|Ever since Charlotte Brontė wrote the story of how plain Jane tamed bad-boy Rochester, love stories about governesses and their employers have been a staple of the romance genre. Amanda McCabe's Lady Midnight is a recent variant of this tradition.
Katerina Bruni is the daughter of a famous Venetian courtesan. Groomed since childhood to lead a similar life, she is already promised to a wealthy Englishman but has not moved in with him. When she survives a boating accident where everyone else, including her mother and her benefactor, is believed to have perished, she responds to her second chance at life by determining to do something better with herself.
She returns to her father's native England and obtains a position as governess at a Yorkshire estate, Thorne Hill. As the widowed Kate Brown, she is to take care of Michael Lindley's seven-year-old daughter Amelia and instruct his fifteen-year-old sister Christina.
Michael has his own misspent and rakehell youth to worry about. He feels responsible for his wife's death and has nightly nightmares reliving the bloody accident that left him scarred. Intrigued by the new governess, he suspects she is hiding a secret.
Despite their problematic pasts and continued self-doubts, Michael and Kate can't fight their strong attraction for each other. Their initial feelings develop into something more as they share mutual passions. Together, they examine the sources of local legends and explore the stormy landscapes of the Yorkshire moors. As avid readers, they engage in seduction by the book: some of the more engaging love scenes revolve around discussions of either Dante's Inferno or Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. When even the ghostly apparitions of her mother and his wife intervene to encourage their relationship, it isn't long before they acknowledge they were meant to be together.
Kate's past remains a serious obstacle in the path to true love. Not that she agonizes page after page about what an inappropriate match might do to him. Fortunately, this clichéd conflict is cut short by the unexpected appearance of the man to whom Kate was once promised. Julian Kirkwood has also survived the boat accident. Believing his ideal and perfect woman lost forever, he returns to England. When he sees "his" Katerina at a London social event, he resolves to do everything to get her back.
Despite his stalking tendencies and his role as the villain, Julian is not always portrayed in a negative light. Scenes told in his point of view provide insight to his actions while those recounted by botanical-minded Christina depict him as someone who is almost as fascinating as her Yorkshire plants. Christina nevertheless thinks Julian's obsession for Kate wrong and does not hesitate to tell him so. Had she been older, their relationship might have bloomed into something else. Instead it is nipped in the bud.
If the finely drawn and intriguing secondary characters are among the strengths of this novel, they are also part of the problem. The likeable and honorable Michael pales next to the troubled Shelley-like Julian. The former has said goodbye to his bad-boy past long before the novel begins, and his other internal conflicts are resolved half way through the book. So there is little room for character growth. Moreover, though Michael's interaction with Kate entertained me, I found myself wondering more and more about Julian and Christina. Where this bodes well for any future book McCabe may write on the adolescent bluestocking, it detracts from the focus of this one.
These problems aside, Lady Midnight is a satisfying read for those who prefer their historicals modeled on the gothic overtones, luscious prose and extensive introspection of Charlottė Bronte's Victorian-era novels rather than on the witty repartee of Jane Austen's regencies.