In Midnight Bride, Susan Carroll has crafted a well-written story set in a picturesque, 19th century Cornwall. Unfortunately, the main love story wasn't as well executed as the writing. The story of the principal pair of lovers never grabbed me, but I did enjoy a much briefer romance dealing with a secondary set of lovers. Maybe that is because I prefer a story of redemption to a tale of a descent from grace, however happily the latter turns out.
According to the dust jacket, Midnight Bride is Susan Carroll's third book about the St. Leger family and the first I've read. I spent the first 100 pages feeling as if I were at a dinner party where everybody else knew each other, and I was the odd man out. I did figure out pretty quickly that Valentine St. Leger, a doctor with the ultimate in healing hands, was the hero and that he thought of Kate Fitzleger as an innocent child while she wanted him to realize that she was now a woman.
No one is sure exactly how old Kate is. She was left in a London foundling home as an infant and only rescued by Effie Fitzleger and brought to Torrecombe as a pre-adolescent. Terrified by the change from the crowding and noise of London, Kate refused to leave the coach until the gentle Val St. Leger coaxed her out. From that first meeting, Kate has adored Val. Now, after ten years in Torrecombe, Kate decides to try magical means to turn Val's affection into a romantic love.
Thinking in terms of magical solutions comes naturally to the residents of Torrecombe. All the St. Legers are descendants of a medieval sorcerer named Prospero, and it is Prospero - a very lively ghost - who helps Kate. And Kate needs help. Aside from the difference in their ages…Kate is in her late teens, Val is 32…a male St. Leger can only marry the woman designated to be his bride by the current Bride Finder. Effie Fitzleger, Kate's adoptive mother, fills that position, and she says that there is to be no bride for Val. If he marries, his bride will die an untimely death. Kate doesn't care. She is determined to marry Val.
As May-December romances go, this one had its hurdles to leap. Kate's age is problematic since the year of her birth is unknown, but to me she acted like a rather immature 18 or 19-year-old, still lost in daydreams. Val, on the other hand, was particularly mature and sober for a man in his early 30s. He had been injured in the Peninsular Wars and was left semi-crippled and in continuous pain. Added to that, his healing gift allows him to absorb and cure his patients' pain so that he is unusually aware of the suffering of others. For me, the disparity between Val's temperament and experience and Kate's immaturity made their romance both less believable and less compelling.
The catalyst that changes Kate's relationship with Val is the arrival of Rafe Mortmain in Cornwall. I was unclear as to why all the St. Legers detested Rafe Mortmain and what he'd done - presumably in earlier books in this series - to earn their hate. I did understand, however, that Rafe's hatred of Val St. Leger was fueled by a magical crystal, which Rafe wore on a chain around his neck. Even though Rafe was a wanted man in Cornwall, he had come back from America to transfer the poisonous crystal to Val. Again, I wasn't sure why. Why not just throw it in the ocean? However, in the process, Rafe stumbles into his own, charming little romance, an event that went a long way toward redeeming the book for me.
Rafe's experiences kept me reading, hurrying through Val's trials after he accepts the crystal from Rafe to get back to Rafe's story. Carrying the story places quite a burden on a secondary character, but for the most part Rafe Mortmain is able to shoulder the load. His characterization, combined with Susan Carroll's excellent writing and a colorful setting, were enough to allow me to give Midnight Bride a moderately favorable recommendation. While it's no page-turner, it is a pleasant, if uneven, read.
--Nancy J. Silberstein