Wendy: Had Jane Austen created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the result might very well have been Teresa Medeiros’ After Midnight. Of course, Medeiros’ version of Buffy, Caroline Cabot, is much more a Suspecter of vampires than a slayer of one, as After Midnight is a Regency romance that steps ever-so-lightly into the paranormal.
Caroline Cabot refused to give credence to ton gossip that said Adrian Kane, Viscount Trevelyan was a vampire. The odd hours he kept were not, in Caroline’s opinion, reason to label anyone a monster of the night; if Adrian’s younger brother, Julian, chose to play the role of Byronic vampire, that held little proof of the undead either. But, she can’t ignore the overwhelming pull Adrian has over her, or her attraction to him, even if he’s her sister Vivienne’s suitor. Neither can she ignore the warning issued by Constable Larkin: “Perhaps you should ask him what happened to the last girl he courted. A woman who bore a rather startling resemblance to your sister.” When Larkin can neither provide evidence to prove Kane’s guilt nor innocence, Caroline decides to get proof for herself, but too quickly she finds more questions than answers and feelings she should never have for her sister’s suitor.
Caroline is an interesting heroine to watch; at twenty-four she’s a spinster who’s cared for her two younger sisters since the death of their parents. She is full of the requisite sugar and spice and everything nice, but she’s also willing to delude herself into believing her efforts to investigate Adrian are all for Vivienne’s benefit, when in actuality she wants to be as close to Adrian as possible. It’s a very human fault, one that makes Caroline believable. Until she meets Adrian she is selfless, but her feelings for him force her to act out of character and drive the story forward. The romance between Caroline and Adrian advances with well measured steps with Medeiros keeping the pressure on her hero and heroine. Even as Caroline falls in love with Adrian her need to know the truth about him escalates and her obvious doubts, her fear of what he might be, push Adrian away.
Medeiros keeps Adrian largely cloaked in mystery. The storytelling is kept, almost completely, out of Adrian’s point of view, shielding the reader from learning his secrets before Caroline does. In general, After Midnight plays in Jane Austin’s backyard by focusing the story on the sisters, the need of a “good marriage,” London society and the associated social scene, but Lord Byron’s shadow falls on both Adrian, and to greater effect, Julian. The characteristics of the Byronic hero so greatly overlap those of the average genre Alpha Male hero that they might well be the same character: moody? check; passionate? check; smarter than average? check; emotional depth greater than average? check; arrogant? check, check; racked with guilt for a former deed/failing? check, check, check. Romance authors mine these character traits over and over for, not only the tortured male lead of the romance, but also, the not-so-tortured male lead. However, it isn’t often a romance author acknowledges where this character came from as Medeiros does with repeated references to Byron and his influence on vampire esthetics.
Medeiros further tips her cap to the work credited with creating the modern romantic vampire by playing heavily on the sway John Polidori’s The Vampyre had on London in 1820. And good for her, without Polidori, vampires might never have made the transition from blood sucking fiends to aristocratic fiends mixing with and preying on the upper crust of society.
Medeiros motivates her characters beautifully, always giving them a sound foundation for action. She does this to greatest effect with the youngest Cabot sister, Portia. In addition to having an open mind about what-might-go-bump in the night, Portia—like much of London at the time—was taken with The Vampyre and therefore willing to believe a vampire could be part of London society. That her heartstrings are tripped by Byron’s poetry further made her susceptible to the idea that the undead could be dashingly romantic…and accessible.
The is-Adrian-or-isn’t-Adrian a vampire issue is lingered over for two-thirds of the book, though it doesn’t take an astute reader to answer the puzzle with the information given in the prologue. The events surrounding Caroline, that could be supernatural, are handled so dryly and sensibly that the information delivered in the Big Reveal seems out of step with the rest of the book.
After Midnight is charming and clever. Medeiros makes intelligent choices that ground and give depth to storytelling that could too easily be fluff in less skillful hands.
HelenKay: This is the story of three orphaned sisters, two mysterious brothers, a series of missing person cases and a vampire legend. Not the usual Regency fare, but the result is an entertaining read with a gothic feel and strong sexual vibe.
Caroline Cabot spends her days in the country balancing the meager family finances down to the final penny and evading the lecherous advances of Uncle Cecil. When sister Vivienne attracts the attention of Adrian Kane, Viscount Trevelyan, Caroline is both relieved and concerned. Sure, he has the wealth to save the women from their Uncle’s unsavory ways. Problem is, most of society believes Adrian is a vampire. The clues? He eats dinner at midnight, shun the sun and dresses head-to-foot in black. Caroline writes off the rumors as nonsense, even though youngest sibling, Portia, is insistent on the vampire theory and recites facts at every turn.
When Adrian invites Vivienne to a house party in the country, Caroline and Portia follow, as do Adrian’s brother, Julian, and Constable Larkin, Adrian’s former friend and the professional investigating the disappearances plaguing the city. Larkin suspects Adrian and Julian of foul play. The Cabot women suspect the men of being vampires, a fear the men encourage. Thus starts the is-he-or-isn’t-he question, played out against the growing attraction between Adrian and Caroline, the Cabot sister Adrian allegedly isn’t pursuing. Added to the mix is a thread of vampire lore and the sinister, but mostly unseen, Duvalier, another former friend of Adrian’s from his school days.
Part of this book’s success stems from the strong and interesting characters Medeiros creates not only in Caroline and Adrian, but also in the secondary characters who play major roles in After Midnight but never overwhelm the main romance. Caroline takes a sharp turn from impending spinsterhood when she meets Adrian. Almost from the beginning she feels a connection to the wealthy man she is supposed to want for Vivienne but who she suddenly wants for herself. Caroline is witty and smart. She doesn’t back down from the man who, allegedly, could suck her blood and kill her at any moment. She wants him but still wants to test him verbally and in other ways to see if he really is a vampire.
Adrian is a perfect match for Caroline. He is compelling in a dark, brooding way that is common to Regency heroes. He is devoted to his brother. While his motives may be a question, his integrity is not. Medeiros balances the good versus evil debate relating to Adrian in a manner which preserves his mystery but still allows for his deepening attraction to Caroline. Their relationship unfolds with some speed but remains believable, with Medeiros ratcheting up the intensity and attraction with a steady rhythm.
The suspense elements here are in the vampire question and the secret behind the Adrian/Larkin/Duvalier falling out. The setting and the country castle that serves as the backdrop for Adrian’s house party in the second half of the book add to the eery mood of After Midnight. Fast pacing and dialog that is both funny and charming keep the book moving even though, in reality, there is not a great deal of action going on for a significant portion of the book.
One of the problems here is that many of the themes basic to a historical romance are present: orphaned children at the mercy of a relative who took their money, a spinster heroine, an immature brother. There is nothing new in these plot points. However, After Midnight does spin those basic ideas in a new direction with the vampire angle. Medeiros saves any weakness this would otherwise cause with strong writing and subtle character development.
Another issue relates to the secondary romance. It blossoms off the page, for the most part. While the male’s intentions are clear from his actions, as are the female’s to some extent, the resolution of the storyline is given only a cursory nod after a long build-up. The result is flat.
After Midnight is part Regency and part vampire mystery. It is carried by a likable heroine who never dissolves into unrealistic and annoying pluck and an alpha hero who is both sexy and sweet.
HelenKay’s response to Wendy: There is a tendency in romance novels to use one book to set up another. There is a somewhat obvious set-up between Portia and Julian in this book. To the extent someone did not pick up on it, the last page announces that theirs will be the next Medeiros novel. Did Medeiros strike the right balance in introducing them and their story here or did you sense a character dump?
Wendy’s response to HelenkayInteresting question. It was quite clear to me, very early on, that Julian would have his own tale to tell. Though, that wasn’t my suspicion because of any overbearing on Medeiros’ part. Julian was quickly a compelling and mysterious character and I wanted to see more of him—and that is how the spin off thing should be done. Medeiros keeps the focus on the main love story. Julian and Portia’s purpose in After Midnight is to support and move the main story forward, which they do. Their attraction builds subtly and slowly—so slowly, I didn’t immediately guess that Portia’s little girl mooning would be reciprocated—into something that left me eager for more.
HelenKay’s final thoughts: A fun and sometimes funny Regency with a little bit of something for everyone. Recommended.
Wendy’s final thoughts: Hats off to intelligent storytelling. Recommended.
You can visit Teresa Medeiros here and purchase this book here and here.