As y’all should know by now, I buy a lot of books. Sadly but also hysterically, the majority of the books I impulse-buy lately are what I love calling “stupid little romance novels.” 100% of the time, I buy titles of the historical persuasion. 90% of those novels are set during the 19th century – mostly during the Regency era, but occasionally some from the later half of the century show up.
(I feel I am legally obligated to state at this juncture that 60% of the time, it works every time.)
(Disclaimer: I have recently bought two novels based on the titles alone, and they do not fall into the aforementioned 90%. The first is Beauty and the Bounty Hunter, which takes place during the American West; and the second is something called, I shit you not, Gypsy Lord. I am never kidding when I say that I nearly always buy the book based on the ridiculousness of the title. I mean, Gypsy Lord? Are you shitting me? This is going to be HILARIOUS.)
So A Kiss At Midnight is an historical romance set during the Regency time period, but I didn’t buy it because of the title — I mean, let’s face it, as a title? It’s kind of bland. But it’s billed as a different take on the Cinderella fairy tale, and that type of interpretation intrigues me.
Years ago, I read Beguiled by Shannon Drake, and while it did not completely bill itself as a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, once you read it, you totally get the similarities. I mean, a secret princess lives in the woods with three godmothers. She falls in love with a duke or a prince or whatever, and he was masquerading as a woodsman. She falls into a coma at some point, and she wakes up when the prince or whatever kisses her. The only thing missing was Maleficent. I mean, come on!
(Speaking of Maleficent … IS IT MAY YET I WANT TO SEE THAT MOVIE NOW and i really hope it doesn’t suck)
So anyway. Picked up A Kiss At Midnight because it clearly stated it was a Cinderella story. I mean, the girl on the cover is blonde in a blue gown. She’s leaving a glass slipper on the stairs. She’s handing a guy a Valentine’s Day card that says “Let’s BEE Friends” and there’s a picture of a bee on it. Come on.
But as I read it, I was actually pleasantly surprised with the characterization, the plot, and the update to the story. It starts out normal enough: Kate is taking care of her father’s mansion because her stepmother, Mariana, and her step-sister, Victoria, can’t be bothered. If Mariana had her way, all of the tenants would be run off and Kate would be sent to someone’s house as a ladies’ maid. Kate sleeps in the attic, but she doesn’t sleep in ashes. There are no magical mice, although the characters do refer to Victoria’s pet terriers as ‘rats.’ They’re more “stupid Stepmother and sweet-yet-misguided Stepsister” than “evil,” but the parallels are there.
One day, Mariana forces Kate to pretend to be her stepsister on an extended journey. See, Victoria never learned about propriety and whatnot, and now she and her fiance Algie are expecting a child. Before they can get married, they need the approval of one of Algie’s distant relatives, who happens to be a prince. But Victoria can’t go, because one of her dogs bit her lip and it looks atrocious, and also, she’s pregnant, so instead, Kate has to masquerade as Victoria in order to get the approval of the prince for their impending nuptials.
Why yes, this book does have one of the more ludicrous ways to get the hero and the heroine together. Why do you ask? And more importantly, it’s a stupid little romance novel: does it really matter?
Because what Ms. James does is pretty much say “This is a fairy tale, and as such, logic and reality is going to get thrown right out the window!” I mean, there’s no magic pumpkins or anything, but there’s this castle in the middle of the English countryside that is supposedly an outpost of the Pottslyvanian dynasty or whatever. And it has all of Prince Gabriel’s relatives, because his brother, the king of Pottsylvania (or whatever) is a dick and threw everyone out and banished them to England. So Gabriel’s living in this castle with all of his crazy aunts and uncles, and a menagerie with an elephant and a lion and humpty back camels and dear God, if I could just remember that conversation that My Friend Sarah and My Other Friend Jen had when they got back from the zoo, that’s all I want out of life right now. Well, that and dinner. Dinner would be a good thing.
So anyway, here’s what happens: Kate and Algie go to Gabriel’s castle, with Kate pretending to be Victoria and failing kind of miserably. Well, not quite. It’s true that (almost) everyone there is fooled, but that’s because the other characters are pretty self-absorbed and don’t really pay attention. Prince Gabriel, however, sees through the facade rather quickly. Kate and Gabriel have a meeting of the minds, and then they fall in love, because that’s what these characters were created to do.
Adding another wrinkle to the mix is that Gabriel is already engaged to Princess Tatiana from Russia. See, not only is the castle way out in bumfuck England, but they also have no money. Princess Tatiana comes with a huge dowry, which would allow the castle to operate in the manner to which it has grown accustomed — and allow Gabriel to be an obtainer of rare antiquities in Egypt, but without the cool whip, fedora, and fear of snakes. And while he has fallen in love with Kate, she doesn’t have a large enough dowry to make it worthwhile for him to break the engagement with Tatiana.
Having said all that, we know what’s going to happen: Kate’s going to learn that her mother left her a dowry worth the economy of Belgravia, which allows Gabriel to marry her guilt-free — although, in a nice change of pace from Jane Eyre, and now that I think about it, I’m not sure I even mentioned it back when I read it last, but anyway, Gabriel was going to marry Kate regardless of what her dowry looked like. When he goes to find her in London, living with her godmother (just a regular godmother, not magical), he had already broken it off with Tatiana. The dowry was just a pleasant surprise.
The reference to Jane Eyre – the morals during that time wouldn’t have allowed Jane to marry Rochester unless he was punished for his sins. So while his house and his first wife literally died in a fire, he still couldn’t marry Jane — even though she had come into money at that point — and so Bronte made him lose his sight and an arm in the fire. That makes him “even” with Jane. I find it bullshit, but again, I’m a 21st-century kid.
This is also the first title in a series by Eloisa James, to which I say YES I ACTUALLY MANAGED TO BUY THE FIRST BOOK FIRST because dudes, that never happens! I always end up buying, like, the third book in a series of five. And there’s one book that I want to read but it is actually the seventh book in a series, and while I could read them out of order — I mean, have you met me? You know that’s not going to happen. But success on this one! Reading the first book first is the only way to go!
So anyway. I think that’s all I want to (and can) say about this book. I thought the characters were lively and distinct, even though the plot is a little far-fetched. But then again, fairy tale. Without the fairies and/or magic, but still. And after all, don’t we turn to stupid little romance novels when we want to leave logic behind?
Grade for A Kiss At Midnight: 3 stars