|Teresa Medeiros climbs on the vampire bandwagon with After Midnight. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get a very good seat and the results are unconvincing.
Caroline Cabot has been caring for her two younger sisters for eight years, since the death of their parents when she was sixteen. She has resigned herself to a life of spinsterhood, but hopes that her lovely younger sister, Vivienne, will marry well and help provide for all of them.
Fortunately, it looks as though Vivienne, who’s been living in London with their snobbish Aunt Marietta, has captured the attention of Adrian Kane, Viscount Trevelyan. Adrian is rich, handsome, charming, a bit of a rake, and rumored to be a vampire because he never goes anywhere during the day.
Caroline is not disturbed by this speculative silliness, but her younger sister, Portia, unfortunately believes every over-wrought word.
What does disturb Caroline is Adrian himself. Why does she find him so strangely compelling? He does seem to be hiding something, or else why does police constable Larkin – who was supposed to be a close friend of Adrian’s when they were boys at school together – keep showing up, asking questions and offering dire warnings?
And Caroline is not at all sure how Adrian feels about Vivienne. His behavior toward her is more avuncular than passionate. Self-appointed guardian of her sisters’ futures and happiness, Caroline can’t leave her sister in a potentially dangerous situation, so she decides to do some “sleuthing.” And, for some reason, she takes the idiotic Portia with her.
I mention this, because it turns out to be typical of this story. Caroline is supposed to be the smart one, the sensible one – and yet she simply cannot stop making a cake of herself. Witness her reasoning for beginning to suspect that Adrian may be one of the undead: “I know that I couldn’t possibly be having such shameful thoughts and dreams about a man who is practically my sister’s betrothed if he hadn’t case some sort of wicked spell on me!” Yup, that’s the only explanation I can think of, too.
As a result, instead of seeming like a fully-formed, unique character with a will of her own, Caroline becomes more of a pawn of the author, doing and saying whatever is required to make the story progress in the ‘correct’ direction. Just as I would begin to believe in the character, she would do something that seemed inconsistent with the girl I’d seen or been told about. As a reader, I find this very frustrating.
Adrian is more consistent, if not more fully formed. Again, instead of a vivid individual, he’s something of a romance-hero placeholder. He more or less does what you’d expect of a romance hero, but he doesn’t really stand out from the crowd.
In fact, in my opinion, Ms. Medeiros missed a couple of marvelous opportunities to explore what would make this characters jump off the page. Caroline has martyred herself for her sisters – yet she’s sabotaging Vivienne’s relationship with Adrian because she has feelings for him herself. Adrian is using Vivienne to reach a goal that is crucial to the survival of someone he loves – how can he reconcile this with his growing feelings for Vivienne’s sister? Yet these truly compelling motivations go largely unexplored.
The story itself never becomes convincing for much the same reason. Ms. Medeiros is an experienced writer, and her prose is very readable (if I occasionally find it slightly melodramatic, I put that down to personal taste), but she doesn’t really seem committed to the paranormal element of her story. For a very long time, I thought the vampires would turn out to be a wild figment of someone’s imagination. When we finally learn the truth, I found out I wasn’t reading the story I thought I was reading. Not exactly the kind of surprise I welcome.
Teresa Medeiros is a writer of talent with many fans who has deservedly won excellent reviews for several of her books. She is, however, perhaps not the world’s most consistent writer, and I would not rank After Midnight with her best work.
-- Judi McKee