Monday, December 24, 2007

A Stroke Of Midnight

...some dim bulbs, which I am for reading this nonsense...

OK, this is an embarrassing one. A Stroke of Midnight, by Laurell K. Hamilton, is related to the "crack books" (the Anita Blake series) that Julia got me hooked on a few years ago. It's the fourth in the Meredith Gentry (NicEssus) series, following A Kiss of Shadows, A Caress of Twilight, and Seduced by Moonlight. You gotta love the titles. I've read the last three in the past four weeks, so I guess this is a review of the series, not just the latest book.

Basically, Meredith is a real-life fairy princess, living in modern-day America. Except the land of faerie isn't all sparkles and magic -- it's bloody and ruthless and power-hungry. Meredith is next in line to take over the throne of the 'dark fairies', but first she has to get pregnant (to prove her fertility). So... this involves having sex with just about every fairy man she encounters, including her large troup of guards. What's not to like?

So, I can't complain too much because obviously I keep reading this author, but seriously. Get a copyeditor. In her early Anita Blake books, I thought maybe it just because the publisher was too cheap to properly edit her books (full of outright typos and terrible, terrible writing mistakes). But now she is a big bestseller author, you would think the publisher would want to invest in a good editor? However, apparently her books sell regardless, so they figured they could just save on the cost and skip that step.

The story is a pretty good one, and as usual her 'world' is interesting and fun and full of surprises. She has obviously done a lot of research into the old faerie lore, and also her imagination has filled in a lot of details. But that's part of the problem. The books read as if she's just making up the story as she goes along, throwing in random details and characters as she thinks of them, without regard to how they fit into the overall story. An example: one of her characters keeps changing height. First he's almost 4 ft tall, then he's almost 4 ft, 9 inches, then he's back to 4 ft. It's just sloppy storytelling. There are countless examples of this sloppiness. Call me old-school, but I always thought that every detail in a book needs to 'fit', needs to relate to the story overall, needs to remain consistent (or, if it changes, needs to be for a reason) and should, above all, keep the story moving. This author delights in page after page of pointless dialogue (two pages debating which character ought to answer a phone call), repeated notes about main points of the story (as if we could forget), and worst of all, LOTS of description of characters' appearance. Normally, this is not a bad thing. But the fey (fairies) are supposed to be preternaturally good-looking (kind of like vampires), so a lot of emphasis is placed on describing the men.

The problem is, this author just has bad, dated taste. For instance: a character named Rhys had his eye eaten/clawed out by goblins so he wears a patch (sometimes). In one scene, he is described as having: ankle-length white curly hair, a white trenchcoat, a pink shirt, cream pleated trousers, white loafters, a Bogart-style hat, and a white eyepatch decorated with seed pearls. He wears this to work. In the 2000s. As a private detective. Or bodyguard (depending on the day). Keep in mind, he's supposed to be amazingly handsome. I'm like, it is really your intent to make him look like a dork? Other characters favor short-shorts with tennis shoes and mesh tank tops. Or loafers (what is with the loafers?).

She is also supposedly in love with one character named Frost. We are constantly reminded of this great love; however, there is zero emotion attached to the narrative around this 'love'. There are lots of 'knowing' smiles and 'secret, meaningful' brushes of hands... but why? No backup is provided. She just loves him. I'm guessing it's because he looks like Fabio. (see: bad taste)

In the Anita Blake series, her main character has some serious hangups about sex. Even though she is now afflicted with the ardeur and has to have wild sex nearly every six hours, she is still a middle-America goody-goody at heart and constantly reminds us of her confliction. In contrast, Meredith has NO hangups about sex, and therefore can handle just about, um, anything. I have a feeling the author created this new series in part so that she could write chapters of sex scenes with no hangups. I said chapters -- I mean chapters. Entire chapters full of crazy, wild, fairy sex! Yahoo!

OK, one more criticism: the last two books take place over a period of maybe three days. Come on. I know it's a series, but it's almost as if she just wrote the whole thing and then divided it in the middle so that there could be more books. This book just ends abruptly, and I'm sure will pick up exactly where it left off in the next book. How many assination attempts, otherworldly sex encounters, torture scenes and political maneuvers can you fit into three days? Lots. It also helps that now that we are in the land of faerie, time moves at a different pace. But still. If it takes two pages to answer a phone call, you can imagine the rest.

Anyway. So why do I keep reading these books? Well, I like the interpretation of the old fairy myths; it's fun to see them all in play in a single story. I appreciate her research. I also like the alternate approach to court scenes. I read that instead of basing her 'court' on English courts (full of decorum and tradition) she based them instead on the French courts, bawdy and power-hungry and violent. So, that's kind of fun. Her queen is an unapologetically bloodthirsty torturer who is a pretty serious sadist (in every sense) and that's something you don't see in books very often. So I appreciate the novelty.

Also, there is definitely a 'train wreck' aspect to this series -- it's so bad sometimes, I just have to keep reading to see how bad it really is. I have also read that she intends this series to have a definite end, a fairy-tale (of course) ending. So I might keep reading them just to see who, of all her suitors, she ends up with. As long as the library keeps having them in stock, I'll check them out from time to time.

I feel a little guilty for spending my reading time on trashy books, but they are quick reads, and mildly entertaining.

But after three in a row, unlike our heroine Meredith, I've had my fill.

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