Hunting Midnight, by Emma Holly

>> Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hunting Midnight (excerpt) is the second in Emma Holly's upyr series (there's a short story before them, the on in the Fantasy anthology, but it takes place in another time and place and has nothing to do with these characters. It just serves to introduce the upyr universe).

For centuries, Ulric's pack of shapeshifting immortals have hidden in the Scottish forest, far from the dangers of the human world. Only when his longtime lover betrays him does their leader venture out, recklessly roaming the streets of Bridesmere, singing for his supper . . . and whatever else he desires.

Ulric never expects to meet Juliana Buxton, dutiful daughter of a rich merchant, nor to be blackmailed into helping her escape her elderly betrothed. Juliana is everything he has learned to distrust in a woman: bright, bold, and endlessly curious. The smart course of action would be to ditch her, no matter how deliciously passionate she is.

Luckily, Ulric's heart has other ideas.
Hunting Midnight was very so-so. It was readable enough, but I never got to really care about the characters, and the upyr universe still hasn't completely gelled for me. A C+.

If you've read Catching Midnight, the first book in the series, you'll probably remember Ulric, the leader of Gillian's pack, with whom she was involved before deserting him and her other fellow pack-members for the human world. That Ulric was a bit of an asshole, a dominating man who, protesting that he was doing it only because he loved Gillian, tried to blackmail her into going back to him.

Hunting Midnight takes place only a couple of weeks after the events of CM. Ulric, devastated by Gillian's final abandonment, has been wondering around England enthralling women right and left and having tons of meaningless sex (*sigh* men!).

Juliana Buxton is the only daughter of a prosperous merchant, and she's in a bit of a pickle. Her father has decided that she will marry a business connection of his who Juliana finds intolerable, and though he loves his daughter, he will not be moved.

Juliana and Ulric meet when he picks her as the flavour of that particular night and they quickly end up having sex in a nearby alley. Juliana had picked that particular night to run away from home, but none of her tentative plans had worked, so when she saw the beautiful man singing outside the inn, she was at the end of her rope and he seemed quite a godsend.

Ulric finds the young woman attractive enough, but nothing special. Definitely not special enough for him to want to take her along. He allows her to believe that he's willing to help her get away from town, while never intending to follow through. But he doesn't count on Juliana quickly figuring out he's upyr (the sex left him so exhausted he neglected to take the precautions necessary to secure himself for the night... talk about idiotic!) and threatening to let him burn if he doesn't really promise to take her away. And not only that, Juliana also decides she wants to become a upyr, and she secures the promise that if by the end of the summer she still wants it, she will be changed.

And so Juliana and Ulric head north to Scotland and to Ulric's pack's territory, where more problems await them. The pack is in disarray, and Juliana is still being chased by her intended husband, who seems more interested in her companion than in anything else.

One of the main problems I had with the first book in the series was how matter-of-factly everyone took finding out that there were such a thing as upyrs and that, in fact, the person who was beside them (or in their beds!) was one. I had the same problem here, especially at the beginning. Julianna's reactions to finding out that the man who just screwed her brainless was a upyr were weird. I could excuse the incredibly quick sex because of Ulric's power to thrall her, but I really couldn't buy the way she acted afterwards, both relating to her discovery and to what she'd just done.

Maybe if she'd been in a very bad position, at the end of her rope, I would have been able to buy her behaviour, but come on! A woman whose only worry is that her father wants her to marry a man she doesn't like (the guy was a piece of work, but at the beginning, Holly never made me think Juliana was afraid of him or even hated him or was repulsed by him. It merely felt as if she didn't like the man much) wouldn't immediately jump, just like that, at the possibility of leaving all her life behind her and becoming a vampire! It was hard enough to believe she'd run away like that, with no plans and no certain means of supporting herself. Or rather, it was hard to believe that anyone with half a brain would do that. The upyr thing was much too much. It made me start out with a low opinion of Juliana's intelligence and sommon sense, and that opinion never really grew all that much.

The romance wasn't particularly good, either. At the beginning, I didn't get the feeling that Ulric was even particularly attracted to Julianna... not more than he was to all those women he'd seduced the previous nights, at any rate. She was there and insisted on being taken with him, so he took her, but if she'd decided to go back to her house, I didn't get the feeling Ulric would have been too put out by it. He would probably have just shrugged and gone on on his way.

Obviously, his feelings for Juliana changed, but the way they did felt a bit weird. One moment he's still madly in love with Gillian, the next, he's decided he loves Juliana instead. Er, ok, I guess.

But the main problem I had with the romance was I didn't feel there was any tension in that area of the book. After he decides he loves Juliana, Ulric gets all kind of ideas about how she can't love him, and blah, blah, blah, and he starts angsting about it, but all this never did make much sense to me. It didn't really add any tension there, it just made me a bit distant from Ulric, because I didn't understand what the hell he was going on about.

I know what you're thinking now: since this is an Emma Holly, how was the sex? Well, I can't deny the woman knows her way around a sex scene, so objectively, they're pretty steamy. However, to be honest, these particular sex scenes of Holly didn't affect me at all. It's probably because of the lack of tension I mentioned above, but most of the times Ulric and Juliana got it on (and they did get it on a lot), I yawned. I even skimmed a couple of the scenes, because they really weren't adding anything. Did you read what I just wrote? I skimmed a sex scene! In an Emma Holly book! That's pretty telling, I think.

The most interesting thing in the book, I thought, were the dynamics of Ulric's pack, and the way Juliana was integrated to them. That was pretty intriguing, as was Lucius' appearanceat the end. Lucius is the hero of the next book in the series, Courting Midnight, and I was interested enough by this character that I'm going to give it a try.


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