A Kiss At Midnight
by Shana Abé, historical (2000)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58057-4


As part of the Meet Me At Midnight trilogy, this book has a millennium theme. It is 999, and a law says that Alderich, currently held by the Rune clan, will be wrested by the Leonhart clan. Our heroine Serath Rune is assumed to be a witch and has spent most of her lives in a convent. On December 999, she escapes, thinking that spending the last days on Earth before The End would be more palatable anywhere but in the convent. Lo, while escaping, she falls right into the hands of our hero Rafael Leonhart, who plans to hold her for ransom. He would order her grandfather to give up Alderich in exchange for her life.

Trouble is, nobody wants Serath. In an eerie prologue, the author masterfully blends the chilling scene of young Serath and her brother forced to listen to their nanny's bedtime story even as their mother burns outside. Her mother accused as a witch, Serath is stigmatized by the fact that she looks just like her mother. Reviled by the people around her and unwanted by her family, Serath is a girl tormented indeed. When she loses her beloved brother, she loses all reason to live.

My heart goes out to Serath, I really do. Her relationship with Rafe is definitely worth rooting for, for this woman has been through so much. Ms Abé is clearly showing great skills in crafting strong heroines even James Cameron would envy.

The language, however, is another thing. Every sentence runs interminably, mostly in passive voice, using all sorts of imagery to the point of overkill. It's not just a miracle, it's a miracle or miracles. Instead of She bolts into the woods, we have:

...the figure in his arm shifted and then slipped down and away, leaving nothing but empty space where a warm woman had been. It happened so quickly and so effortlessly that it took him several seconds to comprehend it - as if she had transformed into the very air before him.

Loses much of the drama of the moment, really.

Likewise, descriptions like this abounds:

She seemed like a creature of contradictions, one moment so poised and proud he might mistake her for his imagination, a winter faerie queen revealed before him high atop that convent wall. But in the next heartbeat she would change - youth and inexperience, novice - then back to enchantress, woman.

One paragraph and it's enchantingly lyrical. Paragraphs after paragraphs and I get really tired of so much words and more words. Such long, running sentences rob the story of the drama of the more action-oriented moments, and there are points where the whole story starts to sound as if it is being told by a rambling, drunk storyteller.

And the pitch of the melodrama doesn't help either. Serath would whisper, her heart pounding, her soul aching, et cetera, right after she screams I curse you all! to prevent (scare) the serfs from deserting. Rafe would round up the serfs in the stormy night, shouting "I won't hurt you!" to the hysterically whimpering and wailing dummies. I know 999 is a time of hysteria, heck, things aren't much different in 1999, but really, too much is overkill.

There's a great story in here, and Serath is a wonderful heroine, a great mix of helplessness and a will of pure steel. But if only the author has reined in the verbosity, maybe then I would savor A Kiss At Midnight much better. As it is, I'm only exhausted, drained, by the end of the day.

Rating: 66


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