Desert Isle Keeper
A Kiss At Midnight
According to an ancient royal decree, the prosperous land of Alderich will be passed from the Rune family to their rivals, the Leonhart clan, in the year 999. Serath, the last direct descendant of Jozua Rune, lord of Alderich, is abducted two of months prior to the beginning of the new millenium while she is trying to escape a convent. The abductor is Rafael of Leonhart, and he plans to use her as a pawn to ensure that the handing over of Alderich goes as smoothly as possible.
However, he finds out that Serath is not quite the revered lady of the manor that he imagined. Not only do the serfs fear her and think she is a witch, her grandfather cannot bear the sight of her and is half-mad in the bargain. Furthermore, Rafael finds the entire land plagued by fears of the end of the world, an end prophesied to coincide with the transfer of Alderich. Jozua Rune is also determined to sabotage Rafael’s chances at finding prosperity in Alderich. Despite all these troubles, Rafael finds himself increasingly distracted by Serath, who doesn’t seem to be quite the demon she is made out to be. Serath herself is discovering that the devil-man she has been taught to hate from childhood is human after all.
Abé’s smooth, beautiful prose makes this standard romance story a joy to read. Too many historical romance authors sound far too American and contemporary. While Abé still can’t beat the authentic tone of British historical authors (like the incomparable Heyer), her writing flows wonderfully and she has a good ear for dialogue. Her writing is so good that I had to stop sometimes and savor the language, which is fairly rare when I’m reading pop fiction.
Abé also does not succumb to medieval romance clichés. The beginning has all the markers of an abducted bride/marriage of convenience story, but this narrative takes a slightly different turn. The Leonharts and the Runes have been enemies so long that the idea doesn’t really occur to Rafael; perhaps it’s not as realistic as it could be, but it does make Rafael a more likable and sympathetic character. The whole “lifelong enemies” aspect is also handled with a dexterous touch. It would have been easy for the novel to degenerate into a “I hate you but let’s have tons of sweaty sex anyway” story, but it doesn’t. Serath and Rafael are naturally cautious in the beginning, but their relationship gradually progresses and grows from cautious enmity to attraction and, eventually, love.
The two protagonists are presented as wounded, cautious people, but they aren’t beyond redemption. Serath in particular has experienced some grievous blows but still manages to be a graceful, compassionate woman. Rafael is the archetype of a ruthless warrior, but his reasons for becoming a mercenary and his love of the land humanizes him. The interaction between he and his mother (a truly fascinating secondary character, and one who is surprisingly well-fleshed out in her few appearances) is especially enlightening and is done with great deftness.
The book isn’t quite perfect, however. For one thing, the names strike me as rather odd. Rafael sounds too Italian Renaissance. It may very well may have been a common name in Anglo-Saxon Britain, but the associations with another country and time period are so strong that it becomes distracting. Jozua and Serath also don’t sound quite like medieval British names; instead, they bring to mind characters from fantasy novels. The historical backdrop is also not as detailed as it could be. Abé does a good job of conveying feudal attitudes and the mindset of the times, but the political context is almost nonexistent. Reference is made to the king, but no names are given; no details are supplied about the wars Rafael in which has participated; the geographic region is so vague it could be anywhere along the coast of Britain. All this, together with the slightly odd names, contributes to the impression of a fantasy setting and not a medieval. But to Abé’s credit, she does address the new millennium/century controversy (does the new century begin in the year with all the zeros, or the year after that?) with a note at the end of the book — something the other authors for the Meet Me At Midnight series have not done.
A Kiss At Midnight is definitely one of the best historical romances I have read all winter. It’s excellent mind candy and tremendously well-written. Those who enjoy authors like Barbara Samuel and Laura Kinsale will probably like this book and Shana Abé’s work in general.