Midnight’s Wild Passion
As a rule, rakes set on ruin for the purpose of revenge do little for me. Not only do I pity them for never having learned that living well is the best revenge, I am irked that the ruin sought is almost always at the expense of a young virginal girl. Can’t these rich, handsome, brilliant, bad anti-heroes find someone of their own relative perfection to pick on?
The swarthy, golden-haired rake of Ms. Campbell’s latest historical romance Midnight’s Wild Passion is Nicholas Challoner, Marquess of Ranelaw. Nicholas has such a bad reputation that his mere appearance at debutantes’ ball momentarily strikes everyone there into silent shock. He’s there to dance with the innocent young Cassandra Demarest whom he plans to stalk, seduce, and abandon. Nicholas’s had it in for her father, Godfrey Demarest, ever since the latter despoiled Nicholas’s half-sister twenty years ago. Nicholas plans to return the favor. He knows he’ll “roast in hell for what he plotted. Cassandra Demarest was an innocent who didn’t deserve the fate he intended.” But he doesn’t care. He’s a rotter — in fact, he’s such a churl, he decides to seduce and destroy Cassandra and her fetching chaperone Antonia Smith. The way he sees it, “he’d have her (Antonia) in his bed. She’d be his reward for ruining the poppet.” The guy’s a louse.
Antonia Smith really should know better than to fall for the overly aggressive charms of Nicholas. Ten years ago she allowed a rake to seduce her. After that rash dash into non-virgin land, she was declared dead by her father, thrown out of the ton, and now uses a fake last name (and fake glasses) so no one will recognize her as a fallen woman. At 27, she’s her cousin’s chaperone and determinedly bland and celibate. That is, until, she encounters Nicholas. As soon as she sees him, she’s devastatingly “susceptible to his beauty.” Within a week of meeting him, he’s broken into her bedroom, she’s tangling tongues with him and — although she does hit him on the head with a fireplace poker — she’s frantic to jump his bones.
There are bad heroes I can root for and bad heroes I want to toss into the garbage bin. Nicholas is the latter. He’s cruel, self-indulgent, and thoughtless. The reader, I suspect, is supposed to warm to him because even as he’s behaving like a rotten creep, he has an “inconvenient voice” in his head telling him he’s behaving like a rotten creep. He’s a relational schizophrenic. He has avid sex with Antonia – several times it “drains him to the lees”, a phrase that conjures up the dregs at the bottom of a wine bottle – and, even as he lies within her, he plots to ruin her cousin. His behavior makes him feel shame, but not enough shame to stop either activity. And when he, in his libidinous egocentric way, falls for Antonia — he thinks of her as “my Antonia” and I feel sure Willa Cather is retching in her grave – he still tells her and himself he’s going to damage everything that matters to her.
Ms. Campbell’s writing is full of overwrought sentences (”By tasting him where he was most a man, she staked her possession of him.”), icky imagery (“her bones dissolved with rapture”), and abrupt one sentence paragraphs (”No matter that she felt like dying.). The love scenes are long and, in a relentless way, incendiary, but are overwritten and repetitive – I lost count of all of Nicholas’s spillage and Antonia’s strangled cries. Less really would have been more.
By the end of the book – which has a scene in it that is so like a pivotal scene from Lisa Kleypas’s It Happened One Autumn, it’s disconcerting – I still thought Nicholas Ranelaw was a bounder. (At one point he’s dressing for a duel and he chooses his clothes with care for he doesn’t wish to “face his enemy looking anything but his best.”) Antonia can and should do better than Ranelaw. OK, Nicholas can give her countless orgasms of “vermillion darkness” while recovering from a grievous wound, but not, I think, a happy future. Even he knows this. As he holds her, he thinks “There would be times, he knew, when she’d be sorry he claimed her. That didn’t mean he’d ever set her free. She’d had her chance to escape and she hadn’t taken it.” I can’t recommend this book. The hero’s a self-centered jerk, the heroine abandons everything she’s ever believed in to be in his bed, and the two of them have a silly misunderstanding that, sadly, only briefly keeps them apart. Ms. Campbell’s writing is wearing and the secondary characters, with the exception of Cassandra, are little more than garnishes. I wonder about Ms. Campbell. Her last book was also not a keeper and yet one of her novels, Untouched is outstanding. I can recommend it unreservedly. So, if you’re looking for a great historical romance, with burning hot love scenes and a love story easy to love, pick up Untouched and steer clear of Midnight’s Wild Passion.