Lady Midnight, by Amanda McCabe

>> Monday, November 20, 2006

Lady Midnight, by Amanda McCabe was a random pick from my TBR. I think I bought it because it got a good review at AAR, but by the time I picked it up, I remembered absolutely nothing about it.

book coverA courtesan in training

Everyone that Katerina held dear has perished in a tempest off the coast of Italy. With not a penny to her name, the once-moneyed Venetian lady knows she must travel far to forge a new life. No one would ever accept her if they learned that her mother was Lucrezia Bruni, the infamous courtesan breeding young Katerina to fill her shoes someday...

A governess in hiding

Still mourning his late wife, Michael Lindley knows life must go on-and that his little sister and daughter need a woman's nurturing. When a dark-eyed beauty alights on his doorstep, claiming to be widowed governess, Michael feels a fire rekindle in him that he thought had been snuffed out long ago. And in Katerina, who thought her capacity to love had gone down with the ship, there flares a yearning that only Lindley can subdue.

A woman in danger -and in love...

But just as they give in to the desire that knows no words, a stealthy enemy plots his revenge-and their newborn passion must undergo the ultimate test...

Young Katerina Bruni is the daughter of a famous Venetian courtesan. All her life, she's known that she's to follow in her mother's footsteps, and the day is getting closer in which she will go to her first protector. He's been chosen and everything: a friend of her mother's English protector, who's much taken with Katerina.

But a sudden storm, which sinks the yacht in which all four of them are out for a sail, changes things radically. Katerina wakes up in a peasant's house, seemingly the only survivor from the shipwreck, and, with the help of an apparition of her mother's ghost, decides to let Katerina Bruni stay dead and leave that life behind. She'll build a new life in England, home of her father, as Mrs. Kate Brown, widow of an English soldier.

In England, Kate finds a position as governess in Yorkshire, in the remote Thorn Hill, home to Mr. Michael Lindley and the girls who'll be Kate's charges: 7-year-old Amelia, his daugther, and his sister, teenaged Christina. Kate quickly falls in love... with everything. She loves Thorn Hill and the peace she finds there, she loves both the girls, and as for Michael, soon she's well on the way to loving him, too. And he seems to reciprocate her feelings.

But hey, this is a 400-page book, so things can't be easy and straightforward, right? The secrets of Kate's past life have a way of intruding in her possible happiness with Michael. There's the fact that she's misrepresented herself to all these people she's come to love, which bothers her conscience, and soon it comes to light that she wasn't the only survivor of the shipwreck. Her protector-to-be is still alive, and still as obsessed with her as he ever was.

Lady Midnight is a book I would have expected to like much better than I did. The first part, especially, would seem to be just the type I like: wholly character-driven and with our characters actually communicating. Kate and Michael are nice people and they seem to like each other.

So why, then, did it take me 2 weeks to slog through the first 200 pages? If I was at home, I'd read 3 or 4 pages and put it aside for another book. I could only make some progress when I took it with me on the bus to work, but just because there was nothing else to do but read it (and even then, I'd find myself reading 10 or 20 pages and then just looking out the window).

I think the problem was that I just didn't find Kate or Michael particularly interesting. They're both nice and honorable, but not at all compelling. And the worst part was that the whole deal about these oh-so-angsty secrets in their past didn't didn't feel interesting, so much as melodramatic. They'd be doing the woe-is-me thing and lamenting the hopelessness of their burgeoning feelings, but McCabe couldn't make me believe these feelings were at all deep. I don't know if I can explain this, but it was like when Kate would think about the despair she was feeling, I didn't believe her. I had the impression she was some kind of actress pretending to feel despair.

Things do improve in the second half (more exactly, right after they make love), and I was able to finish the book in a couple of days.

Part of what makes this second half much more interesting was the appearance of Julian, Kate's prospective protector. We'd seen he was alive much earlier, but until this second half, neither he nor Kate were aware the other was still alive. I have to say, when we first see Julian survived, I groaned, because I feared McCabe might use this in the tedious, typical way I've seen so often before. He'd be bat-shit crazy and evil, and Kate would hide his threats from everyone, fearing he might hurt these people she cares about so much, and blah, blah, blah, kidnapping and final confrontation, the end.

Well, I was wrong. Julian turned out to be a very interesting, subtly drawn villain. Yes, he's not completely right in the head, but in a very intriguing way. And the way in which he affects the plot is very well done. I'm not going to go into details, but suffice it to say that what I was expecting was very wrong. Things didn't play out in a predictable way, and I appreciated that.

Still, even with the more interesting second half, this was no more than slightly better than average. A C+.


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