Wednesday, 28 July 2010

By Midnight - Mia James

April is deeply upset when her father takes a job at a small paper in London, and moves his wife and daughter from Edinburgh to do so. At first she is just miserable because she misses her friends and has to start a new school, Ravenwood, where many of the students are either stunningly beautiful or frighteningly clever. But then the deaths start, and April realises that she might be in danger as well. Suddenly there is no one she can trust — not even the beautiful and mysterious Gabriel, who April is drawn towards. Set against the backdrop of Highgate in London, By Midnight tells a tale of love, loss and quiet horror.

There are a lot of vampire stories around now, mostly thanks to the massive success of Twilight, and I have read a number of them. Some are definitely better than others. I regret to say that this is one of the worst that I have read, for various reasons which I will deal with at length shortly.

Firstly, I wanted to mention the few parts of By Midnight that I did enjoy. One of these was the ‘Clueless’ style of the school, involving cliques and bitchiness and makeovers. Tasmina Perry (one half of the writing team) draws on her particular expertise from the bonkbuster-style novels she usually writes to make this aspect exciting and fresh.

I also enjoyed the relationship between April and her father, William, which is heartfelt, warm and realistic. However, these facets of the novel are not enough to make it a compelling read.

One of the reasons for this is the pacing, which seemed snail-like for the most part. If I was feeling charitable, I would term it a slow burn mystery, as the different parts of the story reveal their secrets — but, really, I just found it incredibly boring. It takes forever for the meat of the tale to begin, and then it is just very dull. I ended up skipping passages to get to ‘the good bit,’ but it never materialised. The climax of By Midnight begins incredibly close to the end of the book and whips past with little tension.

Mia James (a nom de plume for a husband/wife writing team of John and Tasmina Perry) uses lengthy exposition in a clumsy manner to convey much of the back story: the use of dry textbooks to explain away the Highgate mystery; the long conversations between Gabriel and April, where he talks without any passion about vampires; a final discussion involving Miss Holden towards the end of the novel where an entirely new concept is dropped into the story in a dull paragraph of discourse. I appreciate that it can be difficult to convey history to the reader without long sections of explanation, but other authors have managed to do this successfully.

In addition to this, Mia James employed another clumsy method of passing across information to the reader: that of two people being familiar with something discussing it for the benefit of the person reading By Midnight. In this case, April and her grandfather Thomas discuss a picture hanging in his house — a picture she has seen many, many times before, showing a portrait of one of her ancestors. Thomas reveals it is Alexander Hamilton, something April would have known. I find this unloading of information very frustrating and amateur.

The dialogue does not read smoothly, often jarring the reader out of his or her immersion in By Midnight. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason for a character to say what they do. For instance:

I think you might be right,” she said. “No one laughs when you say Stonehenge has a certain feel to it, or even that a wedding ring does.

Umm, what now? What is the connection between Stonehenge and wedding rings? Who says that a wedding ring has a certain feel to it?

I also felt extremely uncomfortable at Mia James’ fairly obvious ‘lifting’ of ideas from other, more popular, vampire stories. As an example, we have a section of dialogue in By Midnight that felt like blatant stealing from Twilight:

You’re a honey trap for vampires. Everything about you is designed to draw them in: the way you look, the sound of your voice, even your smell.

Edward says something extremely similar to Bella. In addition to this, the concept of Furies — girls born to hunt vampires, three a generation, destined to have super strength to combat vampires — sounds remarkably like another vampire slayer we all know and love. I don’t know whether Mia James was popping these in as an homage to the source material, but it made the novel feel like a rushed mish-mash of other vampire stories.

The last point I want to make concerns the nature of the relationship between Gabriel and April. I found myself unable to accept it, because there seems to be no basis for their mutual attraction. I mean, I know teenagers do sometimes involve themselves with people purely based on looks (as do grown men and women) but I want to see more from my literary relationships! I want to see the characters connect with each other and talk, learn about each other and find things in common. Instead we have April mooning over Gabriel and saying things to herself like:

"No, if she was honest, she was hoping that Gabriel Swift would decide he wanted to marry her, sweep her off to the Bahamas for a beautiful beach ceremony, and then, after a bout of amazing lovemaking, reveal that he was stupendously rich and personal friends with Justin Timberlake."

At this point she has had a brief conversation with him, hasn’t even kissed him, and yet is thinking about marriage!

In conclusion, I found this novel dull and unimaginative, with very few redeeming features. At my most cynical, I would say it is a blatant cash-in on the success of the Twilight novels, and that it fails on every level. There is plenty of very good YA fiction out there, some of which includes vampires. Please try something else rather than spend any time on By Midnight.

This review has already been posted to FanLit

If you would like a positive review of this book as a comparison, check out My Favourite Books


  1. Well, sparkly vampires never work for me anyway. But the one thing that popped into my head reading your review was that the girl fantasising about marriage after a brief conversation, might be an attempt at making it more conservative-proof, as in at least any lustful thoughts will then be had inside marriage instead of pre-marital etc. That might not be the most elegant explanation, but it's the best my brain can come up with at the moment. I hope you catch my drift ;)

  2. I knew, even before reading your comments on the book, that I would't even consider reading it. Why? The cover. I see a cover like that and I immediately think: "poor/lazy writing", "band-wagon jumping" and "complete lack of depth".

    I know this speaks as much about my prejudices regarding book covers as it does about an instinct for spotting a poor novel but really, a little effort on the first thing people see when pick up a book wouldn't go amiss? Surely, even the people who read and enjoy these books must, by now, be getting fed up of the same generic covers (pretty girl/boy, faux-moody poses)?

    Sorry, rant over. Excellent review, by the way. And much kudos for linking to a positive review as well. :)

  3. @Mieneke - I sort of catch your drift, yeah, but it was written in such an artificial fashion, IMO. She's seen him a couple of times and starts thinking about marrying the guy. Bit daft, if you ask me!

    @Sharon - totally agree! The current cover trend for YA paranormal books is completely insipid and slightly embarrassing. I totally get why the publishers are doing it - it is an instant suggestion (if you liked Twilight, you'll like this too - it looks the same) - but it is getting really tired. Means that on the few occasions when an imaginative cover is tried (such as Sisters Red) it really, really stands out.

    I felt that, because my review was *so* negative, I really had to show that other people liked it!

  4. I enjoyed this book although I did think it was a bit slow moving in parts. I see where you're coming from but I don't agree with all of it. I liked the fact that is was a British vampire tale based on historical events (kind of). I did want more action in the relationship though. I'm about to write a review for this.

  5. Not sure it was something I would have read before, but I will be very interested to see Lynsey's review to see what she enjoyed about it. I think you were fair.

  6. I also like how you linked the other review (which I went and read) This was on my wishlist but not as highly ranked as some others I've put on there. I don't know... I've always loved vampire stories even before they got fashionable so try to read everything vampy but some stuff just doesn't appeal lately... like the Vampire Diaries and now I'm wondering about this one too. Maybe one to borrow from the library rather than buy. Or maybe it's time to have a break from YA vamps and get back to some blood thirsty neck chomping eh?

  7. @Lynsey - I'll be interested to read your review once it's done, pop a link in my comments :-)

    @Steve - thanks!

    @Carmen - I would advise library borrowing. If Mia James (Tasmina Perry) is registered into the author library scheme thing, then she'll still get royalties for that and you don't have to lay out cash on what I believe is an inferior book.

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  9. I quite enjoyed By Midnight until April's father was killed. I think the writers ran out of steam at that point. Towards the end, I just started counting the lines that were directly lifted from Buffy (and there are quite a few). And Gabriel? What, like the ANGEL Gabriel?