by Emma Holly, historical/paranormal (2003)
Jove, $6.50, ISBN 0-515-13530-5
In 1349, Gillian lost her family and was wandering around the woods when she ended up being adopted by a powerful upyr (vampire). This nice guy Auriclus erased her memories of her life as a human and sent her to live with a pack of werewolves. Mating with the alpha wolf isn't good enough for Gillian though, so twenty years later, she sets off to discover the human world once more for herself. She ends up bonding with some baby peregrine falcons. In the guise of a peregrine falcon, she ends up being captured by our Scottish hero Aimery Fitz Clare. Since all medieval heroes must have some moniker for themselves (usually a variation of the Butcher or Murderer), he's also known as the Butcher of Bridesmere.
What ensues is a fairy-tale like soap opera as Gillian appears in human form to play sexy games with Aimery while remaining in falcon form during the day as she tries to learn Human Folly 101. Aimery's brother Edmund has a wife Claris who is madly in love with Aimery. A less benevolent elder upyr, Nim Wei, is also drawn to Bridesmere to lure Gillian to the dark side. Emma Holly seems to be operating under the rule that there can be only one "good" woman in her book, and that's the heroine. Nim Wei seduces Edmund but ends up being seduced herself.
While I like the dark fairy-tale like premise of this story and the fact that Gillian is sexually experienced (as opposed to those waifish naive female Mowglis), Catching Midnight suffers from really underdeveloped characters and premise. The sex scenes are surprisingly tame for an Emma Holly book and any hint of homoerotic relationship between a priest and a upyr is quickly glossed over. If I blink, I would have missed the latter. Gillian is a nice upyr who will never hurt human beings and she is said to have a huge thirst for knowledge, but her characterization is more like a list of traits rather than a cohesive character. Aimery, his overlarge erection aside, doesn't really do anything in this book. He spends a little time agonizing over the evils of war, but that's it. I know even less about him than I know about Gillian.
By comparison, Edmund is a more fascinating character as the envious brother who feels that he can never measure up to his brother. Nim Wei, gloriously morally ambiguous, who weaves a seduction only to fall into her own trap, is even more interesting a character, and her interactions with Edmund are such that I soon wish this book is about them as opposed to the dull one-dimensional Mary and Marty Sues that are Gillian and Aimery staring longingly into each other's eyes. Give me seduction, give me scorching abandoned sex, give me tormented characters, and Edmund and Nim Wei are what I would prefer to read. These characters are interesting and complex. Alas, the one-dimensional Gillian and Aimery are the ones who keep hogging the limelight.
It is only towards the later half of the book when Claris sets in motion a chain of events that bring out the poisonous emotions in Edmund that the story finally sees some drama happening. Things that seem to be randomly added in finally come together. But even then, it is Edmund and Nim Wei that really shine. Aimery and Gillian - not so much. They're just there, still there, and still boring.
There are many interesting underlying paranormal elements and subplots that, were they developed instead just being thrown it and left at that, would make Catching Midnight a dark and beautiful erotic fairy tale. But the execution falls short, the book feels like a rushed job, and the secondary characters seize the story from the really colorless main characters and run away with it. How sad it is when the book has me wishing that the main characters will just vamoose and let Edmund and Nim Wei take over?
Catching Midnight offers many interesting promises, but the satisfaction remains elusive.
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