Dancing at Midnight
Julia Quinn, who debuted as a romance author with the quite splendid Splendid, has written its not-quite-as-splendid follow-up, Dancing At Midnight. Set in the Regency period, the book opens with Lady Arabella Blydon, our beautiful bluestocking heroine, visiting the country estate of her cousin Emma and Emma’s husband Alex (the heroine and hero of Splendid).
While perusing A Winter’s Tale (as part of her quest to read the entire works of Shakespeare) under a tree at the edge of her hosts’ property, Belle encounters their neighbor, Lord John Blackwood, a handsomely mysterious self-made man with a lame leg and scarred soul.
Both Belle and John feel the lust of true love, but John is tortured by his conduct overseas during the war. An honorable man, he blames himself for not preventing the rape (by one under his command) of a young girl who then commits suicide. He does not feel fit to receive Belle’s love and tries and tries and tries to extricate himself from her. The cast of characters from Quinn’s debut is in full force throughout the book, but not its humor.
I liken Splendid to the television show Seinfeld – it was a character-driven story about nothing of consequence. Instead, it was filled with romance, spice, friendship and laughter. The author does include humor in this book, but it’s not the laughing-out-loud degree of humor I’d anticipated. The author makes some fine attempts, however, including the wretched name of John’s home (Bletchford Manor), Alex’s great-aunt Persephone, who is charged with acting as Belle’s chaperone, and John’s continually feeble attempts to write poetry to satisfy his lady love.
No love story is complete without a little danger and intrigue, and Belle and John find themselves in mortal danger. Belle desperately wants to know the truth behind the threat, but in the great tradition of romance novel heroes, John seeks to keep her from knowing the truth, believing that she is safer if his assailant does not know what Belle means to him.
The passion these characters show for each other is well portrayed, although the intimate interludes also were also not quite as luscious as expected.
Overall, Quinn does manage a nice mix of humor, romance, and danger, and the book strikes some familiar chords to fans of her first book. Knowing that the third book in this series (to be published this summer) also includes a heroine who dresses as a man, I wasn’t surprised to read about Belle climbing up a tree to reach John’s third-story window wearing boy’s breeches (with her friend Dunford’s help – he provided similar assistance for Emma in Splendid.)
Dancing at Midnight is very much a group affair – the author’s skill at portraying friendships is evidenced by the relationships between Belle and Emma, along with the renewed relationship between Alex and John. Nearly the entire cast of characters has a hand in saving Belle and John in their final confrontation with the man determined to kill John.