A Lady by Midnight

Tessa Dare
September 2012, European Historical Romance (Victorian England)
Avon, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0062049895
Part of a series

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Hot

I’ve had mixed reactions to Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove series. The first book in the series, A Night to Surrender, did not enchant me as it did many other reviewers. I loved the next, A Week to be Wicked. I enjoyed this book more than the first one but less than the second. The reason for that, I think, is that I’m bored with heroes who proclaim, despite evidence to the contrary, they just aren’t good enough for the women they love.

The lovers in A Lady by Midnight are kind as can be Kate Taylor, Spindle Cove’s resident orphan music teacher, and Corporal Samuel Thorne, he of the glower and glare. Kate, like most of the women who have found their way to Spindle Cove, doesn’t have a place in mainstream society. She was raised in the harsh Margate school for girls where she was deposited when she was five. She’s tried for years to learn something of her past — she’s written requests to countless English parish registers asking for information about a girl born between 1790 and 1792 named Katherine — but has never found from whence she came. She has memories — scraps of her past — locked away in her head but she can’t quite figure out what they mean.

Kate loves the welcome she’s found at Spindle Cove and the town cares deeply for her as well. Kate is a lovely person — she sees the best in almost everyone and can coax a smile from all. All except the exceedingly dour Corporal Thorne. Thorne, who arrived in Spindle Cove a year ago when the militia arrived — that event is the plot of A Night to Surrender - seems utterly immune to Kate’s charm. Whenever he’s around her, he’s laconic to the point of rudeness and usually leaves any room she’s in. Kate thinks he’s an ass — a handsome ass, but an ass nonetheless.

She changes her opinion of him, however, when one night when she finds herself stranded in the next town over, caught in the rain and with no money for a safe place to stay. Thorne not only saves her from a horse whipping but insists on giving her a ride back to Spindle Cove. The two share a conversation, a kiss, and Kate steals the puppy he’d gone to town to pick up. After that, Kate not only no longer thinks Thorne is a jerk, she finds herself drawn to him despite his assertions he wants nothing more to do with her.

Thorne has a good reason for staying away from Kate. He thinks she’s the most beautiful woman in the world, but not only does his checkered past make him “wrong” for her, he knows the truth about her past and it’s one he doesn’t want her to find out.

Their story didn’t quite work for me. As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, I’ve grown tired of the “I love you, I spend all my time trying to ensure your safety, but I’m not good enough for you” hero. It’s been clear since the first book in the series Thorne is a stand-up guy, a leader, and a profoundly loyal friend. Kate is alone in the world; she thinks she’s unattractive because she has a port-wine stain on her brow—it seemed almost cruel to me for Thorne to continually rebuff her all in the name of his supposed worthlessness. I liked their repartee, their sparring over the puppy Kate appropriated, and the rough passion that sparks between them. I even liked them as individual characters. I lost patience however with the repetitiveness of Thorne’s “I’m just not good enough” self-abnegation.

The love story between Kate and Samuel is complicated by the arrival of the eccentric aristocratic Gramercy family who sweeps into Spindle Cove and claims Kate as their long lost cousin. Kate, who has always longed for a family, is thrilled to be claimed by these wealthy, charming strangers. Samuel, always mistrustful of anything that might possibly harm Kate — and these people are an unknown — sees the Gramercys as dangerous. I saw the Gramercys as unbelievable. All of them — a brother, two sisters, and an elderly aunt — are over the top in ways I found exasperating. Furthermore, they are so unconventional I didn’t believe society would tolerate them no matter how wealthy they were.

Ms. Dare’s work here is well-written, funny, and sweet. Readers who’ve loved the earlier Spindle Cove stories will take pleasure in this one as well. I enjoyed it despite having problems with both its hero and its plot.

-- Dabney Grinnan

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