Anastasia Kaptereva is a petite, proper, Russian aristocrat who was imprisoned and nearly hanged for the murder of her cousin and fiance, Prince Mikhail Angelovsky. Tasia has traumatic amnesia, and cannot remember the events surrounding Mikhail's death. With a little help from her old nursemaid and her uncle, Tasia escapes from prison and travels to London to hide with her distant cousins, the Ashbournes. Believing the safest place for her would be somewhere in the country disguised as a servant, the Ashbournes convince their old friend and widower, Lord Lucas Stokehurst, to hire Tasia, as "Miss Billings", to be a governess to his 12-year-old daughter, Emma. Initially Luke is reluctant, because she has no references. He is intrigued by the aura of mystery surrounding her though, and eventually agrees to accept her on a temporary basis.
Luke is still mourning the loss of his wife, Mary, who died years earlier in a fire. It was during his rescue attempt of his wife and daughter that Luke also lost his left hand. He has many female admirers, including a mistress, who wish to become his wife, but no woman has captured his heart the way Mary did. Tasia is very different than Mary was, but she stirs Luke in a way that he thought would never happen again. When the Ashbournes receive word that Mikhail's brother, Prince Nikolas, may be seeking Tasia for revenge, the truth of her identity comes out. Far from being disturbed though, Luke believes her story and offers her protection. Fearing for Luke and Emma's safety and reluctant to break down the walls of her solitary fortress, Tasia initially resists Luke's love. Their love faces another obstacle in the form of Nikolas, who does arrive with the intention of returning Tasia to Russia to be executed, placing Luke in a race against time to clear her name.
Midnight Angel is not, in my opinion, Lisa Kleypas best novel by far, but it is a worthwhile read. As in most of Ms. Kleypas's other novels, the characters are rather dark, but they just didn't evoke the depth of emotions that the characters in some of her other books did for me. I found Luke to be a fairly likable hero, though perhaps a bit too arrogant and heavy-handed at times. I've heard that some readers are bothered by Luke having a hook in place of a missing hand. I was not disturbed by this in the least. In fact, I think Luke was portrayed as so handsome and confident that I frequently found myself forgetting that he even had this physical flaw. I thought his most endearing qualities were his devotion to and hands-on involvement with his daughter, Emma, and his loving adoration of his first wife. I've never quite understood authors who seem to feel a need to make the first wife unbearable. I really like the idea of a past love that was very strong, yet the hero still has room in his heart for another equally deep love. In this respect, Ms. Kleypas is masterful in creating a picture of two very different, but no less loving relationships, something she also did extremely well in Lady Sophia's Lover.
Tasia was a little harder for me to relate to though. Her personality seemed pretty contradictory at times. Sometimes I really liked and admired her, such as when she was befriending and teaching Emma, or when she decided to defend a pregnant housemaid. Other times, she seemed overly stiff and her passive/aggressive tendencies with regards to Luke's love seemed a bit extreme for the circumstances. I realized that she had been through a lot of hardships on her own and as such had learned to be rather solitary and independent, but since there were a few people who had helped and supported her, the whole self-isolation thing just didn't make much sense to me. If someone had been wooing me the way that Luke did her, I would have melted away. Admittedly, it was a bit of a role-reversal from the norm of romance novels to have the heroine be the one who is resisting love and affection, and perhaps this is why I had a hard time with it. I also found the hero and heroine together to be a bit too aggressive and angsty, arguing a little too much and having too many anger-turned-to-passion moments for my taste.
The secondary characters were very well rendered. I thoroughly enjoyed Luke's daughter, Emma. She added a lot of spice to the book and had a great personality. At 12 years old, she was the perfect blend of a little girl still wanting to be a child and yet being on the cusp of young womanhood. Prince Nikolas is a darkly brooding young man who obviously has a very sordid past, but showed a few glimmers of a gentler side. I didn't really want to like him, but found him rather intriguing in spite of myself. Midnight Angel is the first book in the two-book Stokehurst series, with the second book being Prince of Dreams, Emma and Nikolas's story. After getting a very good look at both characters in this book, I'm really interested to see what kind of young woman Emma becomes and how the rest of their story plays out.
The storyline of Midnight Angel was generally appealing. I began the book hardly being able to put it down and thinking I had another surefire Kleypas winner on my hands, but about halfway through, the story, I thought it started to loose some steam. It did pick up a bit, later on and had a nice but not extraordinary ending with part of the final chapter and the epilogue easing the reader into the next book, giving it a kind of "to-be-continued" feel. Part of where the story bogged down for me was when Tasia started fighting Luke's love, and the other part was their first love scene which seemed to come almost out of nowhere. I also felt like there was a hole in the sub-plot of Tasia's kidnapping. I just couldn't figure out why Luke would leave her unprotected. This is unusual for Ms. Kleypas, as her plots are usually pretty tight. In addition, the love scenes did not really contain the beautiful sensuality that has become one of Ms. Kleypas's hallmarks. I don't generally care if the love scenes in romance novels are subtle or scorching as long as they (and the book in general) are well written, and they fit well within the context of the story. Unfortunately, in my opinion, neither of these was really the case. These scenes just seemed to keep popping up out of nowhere and sometimes just didn't flow well, either within the scene itself or within the context of the story as a whole. The biggest flaw though is that it really lacked the exquisite depth of love and emotion that I have found in most of Ms. Kleypas's other books that I have read to date. I would not recommend this book for first-time readers of Lisa Kleypas, because it really isn't the best example of her wonderful writing talents, in my opinion. However, if you are a fan like I am or are just looking for something different to read, then by all means check it out.
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