by Teresa Medeiros, historical/fantasy (2005)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-076299-3
Teresa Medeiros combines her historical romance with paranormal vampire elements for something different in After Midnight. But is this really a vampire romance? Surely Teresa Medeiros won't dare head down that direction, right? I mean, come on, will the Big Sisters at Avon let her do this? Maybe you're as cynical as me while reading this book, convinced that there are no vampires and all that fangface issues are just a smokescreen for something more earthly that the hero Adriane Kane doesn't want people to know about. Since part of the fun of this story is guessing along with the heroine Caroline Cabot whether Adrian is or isn't a vampire, I'm going to let people who are reading this remain unspoiled. Let's just say that things aren't what they seem to be.
Caroline is the eldest of three sisters. Come on, people, guess what kind of woman Caroline is. Eh, I hear someone say "sensible, practical, on the shelf". Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner. She has two sisters that she hope to see marry well sometime in the future, although she sincerely hopes that the prettiest sister Vivienne will marry well soon so that they all won't have to sleep on the streets once their nasty relative toss them out of the house for Caroline not wanting to sleep with him. However, when Vivienne is seen in the company of the infamous Adrian Kane, Viscount Trevelyan and rumored vampire, she has to go and see for herself what kind of man her sister may end up being married to. What she doesn't expect is to find herself attracted to Adrian and getting all three sisters involved in that conspiracy that may or may not involve paranormal elements like angry vampires and dead women supposedly drained dry by vampires.
After Midnight has some delightful moments when Ms Medeiros gently pokes fun at the whole brooding vampire hero mythos in her story. However, the first quarter of the story is hard for me to get into because Caroline acts like a classic dingbat woman who, for example, trails after hero into dark places only to get cornered by men bent on rapine (you can guess who will show up to rescue her, I'm sure) or asks Adrian to kiss her so that they can pretend to be lovers in order to fool people walking past from recognizing her. And yes, the kiss is good and Caroline is sent plunging into some dramatic maelstorm of womanly sexual awakening and shiver-me-timbers drama. It gets to the point where I am starting to fear that Ms Medeiros has lost sight of the line separating gentle parody and self-parody.
But it is when the external plot kicks into action sometime about the midpoint of the story that things really start to look up. Ms Medeiros' vampire canon isn't anything I've never encountered before but because the three men involved in the drama - Adrian, his brother Julian, and the mysterious former-churchboy turned cop Constable Larkin - are well-drawn characters with engaging hints to the secrets they keep and likeable personality that keep me wanting to know more about them. This is a double-edged sword of sorts though, because Ms Medeiros concentrates more on the relationship between Adrian and Caroline to the point that the romance comes off as an annoying distraction. I would love to know more about the history connecting the three men together. Somehow the story of the three men become more interesting than the romance, to the point that the romance starts to stand in the way of my enjoyment.
Still, Caroline and Adrian are a likeable couple. Adrian could have been the familiar broody whiny vampire hero archetype but Ms Medeiros gives Adrian a bouyant sense of humor that makes him a little deeper than the one-dimensional cardboard cut-out that he could have been. Caroline could have been a familiar bluestocking heroine with tired old aspects of the personality of that stereotype. There's her tendency to wander off into dark streets, of course, to catalyze the all-important scenes of first kiss, gratitude to the hero for saving her from her acts of stupidity, and sexual awakening in a manner that allows the heroine to wash her hands off any sense of accountability (the "don't hate me, readers, I'm forced to kiss him because I don't want to be compromised and ruin my sister's chance at happiness, and the fact that I am now feverish with desire is just a nice side effect of my displaying my helpless and romantic intelligent damsel-in-dark-alley tendencies, so readers, please don't write reviews on Amazon calling me a slutty harlot" writing philosophy, if you will). But Caroline nonetheless quits being too stupid by the midpoint of the story - I can't guarantee that she is completely stupidity-free for the rest of the story though - and she has a fine sense of humor, a witty self-effacing attitude that doesn't spill over to professional self-victimization, and a clear and strong bond with her sisters that is functional and healthy. She and Adrian have a wonderful repartee and banter system going on in this story and many of their scenes are a joy to read.
But a fine couple can't stop me from feeling that the story of Adrian, Julian, and Larkin would have been so much more enjoyable than the romance between Adrian and Caroline, which is sweet but lacks the potential for epic drama, tragedy, brotherhood torn asunder, and maybe plenty of homoerotic moments that I may get in the melodrama of those three men. As for the secondary characters, the youngest sister Portia is too adorable as she is precious without being too creepy or irritating and she brings out some of the best aspects of Caroline's wit but poor Vivienne is underwritten. Vivienne's motivations for hanging out with Adrian and her true feelings for another man are underdeveloped to the point that this is one time where I wish that Ms Medeiros has planned a trilogy for these sisters so that poor Vivienne will get her story fully developed in the next book. Instead, it will be Portia's story coming next while Vivienne gets her rushed happy ending in this book.
At the end of the day, After Midnight is probably a little too ambitious to be constrained within the pages of a typical full-length romance novel. There are so many things going on that are begging to be explored and developed here but the author doesn't have the space to do that. Instead, I get what seems like a little of everything: part of a great romance, part of a great paranormal story, but all in all, they are just parts instead of the whole good deal. While Ms Medeiros' excellent way with characterization, humor, comedy, and romantic drama goes a long way to making After Midnight a fun and entertaining read, the end product is too busy and not well-developed enough to be truly satisfying and memorable read.
This book at Amazon.com
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