In the Midnight Hour
by Patti O'Shea
(Tor, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-7653-5579-9
****
In the Midnight Hour kept me up far later than it should have. Aware of the hour, I kept reading because I had to know what would happen. At the same time, I didn't want the story to end. I suspected it would be a long time before I came across something so captivating.

Ryne is a Ginneal, a race of witches who have co-existed with humans. Because of persecutions and what-nots, they have gone into hiding. Although they live among humans, they have their own ruling council, code of conduct, social universe and security force.  Troubleshooters, as the latter are known, are responsible for protecting the world from evil, namely demons and witches who have been tempted by the dark side. Ryne is one of these magical enforcers.

 Ryne has been pursuing Anise, her former mentor who turned to black magic. Convinced that the wicked witch has entrapped a human inside a cartoon character, Ryne casts a dark spell to free him and wakes up the next morning with a deliciously naked flesh-and-blood Deke Summers in her bed.

Several problems ensue. First, Ryne used black magic, a serious no-no for the Ginneal. No wonder the Ginneal council, who already suspect her of having crossed to the other side, want to do more than slap her fingers. Instead, it alerts her to her second problem: she didn't do her homework properly. In fact, Deke is only free until the next new moon. If she doesn't find a way to free him permanently, he will be trapped in Cartoonland forever. In the meantime, Anise is still after him. As Ryne fights to keep him alive, she must also learn why Anise cursed him.

Finally, there's the most tortuous problem of them all: what to do with Ryne's attraction for Deke. For reasons that become apparent, she has vowed to have no relations with humans.

The story advances at a perfect pace. With all the dangers that dog Deke, there is plenty of action. Because each new confrontation introduced a new problem or provided another clue, I never got the feeling that everything was more of the same. Instead, the fights hiked up the suspense as well as the emotional stakes.

The well-crafted plot may have held my attention, but the characters captured my heart. Ryne is an intense and intelligent butt-kicking heroine, with a big enough chip on her shoulder to make her one of us.  She has a perfect match in Deke. Despite his professional background in enforcement, he knows how to step down - even when it means to a woman. Not that Deke is a pushover. Even as he acknowledges that Ryne outdoes him, he looks for other ways in which they can equals. Their verbal exchanges and the sexual tension are other highlights of this riveting novel.

In the Midnight Hour is sure to be a welcome change for readers who are getting tired of the usual run of paranormal heroes - testosterone-charged Alphas beating their chests about their bonded mates. I'm already looking into O'Shea's backlist, and I wish there were some magic spell I could cast to ensure that there will be more of the Ginneals. (Are you listening, Powers-that-Be at TOR?).

 

--Mary Benn


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