for the characters when Polidori and the other vampires revealed themselves.
Cons: The story is thick with information and characters. I was a little confused at the beginning, not knowing anything about the book, as to what was happening and who these people are. Some assumptions are made that you will simply buy into some supernatural or magical elements without explaining why or how they work before you even know what kind of a book this is. As it progresses, however, and you learn more, they begin to make sense at least in the context of this story.
Recommendations: Using real historical figures and giving them unique personalities, this is historical fantasy at its best. Reading Hide Me Among the Graves made me feel the same way I felt after reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for the first time. Powers places you right amongst the characters and makes you feel and fear as they do, especially when facing the supernatural and as they make new discoveries of the unknown. Pushing past Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this is my new favorite vampire novel.