Desert Isle Keeper
Of Midnight Born
NOTE: This book has been republished as Phantom Bride
Of Midnight Born is an intimate, cozy paranormal, and I found it quite delightful. Solid characterization and well-integrated humor rest securely on the crumbling foundation of a haunted castle.
In 1350, Serena Clerenbold and her brother are the only members of their family to survive the Black Death, and they face starvation in the winter ahead. Serena is a born survivor, so she hatches a plan to kidnap and marry a brutish but wealthy neighboring lord. This is every bit as bad an idea as you might expect, and the next thing we know we’ve jumped from 1350 to 1809, when ten-year-old Alex Woding makes his first visit to the ruins of Serena’s hard-won castle, which she has been haunting for nearly 500 years. Local legend has it that Serena murdered her husband and fell to her death on her wedding night. Serena is known to leave women alone but poses a threat to any male who sleeps on her grounds; this seems borne out when young Alex climbs the castle tower to watch a tremendous meteor shower, glimpses Serena, and nearly falls to his death.
Twenty years later, Alex returns to Maiden Castle, newly restored to opulent tackiness. Serena has spent the centuries alone except for a pet ghost cat, and prefers her solitude – the living incite too much longing. Burdened by an all-female upbringing, Alex staffs his castle/observatory exclusively with men, which plays right into Serena’s plans. She is uninhibited in her torments of Daniel the housemaid and Dickie the scullery wench, and the men are soon joined or replaced by women including Nancy the stablelass. The heightened confusion of gender roles is just one of many modern ideas that Serena must absorb; she is also unnerved by Alex’s astronomy and assumes that he reads the future in the stars.
The development of Alex and Serena’s relationship is beautifully paced, and I chuckled as I watched them journey from animosity to acceptance. They may be destined for each other, but take their time finding this out. Though he can unerringly sense Serena’s presence, Alex begins in denial, so Serena escalates her campaign to drive him away. Serena’s hauntings are familiar but still effective. They would certainly creep me out, as I’ve always had a more than healthy respect for things that go bump in the night. Alex chastises; Serena chases off most of the staff. Alex gives the silent treatment, so Serena shadows him around the clock, sharing his tub and his bed. In a scene when Serena gets bored and starts playing with Alex’s food, I laughed out loud.
Even once Serena and Alex move to amiability and love blossoms, there are still challenges to be faced. Another, darker presence may also haunt the castle. Also, Serena’s resources are limited, so that she must decide whether it is better to hoard her power for solitary centuries, or if she should burn it out with experience and passion.
The chapters after Serena and Alex reach detente slow down a bit, and lose much of their humorous momentum. But it all came back for me at the very end. Although the climax seemed to borrow freely from many classic and modern sources, the final resolution struck me as ingenious and highly original. Another quibble was with the number of secondary viewpoint characters whose stories never seemed to go anywhere; more than once I got quite attached to a character only to have them vanish a few pages later.
A short plot summary doesn’t entirely address what I found so charming and satisfying about this book. The humor is very deft and never seems divorced from the main action. Also, part of the fun of any paranormal romance is the paranormal sex, and ghost sex is here explored thoughtfully and with considerable invention. Both Alex and Serena get a naughty thrill from Serena’s inherently voyeuristic situation. Alex has erotic nightmares that present another variation on the theme, and their actual waking encounters offer a third.
Humor and steamy sex scenes are great, but they can fall flat if the characters aren’t up to par. The insightful characterization in Of Midnight Born was its biggest strength. Alex and Serena have been shaped by their pasts, but in complex ways that go far beyond simply connecting the dots. The fantasy is much more plausible because the characters seem so real.
I would especially recommend this book to fans of Julie Garwood and Danelle Harmon, as the humor and the characterization combined two of those authors’ strengths. I can’t remember enjoying a paranormal more than this, and I will certainly watch for more from Lisa Cach in the future.