The Night Library of Sternendach (Review)

A review of The Night Library of Sternendach by Jessica Lévai

Jessica Lévai’s debut novel, The Night Library of Sternendach is told entirely in verse – an exciting form of novel dating back to Homer’s works which has seen a revival in recent years. The story is told in Pushkin sonnets, a close mathematical cousin of the Shakespearean sonnet. Stressed syllables rhyme in this case and lines are divided in groups of fourteen. Lévai uses tetrameter with four stressed syllables per line. Rather than hindering the storytelling experience, Lévai’s poetic language and masterfully crafted sonnets enhance and enliven the story of Kunigunde and the Graf, two individuals at the opposite ends of a supernatural spectrum.

Kunigunde Heller is one of many women in a long line of vampire hunters. In recent years, however their family has been kept in a contract under the watchful eye of the Graf, a vampire who lives in the nearby castle. ‘Graf’ is another word for a German count – the story takes place in the fictional nation of Sternendach which is alluded to being located near Poland.

 From an early age, Kunigunde is fascinated by the Graf. He is the only vampire who, bound by a promise, will not harm them. Within the Heller’s family history, a deal was struck between them and the Graf in exchange for information on other vampires and protection. Kunigunde is given an old book of fairytales by the immortal man; naturally, she immerses herself in the stories. She grows to love books as a result. Once she reaches adulthood, her fascination grows to a more mature curiosity. Kunigunde enacts a plan to visit his library, both for the books and for the Graf himself.

Unfortunately, the conflict between the Hellers and the Graf has been ongoing for longer than both Kunigunde and the Graf himself have been alive. The Graf’s vampire parents who ruled the land before him were at war with the Hellers. Only in recent years during the current Graf’s own reign has a truce been struck. Kunigunde’s curiosity of the Graf is discouraged. They tolerate their immortal neighbor, but they do not like him. As is the case for most young adults who discover something enticing, Kunigunde rebels.

Lévai’s debut work is enchanting. The smooth rhythmic lines transport the reader to the heart of a fictional 1960’s European countryside where our protagonists do not have the benefit of the internet or other modern comforts. The characters often correspond with each other via letter, giving the novel an air of antiquity despite its relatively modern setting. The Night Library of Sternendach is a triumph of modern supernatural fiction as well as supernatural romance. Don’t wait for Halloween for this one.