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By Midnight Cover Picture

By Midnight

Mia James

Published 2010       436 pages

Summary (from the book jacket)

April Dunne is not impressed. She's had to move from Edinburgh to Highgate, London, with her parents. She's left her friends - and her entire life - behind. She has to start at a new school and, worst of all, now she's stuck in a creepy old dump of a house which doesn't even have proper mobile phone reception.

Ravenwood, her new school, is a prestigious academy for gifted (financially or academically) students - and the only place her parents could find her a place, in the middle of term, in the middle of London, on incredibly short notice. So she's stuck with the super-rich, and the super-smart… and trying to fit in is when the rest of the students seem to be more glamorous, smarter, or more talented than she is, is more than tough. It's intimidating and isolating, even when she finds a friend in the conspiracy-theorist Caro Jackson - and perhaps finds something more than friendship in the gorgeous, mysterious Gabriel Swift.

But there's more going on at Ravenwood than meets the eye. Practical jokes on new students are normal, but when Gabriel saves her from… something… in the Highgate Cemetery, and then she discovers that a murder took place, just yards away from where she had been standing, April has to wonder if something more sinister is going on… and whether or not she's going to live through it…

The Review

By Midnight is the tale of sixteen-year old April Dunne who moves to Highgate in London and finds that the famous Highgate Cemetery isn’t the only place infested with vampires – her posh school is full of them too. Written for the Young Adult market by Mia James, the pen-name of British husband and wife writing team Tasmina and John Perry, this vampire fantasy gets (what I suspect will end up being a series of Ravenwood Mysteries) off to a fair start. Fair start? (Yes, I know – not exactly exuberant praise – but let me explain…)

Firstly, one half of Mia James is bestselling author Tasmina Perry who has written a number of bestselling novels for adults. The other half is her husband John, a professional reporter. Between them they have a huge amount of writing experience and yet together they have managed to produce a book that reads like a slightly awkward first novel.

Highgate. Murder. Vampires. If ever there was ever a book I was predisposed to like By Midnight definitely would fit the criteria. Highgate Cemetery is my favourite place in London; trust me here when I say I’m not weird and that the West cemetery tour is a magical, not morose, experience. The slightly bizarre story of the Highgate Vampire (a spate of rum goings on at, and around, the cemetery in the ’60s and ’70s) just adds to the mystique of the area. The real mystery here is why more vampire books don’t draw on the legend of this amazingly Gothic place. Combine this with murder, intrigue, romance and vampires – what more could one ask for in a book?

Well, despite the overwhelmingly attractive selling points, the book falls short of being a thrilling read in a couple of places. The most noticeable thing about the book is its length and the length of some of its passages of text. Particularly noticeable are the start of chapters where paragraphs can be nearly two pages long in places. These daunting blocks of text slow the books pacing down to a snail’s pace at times. Overall the story takes a long time to get started, there aren’t any vampires for the first hundred pages and reading this over-long novel feels laboured on more than one occasion.

April Dunne’s character wasn’t always easy to identify with either and her romance with Gabriel seems inexplicable. She meets him, has a couple of conversations with him and starts thinking about marriage. The next minute she thinks he might be a serial killer (on very scanty evidence, just a hunch really) and one has to wonder at her eager willingness to believe something so awful about the person she supposedly is falling for. Her conflicted emotions and approach may actually be a realistic character study for a teenaged girl but it makes her an irritating protagonist at times.

The Ravenwood school setting and the secondary characters it provides don’t seem all that credible. The school is an odd mixture of Sunnydale High and every school featured in every YA book where the protagonist has felt that her peers have more money, glamour, beauty and wit than she does. It’s like it tries to be too many things at once and doesn’t seem to really settle on what it actually is.

The other thing about the book that lacked credibility was that once the plotline gets started and the legend of the Highgate Vampire is introduced the author wastes no time tacking on references to Jack the Ripper too. Why? The two things are both factual London crimes but they are completely unrelated. To me this just seemed like a cheap shot at getting another bit of sensational London history into the story. If I’d been more engaged in the story I might have been prepared to suspend my disbelief long enough to buy it, but I wasn’t.

However, don’t let yourself be constrained by my prejudices. By Midnight isn’t all bad. As an English native it’s always great to read a book by a British author, since the urban fantasy and paranormal romance genres are so dominated by US writers. The descriptions of Highgate Cemetery are eerily accurate and the use of dead foxes in the story an inspired addition (since in real life Highgate Cemetery is a good place to have a close encounter with urban foxes.) The story has a creepy vibe that I think most teens will love and leaves the reader with an overwhelming impression of dark vampire menace on the streets of London that lingers on long after the book itself has been finished.

LoveVampires Review Rating:

Review Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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