It is a sequel to The Stress of Her Regard, and likewise features the nephilim, ancient creatures who inspired humanity's legends of muses and vampires. The nephilim can offer immortality and poetic inspiration, but at a price: they are vampires, and while they do not directly harm their human hosts, they are jealous "spouses" and will kill their hosts' families. In this sequel, their hosts include the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne and several members of the Rossetti family (which included the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the poet Christina Rossetti, whose poem "Goblin Market" is here said to have been inspired by her first encounter with the nephilim).
Christina Rossetti is one of the main viewpoint characters; another is John Crawford, the son of the protagonists of The Stress of Her Regard.
This novel contains examples of:
- Accidental Misnaming: After being freed from the European nephilim's influence, Johanna recalls that it sometimes got her confused with her grandmother Josephine, who fell under its influence in The Stress of Her Regard, and would call her by her grandmother's name.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: John William Polidori, Edward John Trelawney, Algernon Swinburne, Christina Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal Rossetti are among those who have hosted nephilim.
- Blessed with Suck: It's great being a Nephilim's lover. You develop astounding skill with language and words, and you'll be protected from anything that could ever hurt you, even old age and death. And all it wants is all of your love. Oh, and the deaths of everyone else in your life.
- Bondage Is Bad: The novel attributes Swinburne's interest in kink, a not-infrequent theme of his poetry and prose, to the influence of his nephilim host, and it's portrayed as an indication of his moral corruption.
- Canon Welding: Some of the new details given about the nephilim in this novel imply a connection with the djinni of Declare.
- Cosmic Horror Story: The nephilim are both far more powerful than any man and a little too insubstantial to touch. All attempts to oppose them tend to be some dangerous desperate ritual. Garlic and extremely conductive or insulative material (in the form of, say, highly conductive silver bullets, or highly insulative wooden stakes) are the only defenses, and the slightest bit of human error will screw those over.
- Creator In-Joke: Powers' running in-joke of mentioning the fictional poet William Ashbless. Trelawney cites him, along with Tennyson, while trying to reassure Swinburne that it's possible to produce worthy poetry without a nephilim muse.
- Desecrating the Dead: The stone that provides the European nephilim's physical anchor is inside the corpse of Gabriele Rossetti, who attempted to swallow or inhale it on his deathbed in an attempt to preserve his own life. His children don't find this out until years after his death and burial, and are faced with having to exhume his body and cut it open to retrieve the stone so they can destroy it.
- Driven to Suicide: Lizzie Siddal Rossetti commits suicide by drug overdose to prevent the nephilim that have battened onto her doing further harm to her family. It only partly works.
- Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: John and Adelaide have glad-to-be-alive sex after surviving an attack early in the novel, which combines with the Inverse Law of Fertility to produce a daughter and the rest of the plot.
- If I Can't Have You : The Nephilim just want to be loved, completely and unconditionally, by the humans they choose. And to make sure you'll always love them they'll kill everyone else you love to make sure you're all theirs.
- Immortality: The nephilim can provide this to their lovers, under certain conditions.
- Literary Allusion Title: "And hide me among the graves" is the final line of "At Last", a poem by Lizzie Siddal Rossetti; the final stanza of the poem is quoted as the novel's epigraph.
- Must Be Invited: The nephilim.
- One Myth to Explain Them All: The nephilim are the origins of many myths, including the Biblical nephilim, succubi, vampires, and muses.
- No Bisexuals: The real life Swinburne was about as openly bi as you can be in the mid-Victorian era, writing candidly about sex with women, men and genderqueer people, and may also have been genderqueer himself. There is no trace of this in the book, where he is depicted as heterosexual.
- Our Ghosts Are Different: Ghosts are just fragments of people's souls and memories that eventually wander into streams and rivers and are carried out gradually to the ocean where they join and decay with other ghosts.
- Our Vampires Are Different: The creatures that feed on humans are a separate species that can be thought of as animated stones. They grant extended life, but are very jealous of their... proteges... and tend to kill their families. They are vulnerable to garlic and holy water, and cannot cross oceans without a human host. Their human victims, if killed, will arise from the grave unless precautions are taken involving garlic, silver, and sharpened stakes. They can be "divorced", but afterward one must be careful not to allow them back into one's life.
- Silicon-Based Life: The nephilim.
- Silver Has Mystic Powers: Silver is harmful to the nephilim.
- Sour Supporter: Of the humans opposing the nephilim, Trelawney is the oldest and most experienced, and frequently makes it clear that he considers most of the others foolish and a hazard to themselves and others, and that he only puts up with them because he needs somebody and they're what he's got. (Except for Johanna, who he's unfailingly respectful of.)
- Voluntary Shapeshifter: The nephilim can take on the shapes of humans, and can act very convincingly.