Beyond Innocence

Beyond Seduction

Catching Midnight

Demon's Daughter

In the Flesh

Personal Assets

Strange Attractions

Courting Midnight
by Emma Holly
(Berkeley, $7.99, R) ISBN 0-425-20632-7
In Courting Midnight, Emma Holly has created a wonderful blend of emotional depth and explicit sensuality – it’s just what I always hope for in an erotic romance.

Lucius White is a shape-shifting immortal of almost unimaginable age. In fact, he is the “last of the first upyr, the sole member of his race who remembered any world but this.” He is also able to wield enormous power over the minds of humans, although he prefers not to use it. Able to function in daylight, Lucius is traveling in northern England with Edmund, a young (only 400 years or so) upyr who has appointed himself Lucius’s companion and caretaker. (Edmund and his brother, Aimery, were central characters in an earlier book, Catching Midnight.)

When they come across a carriage accident, Lucius is surprised to find that the young man who’s been hurt bears an uncanny resemblance to himself. When the young man, named Lucas, dies, he transfers all his worldly goods – and all his memories – to Lucius. The upyr is nearly overwhelmed by the influx of emotions and passions he long ago ceased to feel.

Intrigued by these strong feelings, and encouraged by Edmund, Lucius decides to travel to the town of Bridesmere, where Lucas was headed to take up his inheritance, and take the young man’s place. There, the handsome and wealthy Lucius becomes the reluctant cynosure of the local matchmaking mamas.

Lucius has no interest in any of the conventional neighborhood belles, but he does find himself oddly captivated by the unconventional Theodora. Theo is in mourning for Nathan, the only young man who ever preferred her to her lovely older sister, but Nathan died shortly after joining the Navy to fight Napoleon. Theo is a nicely-brought up young lady, although her family’s circumstances were much reduced following the death of her rector father. She outwardly resists Lucius’s sensual advances, but Lucius can read the minds of mortals so he knows that she is attracted to him and that a well of untapped passion lurks beneath Theo’s proper façade.

The story unfolds against the backdrop of the social intricacies and ambitions of the people of Bridesmere, and the author has set the scene beautifully. The quite ordinary people of the community – with all their foibles and vanities – make a good contrast with the supernatural upyr moving unobtrusively (for the most part) among them. The secondary characters are clearly drawn, and every character has some role to play in the unfolding of the story. One of the reasons the book is so engaging is that everything is germane; the author never wastes time with filler.

As clearly wrought as the secondary characters and situation are, however, the book belongs to Lucius and Theo. In the early pages, I was made uncomfortable by the selfishness and manipulativeness of Lucius’s attitude towards Theo as he experiments with human senses and emotions. It’s amazing how much an eons-old being can learn, though, in 300-odd pages, and Holly does a lovely job of showing his transition from someone who’s simply acting like a human to someone who has more true humanity than many of the people around him.

Theo’s journey is also one of self-discovery, as she learns to trust herself as well as Lucius, in spite of some significant obstacles.

Because this is an Emma Holly book, the sex is both frequent and explicit, but because it’s based so firmly in the characters of the lovers, it’s also sensual and emotionally satisfying. It’s too easy for the sex in R-rated romances to seem gratuitous and repetitive, even clinical, but Ms. Holly manages to start at a high level of sensuality and then add emotional intensity to each encounter. The result is a rewarding experience for any reader who prefers a high level of heat in her romance reading.

It’s the winter equivalent of a beach book – a nice, warm read to heat up a chilly winter evening.

-- Judi McKee

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