Friday, 4 November 2011

By Midnight by Mia James

This book must have caught my attention at some point as it was already on my Goodreads to be read shelf, though I don’t remember having put it there! A couple of days ago, I rushed to the station after class but it turned out that my ten minute window was not enough (I usually walk it in 15 mins, so there wasn’t a definite rush going on) and I got there just as the train was pulling out. Now, my train only goes once every half hour and on that particular day I had no reading material with me. So I went into the station bookshop expecting to end up with the most recent National Geographic magazine. Much to my surprise, I found this book instead. I even recognised the cover (presumably from Goodreads). Needless to say, I immediately bought it, without bothering to skim read the back cover to remind myself of the plot, and stuck my nose in.

Presentation: Average-sized YA paperback. The type is small. There are 236 pages broken down into a prologue and 41 chapters, some are short, others relatively long.

Story: After her father lost his job at the Scotsman newspaper, April Dunne finds herself dragged from the life she knew in Edinburgh to a new life of unknowns in Highgate, north London. Things aren’t looking too bright for April: her parents are constantly fighting, there’s been a high profile murder nearby, and she’s been enrolled at Ravenwood – a school for the very bright and the very rich. Though the popular crowd seems to accept her with open arms, she still has her reservations about them – even if she is intrigued by one of the boys, a certain Gabriel Swift. When April finds herself witness to a second murder, where Gabriel was also present, she cannot help but suspect him of the crime. Soon things escalate even further and April finds herself seriously contemplating the existence of vampires at her school.

Thoughts and impressions: Okay, I’ll admit it: at first I was worried that this book would go down the same road as Twilight. I live in constant fear of this these days when it comes to YA books about vampires with romance. It’s true that there was an instant attraction to Gabriel, but there was also an instant attraction to a number of the other boys at the school, so I can forgive this to a point… I’ll come back to this in a bit.

April soon meets Caro, an outsider at the school who does not try to fit in with the popular and the pretty. She’s a conspiracy nut, like April’s father, and the two are soon getting along famously. I liked Caro: she might have been determined to see looming shadows wherever she turned, but she was real, raw, and she was right to call April out on her selfishness when she did.

April, at times, could be dense beyond all reason. Her big panicked run through the whole of London? She’d got a stupid idea stuck in her head by then and just wouldn’t let go of it long enough to see sense. This is the only part of the story that really bugged me. The whole time I wanted to reach in, slap her and tell her to get over herself.

What’s more, I couldn’t believe that she never showed an interest in her family’s real surname. Vladescu? A black prince? Old Eastern European royalty? That couldn’t possibly be one hell of a nod in the direction of Vlad Tepes now, could it? That was too much on the “obvious” side for my tastes. For those that don’t know, the suffix –scu is added to names in Romanian to show lineage (or it was, from what I gather the practise has been dropped, much as it has in English) in the same way that the suffix –son is / was used in English: Johnson (son of John) ; Peterson (son of Peter) ; Hobson (son of Hob = Rob) – you get the idea.

I get the feeling at times that the authors have imposed too much of their own culture on April. They makes references to things that were already starting to lose their importance when I was young and I’ve supposedly got 5 or 6 years on this character. Unfortunately I did not stop reading to write these down, but there were a few of them dotted about the book. There were also a number of unfair stereotypes of Scotland (no summer, no autumn, endless cold, etc.) or details bent to fit the plot. April mentions that she’d never seen a fox in Edinburgh. A few years ago, I was watching a nature programme focused on urban foxes in Edinburgh. Now, it’s possible that April Dunne just never saw one, but the narrative makes it sound like they’re not there at all.

The story does not focus on the budding romance between April and Gabriel. In fact, Gabriel does not actually figure in the story all that much until towards the end. This in turn means that the romance does sort of come out of nowhere – the two characters don’t really get to know each other all that well before the romance comes into play. April’s instant attraction to him is fine. The fact that they have a whole one, or possibly two, conversations before she’s imagining being married to him is also fine (hey, at 16, I imagined whole relationships with people I barely knew.) But if Gabriel has shown no interest in girls since Lily (you meet Lily in the prologue when she dies), why is he now interested in April? There’s really not enough to the romance. I prefer relationships that build up slowly to ones that are just suddenly in your face. This is one of the latter kind.

So what is it about? It’s about unravelling the three murders (yes, there is a third but I’m not saying who as that’ll spoil it. Suffice to say, it hits much closer to home and makes all of this personal for April) and uncovering the reason behind the seemingly random and yet connected killings. It’s about slowly (and when I say slow, I mean s-l-o-w) coming to terms with the fact that vampires really exist and their existence is only scratching the surface of things. Indeed, much as she may reject the idea, April herself has a very important role to play in all of this. I hope that her family’s secrets, often hinted at, are explored in the second book.  I can’t believe that April hasn’t exploded already and demanded that they tell her, what with all the weak “we should tell her already!” “No, now is not the time!”s that are being bandied about. In fact, April seems to get somewhat one-track minded and ignores all the other things around her (the family name, the secrets, the man in the graveyard, Caro’s own problems (these are addressed once and never brought up again)) in favour of focusing on the vampire angle.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the vampire angle presented in this story. It cannot be said that it’s a new take on vampire lore, but it is presented in an interesting and engaging manner most of the time. The exposition dialogues with Gabriel did not go down so well, as Gabriel sort of felt like an actor reading out his lines at this point. I just wish that more time had been spent on other things as well, such as those mentioned above and less time on endless inner monologues. Also, when the villain was finally revealed, they did that James Bond villain thing where they list all of their crimes. I’m not a fan of this style of revelation.

Style: Sometimes clunky, sometimes superficial. There are a lot of unnecessary paragraphs that just seem to go on and on and on and… The author’s strong point is describing emotions: when disaster struck and April felt like her whole world was falling apart, I was feeling it right along with her.

Final verdict: Though I enjoyed the book to a point, it wasn’t one of the best bits of YA lit that I’ve read this year and it was far from being one of the worst. I’m wavering between 2 and 3 stars, but I’m feeling nice today so 3 stars.

Extra notes: There are some ‘bloody’s and other forms of milder swearing, but I don’t think language use got much worse than that. No sex.

1 comment:

  1. Hello!!
    Thank you so much for stopping by my blog!!
    About By Midnight, I totally agree with you. I also enjoyed it but is not mind blowing. I gave it 3 stars in goodreads too. XD *great minds think alike* ;)

    Dear, about Mara Dyer... OMG!! Seriously! it is not only worth reading but is worth buying! I loved it so freaking much! Though that's my personal opinion. When you read it, I hope you enjoy it as much as me! =D

    Tanke care and happy reading!!

    great review btw! ^.^
    Dazzling Reads


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