Burns Night is the third in the Caledonia series of urban fantasy novels, where a special branch of Interpol staffed by monsters (and Leah Bishop, a short-tempered Glaswegian human) deal with crime involving magic and the supernatural.
Introduced in the last book was one Robert Burns, real-life 18th century lecherous Ayrshire drunkard and Scotland’s National Poet, who in this world was transformed into a vampire prior to his apparent death. Now, on the titular annual evening that celebrates his life and works, a plague of nightmares has been unleashed across Glasgow, and Leah and Robert work to uncover the source of the disturbance and find Leah’s missing partner Dorian.
Although the Caledonia novels heavily feature creatures of folklore from all over the world, at their heart they have always been about people, be they human, monster or occasionally something in between, and the mess of contradictions that makes up who they are. Following this, the nightmares featured in the story are less the likes of eldritch shadows and monsters in the darkness (least of all because the latter quite literally describes many of the featured characters), but rather people’s regrets and insecurities, their fears and memories made manifest and causing chaos and insanity.
The concept of memories coming alive allows for various characters’ backstories to be explored in some detail, most significantly the centuries of unrequited passion Robert has had for the baobhan sith Desdemona, the one who gave him his second life. Burns himself is portrayed as far more selfish, arrogant and fallibly human than anyone who learned about him in school might perceive him, and this lack of deification makes him a far more interesting character. Also given some detail is the history between Desdemona and the phoenix Nour-el-ain; the two women – insofar as they can even be thought of as such – are the oldest beings alive, and over the millennia, through war, devastation, and the rise and fall of whole civilisations, their friendship has been a constant, despite their amusingly polar opposite personalities.
The book’s structure is a little more complicated than the previous instalments, and after a while it requires some concentration to differentiate which passages are the present reality, which are flashbacks detailing aspects of a character’s history, and which are the hallucinatory nightmares with which the afflicted are being tormented. However, once you figure out how everything fits together it becomes all the more satisfying an experience.
Burns Night is, like its eponymous poet, deeper than you might think from a cursory glance. Regret, redemption, loyalty and doomed love all play a part in a tale of fears come to life, while the litany of personal demons its characters face all contain at least something that anyone can relate to.
Author: Amy Hoff | Publisher: Erebus Society | Release Date: Out Now