The Twilight Before Christmas
I enjoyed Christine Feehan’s first story about the magical Drake sisters in the Lover Beware anthology earlier this year and looked forward to seeing more of them. I can’t say the same after reading her second story about them in The Twilight Before Christmas. It has a beautiful, atmospheric cover and opens with a nicely creepy poem that seems to promise a chilling holiday story of darkness and evil. Unfortunately both the cover and the poem are everything the book is not. Too many small-town holiday hijinks and too little darkness, not to mention a painfully bland main couple, rob the story of its potential.
Bestselling author Kate Drake returns to her small hometown on the California coast just in time for Christmas. After buying an isolated mill, she runs into old classmate Matt Granite, who is now in construction. Matt was always head over heels in love with Kate, and she with him, but neither of them ever did anything about it.
Matt offers to come out to the mill to see what work he can do for her. While exploring the basement, they discover some kind of seal buried in the floor that was unearthed in a recent earthquake. Kate recognizes the markings on the lid, which warn of something buried inside. Before she can completely translate them, Matt unwittingly loosens the seal, releasing a dark fog Kate senses is malevolent. Before long, the fog is wreaking havoc in town. When it comes after the Drake sisters, they have to find a way to stop it and save Christmas for everyone.
Matt and Kate are two of the dullest main characters I’ve come across in a romance novel in quite some time. Kate is such a one-note paragon of perfection she can’t help but irritate as she bores. Matt spends the entire first chapter going on about how wonderful she is. “Kate was always perfect. Poised. Articulate. Graceful.” He continues a few pages later: “Kate traveled the world, researching and writing her bestselling novels and murder mysteries. She was so beautiful it hurt to look at her, so sophisticated he felt primitive in her presence. She was so sexy he always had the desire to turn caveman and toss her over his shoulder and carry her off to his private lair.” In the next chapter, one of Kate’s sisters tells her that she’s the best of all of them. Kate protests, “I’m not perfect!” See, she’s humble too! That only makes her more perfect! Well, perfection is boring, and so is Kate. She may have special powers, but she doesn’t have any discernable personality. The woman is no deeper than the paper she’s printed on.
Matt is supposedly just as perfect, and equally uninteresting. A former Army Ranger, he has quite a reputation for his prowess with the ladies. This is how Kate describes him: “Matthew Granite was a fighter, larger than life. He’d done things she would never comprehend, never experience. He felt like a hero from one of her novels, not quite real and too good to be true. She knew she’d thought of him when she’d written each and every one of her books. She’d used him as her role model because, to her, he was everything a man should be.” Evidently Kate believes a man should be a walking slab of beef, with zero personality of his own.
It doesn’t help that Matt doesn’t seem to deserve being called perfect. In the opening scene, Matt and his brother act like a couple of little kids, and I was sure this had to be a flashback to their childhood. Nope. They really are grown men acting like a pair of ten-year-olds. But then maturity has no place in this book. Matt and Kate are two people who’ve clung to crushes from high school for most of their adult lives.
Then there’s Jonas, the town sheriff. He spends most of his time harassing the Drake sisters, particularly Kate’s sister Hannah, a beautiful model who’s secretly shy. They engage in strictly third grade behavior. He mocks and belittles her endlessly because deep down he really loves her. She lashes back by summoning the wind and having it blow his hat away. This lack of maturity was tolerable in small doses in the novella, but I had no patience for it here. In the first chapter Jonas starts sneering about how he ought to arrest Hannah for indecent exposure for posing for a magazine cover in a swimsuit. None of the sisters thinks to knock the overgrown bully flat on his back to teach him a lesson. They’re too much the kind and serene type of witches to do anything like that.
Too much of the story just seems silly. The fog strikes by flinging holiday wreaths at Kate and Matt. Later, it drifts through a Christmas gathering for the town’s children and fills all their stockings with bugs. Oooh, scary! There are some moments where it attacks the sisters and tries to kill them, but the Drakes would have had to be interesting characters worth caring about for this to be suspenseful. The story is never as frightening as the opening poem would lead you to believe and in the end turns into a gooey holiday morality tale. There’s too much of the boring, perfect sisters and the incredibly tedious romance.
In an interview with author in the back of the book, she describes The Twilight Before Christmas as a novella. It feels a lot more like a series romance, kind of like a Harlequin American crossed with a Silhouette Shadows. It’s a bit of an insult to series romances to say so, since I’ve read plenty of those that were more substantive than this book. It’s very short. The plot is simple. The characters are flat and one-dimensional. At $6.99, this is hardly a holiday gift worth purchasing.