Everyone knows that monsters are real.
Sixteen-year-old Ayanda Draculesti is one of them. She’s an Unnatural, an alchemical experiment escaped from a laboratory, part of a community with strange abilities that only emerges at night. But even among Unnaturals, Ayanda is unusual. She was built to battle the Dead.
The world has grown complacent towards the Dead. It’s the middle of the nineteenth century, a modern era of automata and aetherships, five hundred years since blood-drinking corpses last ravaged the Continent. But the Dead haven’t finished with the world. One of them has returned, a vicious killer that slithers through Venice by night, trapping its people in a state of terror. This creature isn’t a savage beast like the others. It’s calculating. Clever. It has a plan.
Ayanda knows she’s the only one who can stop it, but she can’t do it alone. There are more Unnaturals who want this vampire permanently dead: Yurei, a boy more phantom than human, Jette, an alchemist with a ferocious alternate personality, and Belle, a girl whose past terrifies even other Unnaturals. If they can overcome their own demons well enough to work together, they might have a chance.
In an alternative nineteenth-century Venice, monsters exist, living in the shadows hidden away from humans. The Unnaturals, alchemical experiments escaped from laboratories, are feared and hunted by the Naturals. When a vicious Dead vampire killer starts terrorising the citizens of Venice, a team of Unnatural teenagers might be the city’s only hope.
Children of the Night is an original and captivating reimagining of famous gothic monsters as teenagers in a dark steampunk universe reminiscent of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The story is narrated in the first person through multiple POVs, giving the reader a chance to slowly get to know all the main characters and their painful, dark pasts.
I really enjoyed how the author employed familiar elements from classic gothic tales and weaved them into a new, original storyline and setting. This Venice is highly atmospheric and its complex social dynamics are explored without being too obvious in its underlying themes of diversity, discrimination and inclusion.
I struggled a bit to get into this book at first, as the first few chapters seem to move quite slowly, and the multiple POVs were initially quite disorientating for me. While the plot is intriguing and gripping enough, it didn’t always flow smoothly and I was left feeling confused more than once.
The characters were fascinating but, despite the first-person narration, I felt like they could have benefited from being fleshed out a bit more. Several past elements affecting their behaviour at the time of the book are alluded to or briefly introduced but never fully explored, and I was left slightly unsatisfied by this. Their personal development also seems extremely limited, even though there were a few good examples of that.
The secondary characters get very little air time and are almost instantly forgettable, which is a shame as some of them (particularly Madrina and the rest of Ayanda’s community) seemed very interesting, and I would have loved to get to know them more. The ending does seem to leave this open to further developments and future books though, so I hope we’ll get to see much more of all these characters in the rest of the series.
Despite a few minor issues, the author delivers a great novel that beautifully showcases her rich imagination and her ability to create complex, three-dimensional worlds and characters, and I look forward to seeing how this will be developed in future books.
Overall, Children of the Night is a gripping and engaging read which will appeal to lovers of fantasy and gothic novels and is a perfect addition to spooky season reading lists.
This review was originally published on Reedsy Discovery.