Thoughts After Reading:
It’s inevitable. Whenever I read two books from a series, one right after the other, I necessarily make comparisons between them. And that’s unfortunate, because – especially by comparison – I found Tessa Dare’s third “Spindle Cove” novel A Lady by Midnight to be a massive disappointment. A Lady by Midnight has much in common with its predecessor. The writing itself is very well done. The novel contains a storyline that largely lighthearted and comical, yet still features characters with a rich set of emotions and meaningful backstories. Unlike A Week to Be Wicked, however, I was constantly frustrated by the way the protagonists’ relationship unfolded in this latest installment. And - by extension - I hated the conflicts that developed between the two characters.
The hero is described many times, in many ways, as a brutish figure. The man is only mildly literate, tends to speak in short sentences, and handles a surprise party by bashing someone’s face into the cake. He is apparently quite virile in a beefy, oversized man sort of way. His career as a soldier has eventually led him to a semblance of being more civilized than he was before. The hero has been desperately attracted to the heroine ever since he moved to Spindle Cove, about a year before the book opens. He has kept his distance from her only because he believes himself and his base urges unworthy of the beauty and cheery lady that is the heroine. The heroine, meanwhile, has always felt uncomfortable with the aloof facade that the hero presents to her. She is a young woman that tries to challenge life head on with optimism, despite the prejudice she has felt as a result of being orphaned with a strange birthmark. Her perspective shifts dramatically when the hero chivalrously escorts her at a time when she most needs it. The heroine suddenly finds the hero to be the most handsome man of her acquaintance, and – as she observes him over the next couple of weeks – the reader is told that she finds his clumsy attempts at being honorable to be overwhelmingly attractive as well. And here’s the first issue I take with the novel: it seemed that the heroine goes from not understanding the hero to being almost in love with him in no time at all. Even as the characters spend more time with each other, I had a hard time buying into the burgeoning romance. The heroine seemed more attracted to the hero’s physical appeal and heroic actions than any aspect of his actual personality.
The same night the hero escorts the heroine back to her hometown, a bumbling group of siblings come looking for the heroine. They have reason to believe she is related to them, and are eager to welcome her into the family. The hero is immediately suspicious of their motives. In an effort to help protect the heroine, he announces a false engagement – one that the heroine can break as soon as he knows she will be taken care of. It became immediately clear why some reviewers complained about this unexpected family. They were eccentric beyond belief, and that was the second issue I had with the book. Between discussing phalluses with a genteel lady, openly embracing a lesbian relationship in that era, and one of them having rage issues that would rival the Hulk, none of the characters were even remotely plausible. Their blatant silliness got on my nerves after a while. So then the heroine, with her newly discovered feelings towards the hero, sets the stage for the first conflict. She repeatedly pushes the hero for emotional and physical intimacies, and he stoically resists time after time because he believes it’s what’s best for her. That argument gets old very quickly, yet lasts for almost the entire first half of the novel. The next annoyance occurs when the heroine finds out about the secret the hero has been hiding. She gets predictably angry and storms off, immediately switching from pressuring the hero for marriage to promising that she doesn’t want to ever see him again. So the hero leaves for a time, and happens to come back at the exact moment at which the heroine needs to be rescued again. The storyline picks up right where it left off, when the heroine pushing and the hero resisting. It was almost a relief when the protagonists finally made love, not from any sort of sexual tension or satisfaction, but because I knew the hero would finally agree to marry the heroine. With that barrier finally out of the way, the author throws in two new – and thoroughly absurd – conflicts. To wit: the hero fights a deadly medieval battle with one of the heroine’s relatives, the hero tries to force the heroine to marry another man because he again thinks he knows what's best for her, and I lose any remaining shreds of respect I had for the novel.
I’ll be the first to admit Tessa Dare’s A Lady by Midnight had many elements of a good historical romance, elements shared by the other books in her “Spindle Cove” series. Less happily, I feel she made a thorough muddle of the main characters’ relationship. The novel is filled from cover to cover with unappealing conflict and general silliness. The pieces of romance development that do exist largely focus on their physical attraction, and – as a result – I never found the relationship to be very believable. Dare tries to tie up everything neatly at the end with a cute solution and triumphant HEA. But by then I didn’t care about the characters or their supposed happy ending.