A Rose at Midnight (This DIK review was written by a reader)
1993, European Historical Romance (1790s [Georgian] England & France)
Avon, $4.50, Amazon ASIN 0380767406
I first picked this book up at a used-book store and thought "Omigod, what a lousy cover!" I'm glad I didn't judge the book by the cover, for this book is surely keeper material.
A Rose at Midnight begins with cook Ghislaine de Lorgny planning the murder of her employer's unscrupulous rakehell cousin, Nicholas Blackthorne. Without a doubt, this is one of the most original openings ever for a romance.
In her life before the French revolution, Ghislaine had been part of a noble family. She blames Nicholas for not saving her family before her parents were guillotined and she and her brother narrowly escaped. In order to survive, and to help her weakened little brother, Ghislaine did what she had to, including selling her body. She and her brother are separated, and she eventually ends up in England, hired by delightfully plump Lady Ellen.
Because of Blackthorne's reputation, Lady Ellen leaves her estate when he comes to visit, leaving Ghislaine alone to plot mayhem and murder. He survives his poisoning and decides turnaround is fair play, so he kidnaps her. They set out on an adventure that takes them to Italy, and back to France, where Ghislaine is still in danger.
While on this adventure, Nicholas uses his sexuality to dominate Ghislaine. Many authors who write of sexual domination turn me off, but it worked for me here, probably because she didn't overdo it. Most likely, it is because there is so much chemistry between the hero and heroine that the reader feels intimately connected with their torment, dispair, and, finally, redemption.
Ms. Stuart is masterful in her writing. She descends into melodrama upon occasion, but I forgive her that because the chemistry is strong enough to out-weigh it.
My favorite scene is the confrontation between Nicholas and Ghislaine after he learns of her past abuse by a lecherous customer. In fury, she stabs him. His response? Not at all what you'd expect - he tells her his blood marks her as his. Unbelieveable, and under the hand of a less talented author, I'd sniff in disdain, say "Humbug!", and throw the book against the wall. I didn't - I read on and was mesmerized.
The author also provides a splendid secondary romance between Lady Ellen and her brother's friend, Tony. She is unable to see that he's got the hots for her and the lengths to which he'll go to convince her of his attraction are funny and sexy.
Most romances have just one tortured, tormented character. In A Rose at Midnight, Ghislaine matches Nicholas torture for torture, and yet I wasn't overwhelmed by all the bleakness. There's enough humor in her writing to even out the darkness with light. And, of course, the ending provides a splendid conclusion to the torment both have endured.
I've read this book again and again and haven't found another historical by Anne Stuart to match it in terms of drama, excitement, and romance.
-- Marion Smith
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