Book: A Lady by Midnight
Series: Spindle Cove, #3
Author: Tessa Dare
Reviewed by: Ellyce
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Like many romance authors before and after her, Tessa Dare’s first work isn’t exactly what you would call stellar. It follows the typical genre formula, making the characters and style lack a certain element that could distinguish them from the massive influx that came before. Nonetheless, you can tell that her work has potential, so she’s someone you keep your eye on with future releases. Predictably, her next few titles aren’t exactly outstanding, but she writes in such a charming way during some passages that you can’t help but hope she improves. In 2011, Dare released the first book in her Spindle Cove series, which revolves around several spinsters and unusual ladies residing in the titular location. Spindle Cove has proven to contain some of her strongest books yet, and it’s here that her writing has truly flourished and begun to distinguish itself from the plethora of clichéd bodice rippers that flood the shelves.
As such, I had high hopes for the third book, A Lady by Midnight. Kate and Thorne were fascinating characters in the snippets that we got of them from the second installment, A Week to be Wicked. When I say I held high hopes for this book, I mean that I was ridiculously thrilled, and I haven’t been this anxious for a publication since George R. R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons last summer. My friend Megan and I counted down the days till the book would be released, purchased Three Weddings and a Murder for the sole purpose of the sneak peek it had of A Lady by Midnight in the back, reread book two to pass the tide until Kate and Thorne’s story was released, and engaged ourselves in long discussions about how giddy we were about their story. I always tell myself not to have high hopes for things, because often times whatever it is won’t live up to my expectations. Sometimes, my worries will have been for nothing and I’ll be so happy with whatever it is that I don’t even think about the concerns I had. As the release date inched nearer for A Lady by Midnight, I began to worry if the book could really be as good as I was hoping it’d be. That being said, I liked the book well enough, but I didn’t love it like I was thinking I would. There are several things about the story that I enjoyed, but often times, Dare fell short of delivering and the book suffered heavily as a result.
Kate is a loving, bright personality who has been much on her own for a number of years. She has always wished to be reunited with a family that she can barely remember; she is pitied by many for the distinctive birthmark on her face and isn’t exactly accepted by all. Her scarce memories of being cared for give her sustenance, as she longs for love and true acceptance. She has a tense connection with Thorne, the hardened commander of the local militia, who appears to be the opposite of everything that she is. He is a stern, brisk figure who remains an aloof enigma to Kate. Unfortunately, he also does whatever he can to avoid any interaction with her when they happen to bump into each other, resulting in much frustration on her part. Within the first few chapters, circumstances force them to spend a number of hours in each other’s company when Kate has no way of getting back to Spindle Cove before nightfall without Thorne’s help. The tension between these two, which has built up since their first encounter, is heightened by the long talk that ensues between them. Apparent dislike flares into something surprisingly pleasant, and the chemistry between these two flies off the pages.
When they arrive back at Kate’s lodgings, who should show up but a group of aristocrats claiming to be her long-lost family? Thorne is immediately distrustful of these people with a story that is too good to be true, and tells them that he is Kate’s fiancé in order to act as a safeguard against the bad outcome that he believes will inevitably occur. Kate’s so-called family decides to stay close to her while they verify that she is, in fact, their lost relative. As Kate and Thorne put up a faux engagement to convince her family and the surprised residents of Spindle Cove, they find themselves constantly entangled in a number of passionate kisses and then some. At the same time, Kate discovers that Thorne may know more about her past than he lets on, and she becomes determined to get what exactly he knows out from him.
There is no doubt that many of Dare’s characters share wonderful chemistry that is both fascinating and rather spectacular. With A Lady by Midnight, the passion heats up the pages and the connection between the two characters is beautifully done. It’s a bit of a conundrum, then, that this is also what makes the book suffer. The majority of the time that Kate and Thorne are interacting, they’re either kissing or doing a bit more. Don’t get me wrong, kissing is great and all, but it isn’t everything. When they did talk, our duo had really good discussions about anything and everything, but this kind of took the back burner to all of the physical interaction that was going on. Emotional buildup and conversations are just as important as the kissing aspects of a relationship, and the book would have been so much better if Dare had fleshed that out. Couples like Penelope Featherington and Colin Bridgerton from Julia Quinn’s Romancing Mister Bridgerton and Leo Hathaway and Catherine Marks from Lisa Kleypas’ Married by Morning have such a rapport that makes them incredibly strong couples. Penelope and Colin are a match that get along well but are not afraid to challenge and question one another; while Leo and Cathy are a pair that are constantly bickering and aiming witty rapport at one another, but are beautifully well-suited at the core. As different as these two pairings are in how they interact, it’s their conversations that help to strengthen my belief in them as a couple and make me root for them above several others. Talking and establishing similarities or differences is just as important as phenomenal physical chemistry, and this is definitely what makes A Lady by Midnight not up to par.
This talk of kissing leads me to another point, which is Thorne’s resolve. Broody and hardened heroes are fascinating, but there’s a certain point where it gets a bit sigh-inducing – and not a swoonworthy sigh, but an exasperated one. While it’s understandable that heroes in historical romance can be so overcome by a torrid fervor for their lady love that they can’t help but kiss those beauteous lips, there is a point when it induces much eyebrow raising. Thorne was constantly telling himself that he wouldn’t kiss Kate, that their previous interaction would be the last time he would touch her, but he always found his resolve crumbling when they were together because he was filled with such passion for her. Okay, if you’re going to do this, perhaps you shouldn’t be claiming that you won’t be engaged in such activities with the heroine ever again? Twice and even thrice of making such excuses before proceeding to kiss your love interest is alright, but making the same “I will not kiss her or touch her, that was really the last time” resolve over and over again after that just gets kind of vexing, especially when you break such a decision.
Thorne was also incredibly convinced of how low he was beneath Kate and how he could not be worthy of her. While his past certainly did warrant some of these feelings to be well-grounded, one of the points of having a romance novel is having someone with such broody opinions of themselves realize that perhaps this isn’t true. This should not be something that is immediate, of course, for a gradual and slow build certainly makes things more interesting. The entire time, however, Thorne was constantly thinking that he could not be worthy of Kate, even if she herself thought of them as equals and told him so numerous times. People might say that this is fine behavior that can be excused because of his past and that you can’t force opinions to change (overnight or at all), but that argument simply doesn’t cut it, especially in a romance. Imagine if the situations were reversed and the heroine was the one who thought that she was beneath the hero and should be viewed by her lover with contempt (and then proceeded to think as such for pretty much the entirety of the book)? This is not something that would be very appealing or realistic to most. In fact, I’d venture to say that people would be spitting mad that an author would do such a thing. I’m not saying that this made the book terrible or that Dare is a bad author per se, but it does make for a very frustrating read.
It may now seem like I didn’t enjoy the book at all, but I did. It’s just that I was expecting more to happen, and the book fell short of my expectations. About halfway through, I was hoping that there’d just be more. More of an emotional buildup, more of a stronger plot, more of several things. I was left wanting something that the story couldn’t quite achieve as it began to draw to a close, and I recognized in the last few chapters that this wasn’t going to be something that was delivered. Perhaps if I didn’t have previous knowledge of A Lady by Midnight and had simply picked it off of the bookshelf, I would have enjoyed it more.
I suppose if you like pairings with incredible chemistry, you’ll like the book. Kate and Thorne are both fascinating characters, and I love their interactions, but if you’re looking for a realistically built emotional connection, Dare puts it in a tad bit too late. Still, she’s a strong author, and I will certainly be looking out for the next book in the series and any future works she’ll be writing.