SF Novella of the Month, February 2022: The Night Library of Sternendach

The #sfnovellaofthemonth for February 2022 is Jessica Lévai’s “vampire opera in verse”, The Night Library of Sternendach, published by Lanternfish Press in April 2021.

As someone who generally adores most things involving vampires, operas, novellas, and books that aren’t quite like other books, I had a feeling that Sternendach—a book which speaks to each and every one of those conditions—would be precisely my cup of tea. I was delighted when Lanternfish agreed to send me a galley for this review series, and I am equally delighted to say that my feeling turned out to be an accurate prediction.

There’s something deliciously audacious about writing a vampire novella in a series of Petrarchan sonnets framed as an opera. This is a book for readers who are willing to let themselves be unironically seduced by all things dramatic, romantic, star-crossed, and, well, operatic. From the setting—a hazy, just-unreal-enough, theatrically-1960s Europe populated by vampires and vampire hunters existing in a state of uneasy truce—to the division into acts, The Night Library of Sternendach gives a wonderful impression of being something that you’ll surely one day see on a stage, framed by red velvet curtains and performed by a cast who are enjoying every second of the production. This is pure fun, best enjoyed alongside a good cup of tea (or a glass of red wine) and some delicately sumptuous treat.

I make a point of avoiding spoilers in these reviews, which means I can’t really talk about one of my favourite aspects of this book, i.e., the somewhat unexpected way its ending plays out. Suffice it to say that I was a little surprised, and that both the ending and the book as a whole left me simultaneously satisfied and wanting more. I had previously enjoyed some of Lévai’s assorted short-form writing, and it was a pleasure to experience her inventive approach to longer work. I’ll be looking forward to her next publication.

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