Trolling through my physical shelves, I pulled this old favorite out, and since a) I enjoyed it very much once again, and b) Ms Kleypas is releasing her first historical romance in five years in October, I thought I’d review it.
However, if you have never read one of her books and if, like me, you prefer to read in order and/or without spoilers, you may want to start with the previous series (the Wallflowers quartet), before you tackle the Hathaways, as we see most of the protagonists of those book show up in this series.
Mind you, the Hathaways is not a spinoff of the Wallflowers, is just a matter of geography. And coincidence.
Warning: there’s a fair bit of fetishization/otherization/idealization of Gypsy culture–the ‘noble savage’ thing.¹
Mine Till Midnight, by Lisa Kleypas
This is the first of a series of books about the Hathaway siblings, four sisters and their older brother, Leo Hathaway, the new Viscount Ramsay.
Amelia is the oldest sister, and has taken charge of her siblings for the last several years, since the deaths of her parents. The Hathaways are the children of a country gentleman; much like the Bennett sisters in Pride and Prejudice: long on breeding (if not manners) and short on funds. The title has come to Leo not just recently, but rather unexpectedly, as the family’s tie to even minor gentry is tenuous at best.
Cam Rohan is, as the text takes pains to explain, a rather unusual Gypsy. For more than half his life, he has lived in London, first as a houseboy, and then as general factotum, for Jenner’s, a gambling establishment.
Here’s the (quite godawful) blurb from my paperback copy:
Their lives defy convention.
When an unexpected inheritance elevates her family to the ranks of the aristocracy, Amelia Hathaway discovers that tending to her younger sisters and wayward brother was easy compared to navigating the intricacies of the ton. Even more challenging: the attraction she feels for the tall, dark, and dangerously handsome Cam Rohan.
Their desire consumes them both…
Wealthy beyond most men’s dreams, Cam has tired of society’s petty restrictions and longs to return to his “uncivilized” Gypsy roots. When the delectable Amelia appeals to him for help, he intends to offer only friendship–but intentions are no match for the desire that blindsides them both. But can a man who spurns tradition be tempted into that most time-honored arrangement: marriage? Life in London society is about to get a whole lot hotter…
Does anyone care that only the first chapter of the book takes place in London? Or that the ton Amelia and her family have to learn to navigate consists of something like three families, one of which are the closest of their new neighbors at the Ramsey estate?
Of course not, why would the description actually reflect the book it’s supposed to sell? /sarcasm
Most of the story is actually set in Hampshire, in this lovely but rundown old mansion, and in Stony Cross Manor, the estate of their neighbor, the earl of Westcliff. Through the graces of a number of coincidences–which, is important to note, do not feel contrived–Cam is not only acquainted with Lord Westcliff, but also his guest for a few days.
Between the earl’s personality, and the circumstances at Ramsey House, Cam and Amelia spend a fair amount of time in each other’s company over the next little while. Their courtship is not prolonged, but it progresses slowly enough to convince me of their chance at long term happiness.
Despite the use of some tired tropes, and some purplish prose, I really like this story.
Ms Kleypas has a very engaging writing voice, and her most of her characters are endearing–flawed, just self-aware enough to acknowledge–to themselves and others–this fact; they are people, with individual quirks and personalities. There is wit and humor in her dialogue, and just enough world building² for me to believe the setting of the story.
Amelia is neither the prettiest, the smartest, or the most good-natured of the four Hathaway sisters; her taking charge has evolved naturally, from both character and circumstance. Being rather sensible and self-assured by nature, and presented with a set of circumstances in which there is no one else to depend on, she is happy to become the de facto head of her family.
Or rather, as she loves her siblings, she is willing to devote herself to the task, even though there are occasions when she would happily smack one or two of them upside the head-especially Leo. In fact, there’s this great scene early on in the book, where Amelia and Poppy are on their way to visit Stony Creek Manor, and the spend the entire way there bickering. Poppy’s description of Amelia as a self-sacrificing martyr/porcupine is spot on, as is Amelia’s, “you ungrateful brat!” reaction (paraphrasing a little).
For his part, Cam is both comfortable in his own skin, and yet always on the outside when it comes to other people. Despite being half Irish, Cam lived most of his formative years immersed in the Roma culture. An orphan from an early age, at eleven or so, he was placed with outsiders–gadjos–and basically abandoned by his tribe and family from then on.
Since then, Cam has proven his worth as a person, beyond his dark skin and subtly foreign accent, to those closest to him. Through inborn talent, stubbornness and resilience, he has forged a place for himself among these people, and yet, he is still and always an outsider. Which, more and more, as the years go by, makes him itch to find a place where he is accepted.
It’s right as each of them are facing personal crises that these two meet, and it really is lovely.
It is a testament of how enthralled I am when I read Ms Kleypas’ novels that I usually don’t notice some of the most egregious inconsistencies in the story. For example, I didn’t realize until this last re-read, that some of the questions Amelia asks Cam, after mere days of meeting, are incredibly personal. It’s not just that these are not questions a woman wouldn’t ask a man she doesn’t know well; it’s more, these are not questions the daughter of a gentleman would ask any man, no matter how long or deep the acquaintance.
However, the action, the chemistry between the two leads, and the dialogue flow in such a way, that it took a number of re-reads before the thought occurred to me. I don’t know that this is the case for all, or even many, of Ms Kleypas’ readers, but this–my absolute and unquestioning immersion in the story and the characters–is one of the things that make so many of her historical romances books that I can read and read again, and enjoy every time.
Even when I want to shake a bit of pride off Amelia’s shoulders, and some arrogance off Cam’s hard head, I love going along with them for the ride, again.
The we have the secondary characters, who are really, really well done. I like that Amelia’s three sisters are individuals in their own right, and that their behaviour is age appropriate. Beatrix is an animal mad fifteen year old tomboy. Poppy is a clear headed, clear eyed nineteen year old, who is more aware of the realities of the family’s situation than her older siblings would like. Win may be fragile, health-wise, but this is no die-away flower of fragility.
Merripen is…well, he’s fantastic, really. So much so, I didn’t care at all about the all too obvious sequel baiting there.
If there are any missteps in characterization, they are in Christopher Frost, Amelia’s erstwhile beau, and Leo, the eldest Hathaway–though in his case there are extenuating circumstances.
My main quibble, and even then it’s a minor one, relates to a late bit of woo-woo (hat tip to Eve Dallas for the expression), that makes an appearance late in the story.
Mine Till Midnight gets a 9.00 out of 10
~ * ~
¹ Though this is ‘taken care of’ in a subsequent book, in a way that made me grit my teeth.
² The discussion of what constitutes historical accuracy, historical context, or wallpaper historical, has been going on for a good long time. I don’t know anywhere near enough to judge where Ms Kleypas’ historical romances fall in the spectrum.
A note: I was listening to the audiobook by Brilliance Audio–supposedly the unabridged version. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the Christopher Frost plot thread and character, have been excised from the recording!