Midsummer Moon
Grade : A

Midsummer Moon is one of the greatest, unacknowledged romantic comedy novels and a true Desert Isle Keeper. Of course, it’s written by Laura Kinsale, queen of the Dark, Tormented Romance, so a laff-out-loud book isn’t quite the first thing you’d expect from her.

Ransom Falconer, Duke of Damerell, is looking for an eccentric, cranky old inventor named Merlin Lambourne who has supposedly invented a device that will be invaluable in the fight against the French. An agent has already been killed in his attempt to convey the information the Ransom, and he fears for the inventor’s life. However, instead of a bald old man, he finds a pretty, eccentric and hopelessly absent-minded woman, alone in the world with only a couple of cranky old retainers and dreams of creating a flying machine to keep her company. Well, she has her pet hedgehog too, but more about him later.

Unfortunately, Ransom is terrified of heights — and he’s not too crazy about the hedgehog either. He truly doubts the feasibility of Merlin’s flying machine, and is about to abandon the venture altogether. That is, until he finds another device invented by the intrepid Merlin that is capable of transmitting voices through the air (think of a simplified walkie-talkie in the shape of a box). Ransom is determined to protect Merlin at all costs, up to and including bringing her back to his home. When accidentally ingests some aphrodisiac with his dinner at Merlin’s chaotic household, things just get more and more interesting.

Ransom kidnaps Merlin and brings her to his home, and, after their little experience with the aphrodisiac, he’s determined to marry her. Merlin, however, is wrapped up in her dreams of building a flying machine. Ransom is equally determined to stop her, completely convinced that she will kill herself in the process. Things become more complicated when Merlin becomes involved with Ransom’s household, which includes a close-to-psychic mother, a neurotic sister, a ne’er-do-well brother, a ne’er-do-well brother’s former wife, a stammering nephew, and twin nieces. Then there’s also the dastardly French agent who is out to kill Merlin, and Merlin’s hedgehog, who, believe it or not, manages to save Merlin’s skin more than once.

Much of the humor in this book lies in beautiful comic timing and some very zingy conversation. I hate cutesy animals in books (growing up with five dogs and various cats, I’m an animal lover with very few illusions about how animals act in real life), but “that damned peripatetic hedgehog” had me howling with laughter. The book is also full of extremely witty dialogue. One of my favorite exchanges takes place in Ransom’s bedroom, where he is recuperating from a gunshot wound:

She allowed her head to rest lightly on his shoulder, careful to avoid the bandage. "Don’t you want me to rub you some more?""What kind of improper suggestion is that? I am the seducer here, if you please." He was pressing delicate kisses over her forehead and eyes. "Don’t rush me. I’ll faint."

She lifted her chin, and he kissed her mouth for a very long time. When he finally broke away, he was breathing hard and deep.

"I think I am going to faint," he muttered.

Ransom and Merlin are the classic mismatched couple. She’s flighty, eccentric and can never remember what to call him (my personal favorite is “Mr. Duke” — what a magnificent abuse of the proper form of address!). He’s arrogant, fiercely intelligent and extremely protective of the woman he loves. I have encountered the same combination in other books by notable “funny” writers like Jill Barnett and Rebecca Paisley, but they usually annoy rather than amuse. The heroine is usually too ditzy for my liking, and the hero too dark, too arrogant. Kinsale strikes a beautiful balance between ditziness and intelligence for Merlin, and arrogance and tenderness for Ransom.

I've noticed that a lot of people are peeved with Merlin’s preoccupation with her flying machine. However, I see her desire to accomplish her dream as a something laudable, a proto-feminist vision. I think it is a testament to Kinsale’s skill that she can portray both sides of the story so sympathetically. I can understand Merlin’s burning desire to see her dream realized, but I can also see how Ransom’s terror for her life, fueled by his phobia for heights and genuine concern for her safety, can lead him to do desperate things. Best of all, at the end of the novel, Ransom has to learn to accept Merlin as she is, just as she has accepted him for what he is. That, to me, is true love.

I only have one tiny, tiny complaint with this book: the ending is almost too pat, too cutesy. But hey, I guess if Shakespeare can do it umpteen times and have it be called art, Kinsale can be forgiven her ultra-ultra happy ending. I certainly have to admit it’s very satisfying. The villain gets his just desserts, and everybody lives happily ever after—including the hedgehog, who saved the day in the first place.

For anyone who finds herself gagging at the extreme cutesiness of most romantic comedy novels, I really recommend Midsummer Moon. It’s sharp, it’s funny, and it’s mind candy at its best.

Reviewed by Candy Tan
Grade : A

Sensuality: Hot

Review Date : October 9, 1999

Publication Date: 1999

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