Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
Magic After Midnight by C. Gockel is the second book of the After the Fire series and can be read as a standalone. Marcia's only wish is to be there for her children, for the cancer not to take her just when they need her most. Life has been tough for them; her son is being bullied, her brother doesn't seem to understand why she won't leave the city, and her stepdaughter seems to hate her, often calling her wicked. When they're invited to a ball, surely by accident, they glam up and head out for an unforgettable night, where Marcia gets to deal with her stepdaughter's godmother's snide comments. While attending his duties, Count Darerick Razvano finds himself captivated by a brave woman who showed no fear when confronting Night Elf royalty. When he returns a shoe as an excuse to see her again, he soon surprises himself by offering Marcia a job. Marcia and Dare's budding relationship is quickly pulled into danger as a magical virus begins spreading through the human population, which could mean the extinction of his race. Both determined to save their families, Dare and Marcia will have to decide what side they're on when war threatens and a powerful enemy makes a bold move.
C. Gockel has a fantastic and unique voice, spinning fairy tales and Norse mythology in a modern and quirky way with an added dose of vampires never seen before. Magic is widely known to humankind as being real, but it's not accepted, with multiple instances of protesting and violence aimed at magical people and even humans thought to be magical seen throughout. The story is real and honest, creating a gritty setting reflective of today's society just with the addition of magic. Gockel has a brilliant talent for weaving together mythology and fairy tales, and giving it a modern twist with stunning characters and fun references that include winks at Cinderella - from the stepdaughter Cindy losing a shoe to Cindy having a godmother that lavishes her with gifts. Gockel has a unique take on retelling Cinderella, not an easy feat with how many stories there are, but Magic After Midnight succeeds brilliantly with a fresh perspective. None of the “Cinderella” characters are truly wicked. Marcia isn't an evil stepmother. She's only perceived this way by Cindy who resents her for their lack of money and her saying no. Marcia's other two children aren't anywhere close to evil and every scene spent with them is made even more delightful because of them. It could be easy to write Cindy off as the wicked one for several comments she makes toward Marcia, but in truth she's just an entitled and pampered teenage girl who isn't wicked, just misguided. The family is at the heart of the story, giving the feeling of humanity and love to the story.
All the characters have distinct personalities that set them apart from each other. The romance between Dare and Marcia is adorable in every way as Gockel doesn't romanticize vampires; instead she normalizes them. They're not bloodthirsty monsters or seductive charmers, simply normal people like everyone else who just happen to have fangs. He's a three-thousand-year-old Night Elf and she's a human in her fifties. Their age difference provides much of the humor as well as the complication in their relationship. She looks older than him so she's often referred to as his mother when they go out, while he's actually the one - with grandchildren - who speaks in an old-fashioned way and has issues adapting to technology. Their relationship is highly complicated in many ways, but it's also sweet and what's so charming about them is how normal their banter and dynamic sound. Magic After Midnight is a delightful read from beginning to end with a pertinent premise that resonates, Norse mythology, vampires, romance, family, and lots of heart.