Meet Me at Midnight
Jacqueline Navin’s latest novel hovered on the very brink of DIK-dom for me. It was well-written, full of likable characters, a standard plot with a few new twists, and the sort of gripping emotional power that drew me in completely. A few minor character problems aside, this is one of the best new books I’ve read this year.
Raphael Giscard is a rake of the first order. You know the type – he’s determined to live life out as a dissolute and happy bachelor. His home life was unhappy as a child, and he takes it out on those who deserve it least. In short, he’s something of a beast. He proudly leads his band of scoundrels, known as the Bane of the Ton, in all types of wickedness. He doesn’t believe in love, and to prove it, he enters into a wager that he can break up any couple rumored to be in that imaginary state.
Julia Brodie is about to be engaged to a minor nobleman named Simon Blake, and she has never been happier. The daughter of an untitled businessman, she could never have expected to rise so high. Even her unaffectionate mother is pleased with her for once. So when she meets a notorious rake in the gardens at a party, she thinks it’s only a chance encounter. But she can’t stop thinking of him, and dear Simon’s kisses seem so tame after only the few words she has exchanged with Raphael. Luckily – or so it seems at the time – he is suddenly everywhere she goes.
Raphael’s behavior in this book verges on cruel – and perhaps crosses the line once or twice – but I couldn’t help but love him. Despite his problems, he sees Julia as no one has ever seen her, and while this is something of a cliché, I think this book does it better than I’ve ever seen it done before. Even as he pooh-poohs the idea of “love,” he finds himself fascinated with her mind as well as her body, and longs to set her free to be the intelligent and vibrant woman that he sees, instead of the sweet, polite, simple girl that her mother and her suitor and nearly everyone else want her to be. His desires are not at all selfless: he wants to set her free – but he doesn’t want to share. Because of the amount of the story told from Raphael’s point of view – and told so well – I really felt the hero falling in love, unbeknownst to him, far more than in most books. And when the heartaches came, I could really feel them from both characters’ perspectives, which is rare indeed.
Meanwhile Julia, who starts off likable, but almost too nice, really develops intelligence about a quarter of the way into the book, and becomes a much better character at that point. She knows what she’s doing is wrong – but that doesn’t help her to resist. She also knows that Raphael is right when he tells her that if she marries Simon, everything that is intelligent and vibrant and full of life within her will remain hidden until it atrophies and finally dies. She is extremely likable, once she develops, and her emotions are as palpable as the ink on the paper. She’s perhaps a bit selfless for some readers, but her character will likely win over most.
The only criticisms I have for this book are minor and involve characterization. Julia became a very good character, but started out seeming a little too selfless and perhaps even TSTL. Also, Strathford, the villain of the piece, who took Raphael up on his wager and suggested Simon and Julia as its subject, seems ghastly for most of the book – dissolute, unpleasant, and unscrupled. Yet, shortly before the end, he does a few things which make him seem much nicer than he has been portrayed throughout the book. It seemed very out of character for him. However, these were not enough to spoil an otherwise excellent read, and Meet Me at Midnight nearly tops my list of recommended reads for this year. All in all, it’s a terrific book.