A Midsummer Night's Sin
by Kasey Michaels, historical (2011)
HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77610-8
A Midsummer Night's Sin is the second book in the Blackthorn Brothers trilogy, and like the book that comes before it, this one is a pretty uneven read. The main characters are unique and interesting, but somehow things don't come together as well as they should.
Regina Hackett is a dutiful daughter. She knows her place, and she definitely knows her role in the drama - she will become the virtuous daughter that will marry at least an earl and give her daddy the connection to gentility that he has always wanted. That doesn't mean that she hasn't covertly done her best to delay her fate, though. In a way, she is at best the object of pity to the rest of the Ton, as she is the daughter of Lady Leticia, the poor woman who was pretty much sold off in marriage to an upstart tradesman to pay off her family's debts, and everyone knows that poor Lady Leticia spends her days and nights drinking herself silly. Leticia and Regina's aunt are excellent examples of women from penniless families who were married off to horrible men with money, and Regina is well aware that, as a well-dowried young lady of dubious pedigree, the only men she will get an offer of marriage from would most likely be penniless, desperate, and... disagreeable, let's just say.
Therefore, when her cousin suggests one evening that they sneak off and attend a masquerade ball, sensible Regina can't help thinking that perhaps this would be one rare night for her to let her down and forget the present. Unfortunately, what could have been a harmless escapade turns out to be a disaster. No, not only because she comes across her father taking part in some seedy activities there, but also because her cousin Miranda goes MIA. It is perhaps a good thing that the man she impulsively sneaks off with for a kiss, Robin "Puck" Goodfellow Blackthorne, is one of those charming men with close ties to the most covert part of the Crown, and he is willing to lend a hand mostly because the lady is adorable and he is sucker for women in trouble.
Unlike the previous book, the plot in this one is far more tightly plotted. Since we are dealing with the slave trade, this book is not exactly sunshine and cheer from start from finish. Therefore, it is rather disconcerting to read this book and realize that, for the most part, only Regina seems to show any genuine distress over her missing cousin. Puck seems to be in it to charm the pants off Regina, and while some secondary characters have their own reasons to keep Miranda from being found, as I soon learn later in the story, it is still puzzling to read the story of a missing young lady who could be taken by slave traders and realize that most people don't seem to give a damn about her fate. It's like watching a scene where there is a dead elephant in the middle of the room but everyone in that room just chats and drinks tea as if nothing is amiss. I feel like shaking some people, especially Puck, and yelling at them, "A young lady is missing! Shouldn't you guys act a little more concerned?"
Still, I do like the main characters. Puck is a nice change from the usual broody and melodramatic hero. Like his other two brothers, he has good reasons to be unhappy about the circumstances of his birth, but instead of brooding and blaming the world for his blues, he puts on a cheerful front. Indeed, for a guy of his background, he can be quite a romantic. Okay, since he is a practiced womanizer, perhaps he should be good at charming the pants off everyone around him, but when he falls for Regina, the whole thing feels adorably quaint and sweet despite the fact that the whole romance is happening in an accelerated pace.
On her part, Regina is an interesting heroine too in that she is everything a typical sweet romance heroine isn't. She knows that she is doomed to be a martyr to her father's ambitions, like her mother was to her father's ambitions, but that doesn't mean that she harbors no resentment about her fate. Like the heroine of the previous book, Regina isn't some dingbat who is determined to please family members that do not deserve her affections. Does she dislike her father? Yes, and I don't blame her. In fact, it is refreshing to see another rare heroine who shows actual discrimination when it comes to giving people her love and affection. Unfortunately, her relationship with Puck is as clichéd as can be. She becomes another feisty heroine who is determined to help the hero in his investigation and, later, get the hero to deflower her just like every other heroine out there. Even so, she still manages to stand out by showing an adorable ability to lie like a professional on behalf of the hero when they are in a sticky situation. Her ease at making up things makes sense: she has been acting as the perfect and dutiful debutante for so long, after all.
The secondary characters are interesting, too. Puck's brother is built up as the mysterious hero who will get his story in the penultimate book, so it's no surprise that he features prominently here. I must admit that I can't help feeling a bit intrigued by him despite my cynicism when it comes to very obvious sequel baits. Despite becoming a caricature of a villain later in the book, Regina's father is for the most part a magnificent villain. Regina's mother starts out as a drunkard and a punchline, but as the story progresses, she becomes a more developed character and feels more like a real tragic character.
And really, while the middle of the book can get bogged down by the tedium of the familiar dance and song between Puck and Regina, the last third of the book is a very strong and gripping read. The build up to the suspense is actually pretty good, and here, Jack and Puck really shine as very capable and dangerous men - one a more stereotypical silent but deadly agent, the other a charming gentleman who can actually kill without blinking. Also, Regina demonstrates that she loves Puck as much as she knows him like nobody else, and their more romantic exchanges can really melt my cold and cynical heart. My only disappointment is that the Blackthorn family saga, which was built up considerably in the previous book and had me interested in knowing more about that dysfunctional family, takes a backseat here. But with this being a pretty busy book, plot-wise, perhaps that is a good thing as there is enough here to keep our hero and heroine busy.
Thus, A Midsummer Night's Sin is a rather frustrating read. I do like this book more than I should, thanks to the not-so-stereotypical hero and heroine and the way their romance makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But it is only in the late third of the book that everything comes together wonderfully. Up to that point, things just meander around as the characters talk and interact in a jovial manner that doesn't seem appropriate for the plot. I won't regret reading this book because I feel that the last third of the book is good enough to make me almost forget the weaker first two-third of the book, but I will always feel that this book could have been so much better.
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