In Review: The Midnight Front

The characters are engaging, the missions exciting, and the action supernatural spectacles. Recommended.

The Midnight Front by David Mack

Published by Tor, January 30, 2018. Trade paperback of 480 pages at $15.99. Also available as an ebook. 

The cover: A solider is shown from the back as he makes his way through the woods at night. Before him something is illuminating the setting, but he continues his march. In his right hand he carries a wicked looking blade which is creating its own form of light, which he hopes will help him in his impending battle. Solid, suggestive cover by Larry Rostant, designed by Jamie Stafford-Hill. Below the character is the title of the book in gigantic letters, with the “A Dark Arts Novel” in a circle before the final word of the title. The author’s name lies at the bottom. I saw this cover months ago on the author’s Facebook page and it was motivation enough for me to want to read this book. I’m familiar with Mack’s work in science fiction, and being a fan of WWII alternative history novels, I knew I had to pick this up. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “On the eve of World War II, Nazi sorcerers come gunning for Cade but kill his family instead. His one path to vengeance is to become an apprentice of the Midnight Front — the Allies’ top secret magickal warfare program — and become a sorcerer himself. Unsure who will kill him first — his allies, his enemies, or the demons he has to use to wield Magick — Cade fights his way through occupied Europe and enemy lines. But he learns too late the true price of revenge will be more terrible than just the loss of his soul — and there’s no task harder than doing good with a power born of ultimate evil.” This is just enough of a tease to entice a reader with what this book is about. I appreciated that nothing is spoiled in this summation, as that often occurs with some books. Overall grade: A+

The characters: The protagonist of this epic tale is Cade Martin, an American going to school at Oxford. His education is cut short when he’s recruited to join the Midnight Front. He discovers under the tutelage of his peers that he’s a magickal savant, able to learn and cast spells quickly. This leads to some friction within the group, but all he wants is vengeance for his parents’ deaths. Cade is a good addition to the group not only for his magickal prowess, but his ability to do things in a different way than they’ve been done. This is a needed skill, as the heroes have been rapidly losing numbers to the antagonists. Adair is the leader of the Midnight Front. He’s the top magick user, until Cade arrives. Adair is surprised by Cade, but knows the young man is the key they need to win the war. This leader is Scottish, always open to a drink, and committed to winning the war at any cost, even if it means personal sacrifice to his team. Stefan Van Ausdall and Nikostratos Le Beau are two operatives working undercover in different parts of the front. They are introduced early in the book to help train Cade, but soon go off on their own missions. I was pleased to see that one has a very personal stake in the war and uncovers something horrendous being done to a specific group during this conflict. The last key member of the Front is Anja Kernova, a Russian, who instantly has a dislike for Cade, but trains him because Adair commands it. I was grateful for Mack not forcing her into a relationship with any character, instead giving her a strong personality and a desire to see her own country survive the Nazi onslaught. The villains are headed by Kein Engel, who looks like one of the master race. However, he is not sympathetic to their cause, instead using them for his own ends. He is an excellent antagonist and each appearance he makes is memorable. His interactions with Hitler are especially readable. His two minions are Siegmar Tuomainen and Briet Segfrunsdóttir. Both are excellent spell casters, with one having an interesting turn by the book’s end. Overall grade: A 

The settings: Europe and Russia from 1939 – 1945 are the settings. The heroes are located in Eilean Donan Castle in Scottland and the villains in Wewelsburg Castle in Germany. Having both situated in castles roots their magickal skills in classical fantasy fiction. When out and about, often on espionage missions, the real world collides with these characters. One particularly vivid location was during D-Day, with the setting described superbly. At this locale is something entirely fictional, but it blends in perfectly with the story. The final battle’s location is brilliant. Mack makes each setting picture perfect. Overall grade: A

The action: There is magick and there is warfare in this book. The supernatural skirmishes are done as though they are behind the scenes action that’s not been made known to the public. This makes for some very interesting interactions between characters as famous events are occurring, yet there are also magickal ones that others do not see. This is an extremely enjoyable element of the novel. How the way in which the characters, heroes and villains, acquire their abilities is done in a way that I’ve not read or heard of in any other book, so my hat’s off to Mack for doing something new in the genre. The climax of the novel is spectacular for what’s done by the magick users and what the allies are doing, and why. Highest marks. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: The war ends and the survivors, on both sides, try to go on with their lives. One could stop here and be completely satisfied, but there is a fourteen page preview of the next Dark Arts novel, The Iron Codex. I enjoyed the characters of this book and want to see more of their exploits, so I’m fully on board for more. Overall grade: A

The final line: This tale of a WWII secret magickal task force is an extremely enjoyable read. The characters are engaging, the missions exciting, and the action supernatural spectacles. The highest compliment I can give a novel is to ask for more. Thankfully, Mack is already at work on the next two books. Mack is magick. Recommended. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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