Sometimes it's harder to write a negative review than a positive review especially when I see all the 4 star and 5 star reviews so I kind of feel like a party pooper. However, A Gentleman til Midnight was a big fail for me so this is a really long review and spoilerish. Most of the time I felt like I was stuck in a really bad 1980's historical romance. You know the ones where the hero and heroine both act like a couple of brainless idiots, who make huge assumptions about each other (which, of course, are wrong and lead to misunderstandings - grrrr!), dance around each other sexually until one or both are just simply overcome with passion followed by lots of guilt and recriminations and protestations that he/she can't possibly be "in love". Good grief! It's why I stopped reading romances for several years. A Gentleman til Midnight was like a traumatic flashback.
I feel the blurb on the back of the book was a little misleading. Specifically the line which reads ""Her seduction is his obsession." I'm not sure I would call trading insults, arguing all the time, and actively pursuing other marriageable ladies as a particularly successful "seduction" of Katherine. There was some grabbing and kissing punishingly, but not much seduction. I will say there was obsession going on in spades, however. Let's see. James was definitely obsessing about Katherine's breasts spilling over her bodice, obsessing about her legs and how they would feel wrapped around him, and obsessing about how many men wanted to "rut" between her thighs. And now that I think about it, "rut" and various forms of it were used several times when James thought of Katherine with other men.
Katherine was problematic from the first for me. As a female captain of the ship Possession, she's known as Corsair Kate who knows what the pointy end of a cutlass is for and isn't afraid to use it. This premise sounded so good, but she had a tendency to act before thinking so I had some trouble believing this was the same Captain Kinloch who escaped captivity, commandeered an eight-cannon ship, sailed the Mediterranean as a pirate/privateer, and had taken prizes from other predator ships like silks and spices for seven years. She let her temper get the best of her so many times I couldn't see how she was one and the same woman who could calmly strategize how to overtake other ships, friendly or otherwise.
I did like that Katherine wasn't traumatized by her experience as a slave/concubine to her Barbary captor, but her animosity and anger toward Captain Warre for not rescuing her ten years ago seemed inordinately strong considering she thought of Mejdan al-Zayar, his wives, his children, and other slaves as her "family". If al-Zayar hadn't died, I believe she would have been happy to have stayed there forever. To give James credit, he had tried to rescue her, but failed when she was spirited away on a xebec bound for a slave auction on the Barbary coast. She returns to England reluctantly after her father dies when she is forced to defend herself against a bill of pains and penalties which could strip her of the title Countess of Dunscore and her Scottish estate. I also really liked Phil, Millie, India, and Jaxbury. These are secondary characters, but Phil's naughty sense of humor, and Millie's determination to become a surgeon saved them from being tedious as sequel bait. And I would love to know Jaxbury's story.
Anne, Katherine's daughter from her relationship with Mejdan, didn't seem to be anything other than a device to show that James had a softer side. She is used as the burning reason for Katherine's battle against the bill of pains because Katherine wants a safe place for her daughter to grow up. Unfortunately, she kind of disappears toward the end and feels more like a plot moppet than a real character. There were a couple of times when Katherine's interaction with Anne was ...questionable. Anne is blind, and upon arriving in London, she isn't fond of the smells and noise. But Katherine dismisses Anne's complaints as inconsequential. There is an occasion when Katherine impulsively decides to return to sea in the middle of the night. It's something Anne has begged for repeatedly and been denied or brushed off. Yet Katherine in a fit of temper threatens Miss Bunsby, Anne's governess, when she bars Anne's door and asks Katherine to at least wait until morning after she's calmed down.
Speaking of Miss Bunsby, it was puzzling to me that Katherine refused to see how similar their situations were regarding a lack of power and control of their life and reaching out to take control wherever it was possible. Their first encounter is combative, and I cheered Miss Bunsby on when she gave Katherine as good as she got. It was funny that Miss Bunsby never left and made herself invisible around Katherine.
It was interesting and revealing what criteria Katherine mentally composes for a potential groom when it appears that is the only way to retain her title and estate. Well-bred and titled goes without saying but more important to her would be his ability to "obey orders instantly and never questions [her] authority, even in his own private thoughts." Uh, okay. How on earth do you police someone's private thoughts? I guess she would pull her trusty cutlass out and threaten to cut off his man parts if he didn't fess up to thinking insurrectionist thoughts. She was very attached to her cutlass and didn't hesitate to pull it out of the folds of her ball gown when a lecherous Duke made improper advances. All I could think of, however, is how on earth does one hide a two-foot cutlass and scabbard in one's fancy dress?
And then there's James, Captain Warre, and Earl of Croston. I liked him well enough in the beginning. I understood his deception, assuming the name of a lieutenant that perished on the Henry's Cross, because of Katherine's fury at Captain Warre's actions ten years ago. When she finds out his real identity and makes him her cabin boy, assigning him all manner of lowly tasks, he takes it all in stride. But he jumped the shark when he (and Katherine did this, too, to be fair) alternated between lusting after her and hating himself for those feelings. He refused to admit his feelings for her time after time. De Nile is not just a river in Egypt, you know. To add insult to injury, he decides the only thing that will stop him from thinking about "rutting" with Katherine is to find a marriageable young lady, retire to his estate, and read treatises on pigeons. Yeah, that's the ticket! Marriage has many advantages after all, he thinks. It will serve as a diversion from his lust and will "cool" that misplaced lust for Katherine. He will be attending to his duty as a peer. It will give him a renewed sense of purpose. Best of all, it will give him something to think of besides Captain Kinloch. Oh wait, wasn't that covered under the diverting and cooling parts? So being a cerebral young-ish lord, he sets down his criteria for a bride:
1. Bride-to-be must be a lady FIRMLY on the shelf. (I guess a marriage offer would make her so grateful, she wouldn't mind reading him the treatises on pigeons by the fireside?)
2. She must possess skills to handle the household at Croston. (Who needs a housekeeper, right?)
3. She will be happy to give him an heir. (see #1)
4. She will be thoughtful and quiet. (How about just getting a a goldfish? They're quiet and he can imagine he's sailing the seas again.)
5. She will not even know how to hold a cutlass. (This one I understand because at some point - say after the thirtieth pigeon treatise - she might just try to lop off HIS man parts.)
6. Bride must be biddable. (So when he orders her to iron his socks, she'll just jump right on it with a dutiful smile, I guess.)
7. She must never, ever, argue with him. (Because he is a god, after all. He knows all, sees all, and is all powerful.)
James immediately spots a few candidates at various social functions:
1. Lady Maud - at five uneventful seasons, she is firmly on the shelf, but she doesn't get a rose when she dares express a wish to meet Captain Kinloch.
2. Miss Greene - Recommended by a friend who notes her blue dress and "full breasts", but James is no fool. He sees her "bold" gaze and knows she would cuckold him within a week of marriage. Tsk tsk. Those bold gazes will never do, ladies.
3. Miss Underbridge - Very promising candidate.
full lips, handsome nose, sturdy cheekbones (I didn't know cheekbones could be "sturdy"!))
quite clearly on the shelf
James imagines her dozing by the fireside at Croston
Then as an added bonus, he gives her a little test. Does she prefer reading or attending the theater. Answer: Reading of course. Yay, she passed.
Finally, he discreetly "assessed whether Miss Underbridge appeared built to give him an heir." Um, exactly how does one determine fertility merely by looking at lady's shape? Oh wait, wide hips, right? Silly me.
4. Miss Lydia Ridgeway - Again, she passes his stringent requirements by being "passably attractive", on the shelf, and "well-mannered". I'm not sure he imagined her reading by the fire with a hunting dog at her feet, but at least she didn't ask for an introduction to Captain Kinloch. So, win!
Okay, I had a little fun trashing James, but his reasoning was just so ridiculous. It was almost as bad as Katherine's requirement for her groom to not even think a thought that undermined her authority. James finally decides that if he can just have Katherine once, he knows his lust will burn itself out. He gets a "preservative" (condom) so he can do all he wants to Katherine "without consequences", and then is so overcome with passion he completely forgets to use it. It was also hard to forget that he thinks of her as "his beautiful piratical emasculator." I guess she's the 1767 version of Lorena Bobbitt?
One of the biggest reasons I ended up not liking him very much was his lying to her to force her into marriage with him. She has fled London for Scotland after a disastrous hearing on the bill of pains and penalties. Though they didn't rule against her, they made it clear they would look favorably on her case should she marry. While she's away from London, James finds out the committee decided in her favor after all without the requirement of a marriage she doesn't want. James has by this time decided lust is as good as love, wants to marry her, but assumes she would never marry him if she could hold Dunscore outright. So he follows her to Scotland and soon comes to the conclusion that he "needed Katherine like a cannon needed powder", "like a sail needed wind". So he does what any sane, rational man does: he lies to her about not knowing the committee's decision.
"If they came to an understanding tonight, they could marry in the morning - blessed be liberal Scottish law. He would waste no time consummating the union, and then if the news did arrive it would be too late."
"...and he could pretend he'd missed the vote by a hairsbreadth before setting out for Dunscore. She would find out eventually, but then she would be irrevocably his." (379)
And, of course, telling her he loved her wouldn't work because Katherine "was like an enemy ship. She would have to be captured." (Please, no more, I beg you. All of those Skye O'Malley books are flashing through my head.) Let me just say that Nicholas, James' younger brother, is almost as bad. He has fallen in love with a "fragile", "delicate" flower of womanhood who needs to be cloistered in a convent so no man could "defile" her body. I'm wondering where these two brothers acquired their views on women and sex and love and lust. Enough already.
A Gentleman Til Midnight was a frustrating reading experience for me. I really didn't like the manufactured friction and complete lack of communication between James and Katherine. James' ideas on selecting a bride were, I guess, normal for the time period, but still troublesome for me, and Katherine's weren't much of an improvement. It wasn't fair to Katherine or to those perfectly nice ladies for him to appear to be openly pursuing marriage to them while he lusted in his heart (to quote a former President) for someone else. I don't know why James and Katherine couldn't just be honest with each other about their feelings instead of piling miscommunication on top of misunderstandings on top of outright lies. I know others have had a different reaction to this book, but, for me, I was disappointed.