When my daughter was very small, I amassed quite a huge collection of VHS tapes that kept her glued to the television and thus entertained and out of my hair for hours. Some of her favorites included the Disney adaptations of classic fairy tales like Snow White, Peter Pan and of course, Cinderella. As a matter of fact, if I close my eyes now, I can still hear those mice singing as they industriously sewed a ball gown from scratch.
A Kiss at Midnight, Eloisa James' new regency romance, does not have singing mice. Or mice of any sort. But there is a castle and a godmother. And of course, a handsome prince.
Prince Gabriel Albrecht-Frederick William Von Aschenberg of Warl-Marburg-Baalsfeld, to be exact, who is devilishly adorable, as all princes should be. He is also an exile who, along with assorted relatives and an impressive menagerie of exotic animals, has been banished to a remote castle in England. Gabriel, as is expected of a prince, also has a strong sense of duty. In order to maintain his castle and competently support his people, he must marry for money. And soon. How fortunate that his older brother, the Duke, has arranged such a marriage, finding him a wealthy Russian princess to be his bride.
And of course, what would a Cinderella story be without a Cinderella? When Kate Daltry's father died, his new wife, the wicked stepmother, relegated Kate to attic rooms. Treated no better than a servant, Kate struggled for years to make sure her father's estate survived by working closely with his tenants and shielding them from her stepmother's harsh treatment. Now, she must save the vicar's widow from eviction. With little choice, Kate agrees to masquerade as her injured half sister Victoria and accompany eighteen year-old Algie, her future brother-in-law, to Pomeroy Castle. Algie must secure approval of his hasty marriage from Uncle Gabriel, the prince, before Victoria's indiscretion becomes obvious.
Gabriel, in the meantime, has resigned himself to marry the Russian princess sight unseen. That is until he meets "Victoria," his nephew's intended. Mesmerized by her looks, challenged by her bold mouth and intrigued by her reluctance to fall for his charm, Gabriel finds himself enamored with the wig-wearing beauty and it isn't long before he discovers her real identity. Kate, likewise, is irrevocably drawn to the enigmatic prince, but always remembers he is betrothed to another - a real princess with enough money to help Gabriel fulfill his duty to his family, tenants and castle.
The witty, honest dialogue between Kate and Gabriel drives this story and Ms. James' treatment of a progressively dismal situation is both sensitive and sensuous. I felt deeply for both of these characters, but more so for Kate who, with little control of the situation, refuses to fade away because of a badly broken heart. There is also a worthy cast of entertaining minor characters who lend support to both sides. Particularly worth a mention is Gabriel's half brother Wick, whose loyalty to Gabriel and honest assessment of the situation earned him a secure place in my heart (and hopefully in a sequel).
Of course, a romance by definition provides a happy ending. As do most fairy tales. A Kiss at Midnight is no exception, but we must wait for it. I assure you, though, when this story's happily ever after makes an appearance, it will leave you positively cheering. Forget about the singing mice and add this one to your must-read Regency romance list.