Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Glass Slippers: A Review of A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James

A Kiss at Midnight is a Cinderella retelling set in Regency England. I'm going to come at this review from the approach of comparing it to other versions of Cinderella that I've read seen (a good handful), tell you what changes were made, what was kept the same, and whether the book was better off because of it. If I graded this as a plain old historical romance, I suspect the grade would come out very different (not necessarily better).

Positive Comments:

Kate is our Cinderella figure. She lives with her stepmother and stepsister, her parents are dead, and she's pretty much a maid--the usual drill. Most Cinderella's that I've seen are passive heroines--patient, kind, and hard working. Kate has significantly more backbone. She stays in the maid role not because she can't get out, but because she wants to protect the other servants and tenants from her stepmother's inept employment. I like strong heroines, and even though I didn't agree with all of Kate's decisions, I liked her.

Instead of meeting the prince at a ball, Kate spends a good amount of time in his castle (4 or 5 days, I believe). That means that, unlike in the original fairy tale they actually get to talk and get to know each other. A bit. It's not perfect, but the effort was made to actually build up the romance, and that's a good thing.

The stepsister, Victoria, is not evil, just kind of dim. Victoria isn't a rival for the prince's affections, because she's already in love and engaged. Kate and Victoria have a fairly typical sister-sister relationship that allows for some affection in the end, and I prefer that to hateful rivalry.

The mice are replaced with three small dogs with unique personalities. They didn't really serve a purpose in the story, except for one of them being a plot catalyst, but I thought they made cute sidekicks.

Critical Comments:

Kate has Daddy Issues. In the original story, Mom dies, and Dad remarries so that Cinderella will have a mother figure. In this version, Dad marries his mistress, who he's kept for years. It's revealed fairly early on that the stepmother's daughter, Victoria, is biologically his. Naturally Kate is upset by her father's infidelity (I can relate). There are some really uncomfortable themes that spring out of this, though. First, Kate repeatedly says that she want's someone just like Daddy, minus the cheating...Really Kate? Must you be such a cliche? I guess it's good that she's self aware about the whole thing.

Anyway, Kate meets Prince Gabriel and after some verbal bantering she starts to get the hots for him. It's revealed that he's had his way with his share of the ladies--he has a wondering eye, just like Daddy! And then we learn that Daddy once gave up on a marriage to a girl he loved in favor of one with buckets of money. Guess what the prince is doing? Marrying a girl with a big dowry! These parallels are drawn intentionally, and it's supposed to help build up tension so that we want Gabriel to do the right thing and NOT end up like Kate's father. Honestly though, it kind of killed the romantic glow for me. I really felt like her attraction to him had some deep rooted psychological implications that I'd rather not see creep into my fairy tale romance, thank you very much.

I felt like the romance between Kate and Gabriel was only just passable. They have chemistry, but it seems incomplete to me.  They spend a ton of page time apart. Even their first sex scene together is interrupted. So yes, it's more than you usually see in the Cinderella fairytale, but it still isn't enough.

Lastly, instead of a fairy godmother, we get a regular godmother named Henry. This is a personal opinion, not any flaw in the writing, but I just didn't care for Henry. She's kind of brash and worldly, when I would have preferred someone a bit more maternal. But this is a small flaw.

Does this book work as a fairytale? It's ok. It's trying way to hard to be cynical and realistic, and that takes the fairytale feel out of the equation. As retellings go, it isn't the worst I've seen. I would definitely recommend it more to historical romance fans than fairytale fans. 3 stars.

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