After Midnight...
by Maggie Shayne, paranormal (2000, reissue)
Silhouette, $6.99, ISBN 0-373-20178-8

I have no idea why this compilation of three Maggie Shayne Silhouette Shadows reissue is called After Midnight.... What after midnight? There's nothing in here that is remotely connected to vampires, incubi, demons, and werewolves, unless I count the vampire that sucked all originality and spine from the heroines of Miranda's Viking, Kiss Of The Shadow Man, and Out-Of-This-World Marriage. The heroes, by the way, aren't fully unscathed either.

I am desperate for anything to break the cycle of deja vu in my romance reading, which is why I picked this compilation. A Viking in modern day, a gender-reversal Starman tale, and some sort of Gothic amnesia thriller, what can go wrong?

Maybe it's just me, the cynic, but egads, this book just drives home how uncompatible the darkside of fantasies and beasties are with romance (the latter when taken in the context of today's homogenous writings, morality constraints, and the dreaded Curse of The Antiseptic PC-ness).

Miranda's Viking is the worst of the three. It's a no-brainer exercise in contrivances. Heroine working to please uncaring Daddy by helping him to fulfil his ambitions (why is it that in romances 90% of the "brainy" heroines are always working on their daddy's projects and never their own?) - finding a real life legendary Viking. They find one, and it's alive. Ho hum. What happens next? The usual. Chased by cops. Viking going Huh? for one page before losing all his Viking-ness. Villain with gun. The usual.

And it is a contrived business. I get a bad feeling when the heroine tells the comatose hero (whom she thinks is dead) how unpretty she is, oh, how all men run away from her, and how sad she is that he is the first man she is talking to without him running away in boredom. (I can imagine why they run, and it's not because she's ugly.) My bad feelings are realized when soon the heroine doesn't even resemble any decent human being with her bag of neuroses, insecurities, and zero sense of humor. And the hero? Is he a macho Viking? Will a macho Viking think something utterly overgrandiose and bombastic like He would not die! He was not yet ready to ride with the beautiful Valkyrie upon the backs of their magnificent horses! This in the midst of his death throes, mind you.

A real Viking macho man would go "*&^%ing son of a *&^%$! ^&%$ you all, you *&^%ing mother$%#^ing - I WILL NOT DIE!"

Miranda's Viking is prime sissified romance with nary a sliver of entertainment value.

Next, Kiss Of The Shadow Man, which I'm hard-pressed to categorize as a paranormal romance. It's also another exercise in stereotypes, this time the amnesiac Good Woman who realizes what a slut she is in her pre-amnesia time and now she has to make up to her husband. And this is the Madonna/Whore complex bipolarization with nary a brain cell behind it.

Like, for instance, if Caitlin finds her husband so sexy, why on earth would she marry him and then cheat on him, et cetera in the first place? Is it merely amnesia or a touch of premature senility, dear Cait? Why so drastic a behavior change anyway? Fine, maybe it just runs in her family. How's the hero? Boring, typical jock ass who insults and mocks the wife for every attempt the wimp carries out to placate, make up to, and make her man happy. She's rich, she's a bitch, she's a slut. At the same time, he lets it on to her, a woman recently recovered from a near-fatal accident, that he is boinking her brother's wife. And he treats her like dirt, even when she is still recovering from an accident.

Then, at the end, he does a turnabout and tells her, "I will love you no matter what." I can't help but to wonder how many times he may have said that line to Caitlin before in their five-year marriage.

I know, call me a skeptical old jaded bag of brittle bones. The suspense saves this one from being a total flooze - when the story turns to someone trying to kill Caitlin - is it a ghost or mortal? - I sit at the edge of my seat in thrill. Maybe Maggie Shayne should write straight suspense - when it comes to romance, she tends to pour too much sugar and not enough spice into the broth.

The Starman one, Out-Of-This-World Marriage is absolutely ruined by the heroine falling utterly, absolutely, totally in love with the hero who plays push-and-pull hot-and-cold games with her throughout the whole story. A He doesn't love me! misunderstanding angle is used to prolong the story, making it a total blah. If female aliens are this boring and spineless, they better not invade this planet or I will personally greet them with my tank.

Of course, Maggie Shayne is a popular author, so what she is doing is obviously right on track. I make no apologies for my taste, however. What good is a paranormal romance when the plot and main characters are so typically cookie-cutter material? It takes more than wallpaper spacecrafts and dead Vikings coming to life without needing Viagra to make a paranormal romance.

I think it's time I reread my copy of Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint.

Rating: 51

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