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REVIEW: Catching Midnight by Emma Holly

Dear Ms. Holly,

Book CoverA few years ago, I read your historical romance Beyond Innocence. While I didn’t love the book, I thought it was better than average and I especially liked your writing voice, so much so that I quoted from it in my opinion piece on style. Therefore, when Janet (Robin) recommended Catching Midnight to me, I ordered a copy of the book and took it with me on a recent trip.

Catching Midnight is the first book in a historical paranormal series that features upyrs, immortal, blood-drinking shape-shifters. Set in the medieval era, the book opens in 1349, when ten year old Gillian is cast out of her home by her mother because her baby brother is infected with the plague. Gillian can sometimes sense people’s secrets and her perception tells her that her mother prefers her brother to her. Nonetheless, she follows her mother’s advice and runs to hide in the forest, where she expects to die.

After falling asleep in the woods, Gillian awakens to hear voices arguing over her. The voices belong to Auriclus and Nim Wei, two upyr elders who both want to claim Gillian. Nim Wei and her “children” (those she has made into upyrs) live in the cities, while Auriclus’s “children” dwell in the forest. Nim Wei believes in the pursuit of knowledge and material things, while Auriclus sees a more austere and simple life as the path to goodness. When the two elders let Gillian choose which of them she will go with, Gillian, though she possesses a lively and curious mind, chooses Auriclus because even more than knowledge, she wants to be a good person.

The story then flashes forward over twenty years. Gillian is now an ageless upyr with the ability to read many creatures’ minds, and she lives in a cave with upyrs who can transform into wolves. The leader of the pack, Ulric, wants Gillian to be his mate. But although he and Gillian occasionally sleep together, she does not feel that their relationship is exactly what she wants, and because she craves the knowledge that the rest of the pack does not care about, she refuses to take a wolf as her familiar and acquire the ability to become a wolf herself.

Sensing that Ulric intends to force the issue, Gillian leaves the cave in the middle of the night. When she takes shelter in a seaside cliff, she is able to hear the thoughts of a baby falcon, and she instinctively knows that she and the bird can join their consciousnesses so that they will then be able to transform from Gillian’s form to that of the falcon and back at will.

Just as Gillian is making the falcon her familiar, Aimery Fitz Clare and his nephew Robin are planning to capture a baby falcon. Aimery is the younger brother of Edmund, the baron of Bridesmere. Edmund’s beautiful but self-centered wife, Claris, believes she is in love with Aimery, and her fixation on him has made Aimery’s life hell, since he lives in Bridesmere where he serves his brother as master of arms. Edmund and Aimery’s relationship is strained by Claris’s infatuation with Aimery, and by Edmund’s envy of Aimery’s courage. Aimery is battle-scarred and huge, and many fear him, which serves to make him feel further isolated.

Such is the situation when Aimery captures Gillian while she is in her falcon form. His nephew Robin names the bird “Princess.” Aimery’s gentleness with Princess appeals to Gillian greatly, and she becomes fascinated with him. After arriving Bridesmere, Gillian takes her human form to explore the castle. In her search, she stumbles across a scrying device that alerts Nim Wei to a disturbance within what is part of her domain. The elder decides to go to Bridesmere and investigate further.

Meanwhile, Gillian encounters Aimery and when he believes her to be a goddess, she does not correct his misapprehension. A mutual attraction develops quickly between the two and Gillian visits Aimery at night, while during the day she learns to fly. But she begins to fear that she will hurt Aimery by sucking his blood, and when Nim Wei arrives at Bridesmere, things become more complicated.

Catching Midnight started off wonderfully. You do an excellent job of blending historical detail with a romantic feel. In fact, the book is so strong in this regard that this aspect of it, along with the presence of honorable yet interesting characters, and the inclusion of a falcon in the story, reminded me initially first of one of my favorite medieval romances, Mary Jo Putney’s Uncommon Vows.

The scenes of young Gillian running away from plague-ridden London were vivid and powerful, as was her first encounter with Auriclus and Nim Wei. The pack and their cave were less interesting to me but I liked the character of Lucius, one of the older upyrs.

Although I was very confused by the scene in which Gillian and the falcon united, since I was not sure whether only their consciousnesses merged or their bodies as well, even after reading it more than once, I was quickly hooked again when Aimery appeared. His kindness and gentleness with Robin and then with Princess endeared him to me very quickly, and I understood why Gillian would feel so drawn to him.

Unfortunately I could not understand why Gillian would fascinate Aimery so quickly, since he had only previously known her as the bird Princess, and did not even know that she and Princess were one and the same. This was where the book did not work so well for me. I felt that Aimery fell in love with Gillian for her beauty and her paranormal nature; her external qualities, in other words, rather than anything specific about her personality.

The biggest barrier to my enjoyment in the book was this one: I felt that it relied too much on Aimery and Gillian being soulmates, and didn’t really take the time to develop the relationship. Aimery’s instantaneous feelings for Gillian made it difficult for me to care about the progress of their relationship once he met Gillian in her human form, since I felt that the progession of that relationship was disappointingly conventional and rushed. It was around this point in the story that I noticed that it was becoming easier for me to put the book down.

In addition, Gillian’s supernatural abilities and power seemed to me to develop in a way that was not entirely consistent with the paranormal aspects of the world-building and this seemed a bit too convenient.

A subplot involving Nim Wei and Edmund developed partway into the book and I found myself more and more interested in this couple and less and less interested in Aimery and Gillian. Nim Wei is a splendid character, clever and cynical, and her interactions with the uneasy Edmund were very enjoyable. I also thought the resolution of Nim Wei and Edmund’s relationship was much more fresh and interesting than the way the obstacles keeping Aimery and Gillian were removed.

Every once in a while I come across a book I feel has tremendous potential, one that raises my expectations and excites me, and when it doesn’t satisfy me as much as I hope that it will, I feel let down, perhaps more so than I should. Catching Midnight is such a book. I feel that several of its parts were special, but the sum they add up to is not all that it could be, so it gets a C+ from me.



This book can be purchased in mass market from Powells or ebook format.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.


  1. Ann Bruce
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 18:50:20

    Janine, I found the second book, Hunting Midnight, more enjoyable than this one. Unlike with Gillian and Aimery, I actually warmed up to Ulric and Juliana and felt a vested interest in their relationship.

    The last book in the trilogy, Courting Midnight was very so-so because too many things made me go, “Huh? For real?”

  2. Janine
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 19:09:03

    Thanks, Ann, that’s good to know. I actually have Courting Midnight because I bought it thinking (mistakenly) that it was the first book in the series, and when I saw that it wasn’t, I purchased Catching Midnight. I was thinking of reading Courting Midnight sometime but now I think that perhaps I should get Hunting Midnight first and read them in order.

  3. Robin
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 22:20:02

    I like the books in order of publication, but I would place the novella (Bastien’s story?) dead last.

    I think my expectations for Lucien’s story may have been too high, although I thought the aspects of his past life were interesting.

    I didn’t have a problem with Aimery’s attraction to Gillian precisely because he had gotten close to her when she was in her animal form. I felt that he could sense her soul in that form, and therefore had a deeper relationship with her than he would have with a normal hawk.

  4. K. Z. Snow
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 22:24:10

    I found myself wishing you’d quoted some sections, Janine! Prose style is a huge factor in my enjoyment of a book — in fact, can make or break a reading experience for me. And as for The Great Gatsby? Perfection. It’s the only book I listed as a favorite on MySpace, since it’s my idea of how a novel should be written.

  5. Janine
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 22:42:03

    Robin, I think no matter how much Aimery sensed Gillian’s soul in Princess, her being a bird still limited what the relationship could be, since so many aspects of a human being’s personality are expressed in words and facial expressions that a falcon cannot convey.

    Also, while I did feel that Aimery bonded with Princess, I did not feel that that bond was stronger than say, the one between Meriel and her falcon Chanson in Putney’s Uncommon Vows, or the one between Melanthe and her falcon Gryngolet in Kinsale’s For My Lady’s Heart. That is, in all those relationships there was admiration for the birds on the human beings’ part, and some sense of the other creature’s soul, but that to me is not the same as a relationship between equals.

  6. Janine
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 22:47:11

    K.Z. Snow,

    I enjoyed Holly’s prose in Beyond Innocence more than in Catching Midnight, but here is a nice descriptive passage from Catching Midnight for you:

    The cave was hidden in the ancient forest, a quiet place with a mouth like a gash in the hard gray stone. No one knew how long it had been a den, not even the pack, and they were centuries old at the least. Ulric, their leader, claimed to remember fighting William the Conquerer’s men at Hastings, but when Gillian pressed him for details he simply said his side had had no horses and were soon defeated. His human life was gone, he said: dust. He could not fathom why she was interested in the past.

    The pack did not like to count their years, even by implication. They lived in the moment, in the hunt, in the playful mating of flesh and fur.

  7. K. Z. Snow
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 00:14:09

    Thank you, Janine! Although I’ve been meaning to delve into many of Emma Holly’s books, since by all accounts she’s a fabulous writer, the timeframe of CM caught my attention. I also wrote a paranormal that ventures into the England of 1349. It would be interesting to see how another author handled the plague.

    Now, off to find more excerpts…

  8. Robin
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 00:57:07

    Emma Holly has excerpts of all her books at her website. Here’s the one for Catching Midnight.

  9. Harry~DayDream
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 02:20:52

    Oh, this sounds like an interesting trilogy. I fancy the historical romances only so far as the fashion goes and the way characters converse. I still wish that the long lost witty, winding, weirdly structured sentences come back.

    I was ready to dismiss it at the mention of shapeshifters and then the mention of wolves. I am not especially fond of them, but the falcon moment certainly brings something new to the table. More people should experiment with animal shapes.

  10. Kirsten
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 09:32:25

    I enjoyed this one for two reasons: the distinctive bird/avatar’s voice and the heroine, who was like, “dude, you live in a CAVE!” and thus she went for Aimery who lived in a CASTLE

  11. Janine
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 10:01:27

    Thank you, Janine! Although I've been meaning to delve into many of Emma Holly's books, since by all accounts she's a fabulous writer, the timeframe of CM caught my attention. I also wrote a paranormal that ventures into the England of 1349. It would be interesting to see how another author handled the plague.

    You might also want to read Barbara Samuel’s Bed of Spices and Laura Kinsale’s For My Lady’s Heart, then. Both are set in the same era and the plague plays a part in both stories. They are not paranormals, though.

  12. Janine
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 10:07:19

    I still wish that the long lost witty, winding, weirdly structured sentences come back.

    I miss them sometimes too.

    I was ready to dismiss it at the mention of shapeshifters and then the mention of wolves. I am not especially fond of them, but the falcon moment certainly brings something new to the table. More people should experiment with animal shapes.

    I think that is a good point. I notice that I’m often fond of books with birds or other flying things (like Sharon Shinn’s angel series or Shana Abe’s drakon series). Something about the idea of human beings being able to take flight captures my imagination. And it makes such a good metaphor for freedom.

  13. Janine
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 10:15:24

    I enjoyed this one for two reasons: the distinctive bird/avatar's voice and the heroine, who was like, “dude, you live in a CAVE!” and thus she went for Aimery who lived in a CASTLE

    Kirsten, that is a good point about the bird’s voice. Two things in this book reminded me a bit of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels. One was the voice of the bird, which I thought was a bit reminsicent of the dragons’ voices in some of those books.

    And the other was the scene in the seaside cave in which Gillian hides with the hungry baby falcons and merges with Princess. It reminded me of a scene in McCaffrey’s YA book Dragonsong in which Menolly, the heroine, takes shelter in a seaside cave and feeds the hungry fire lizards that are hatching there, not realizing that a telepathic bond with them is created in that process. Gosh, I loved those McCaffrey books when I was a teenager.

  14. Jane
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 10:17:10

    I wonder if you, Janine, and Harry~Day Dream would like Claudia Dain’s new series. They are a bit of a complicated read because there are so many people in her books, but the dialogue is fantastic. It is full of the parry and thrust.

    “Lord Iveston, how remarkably splendid you look this evening,” Sophia said with a snap of her ivory fan. “Fully in the flush of full manhood and health. How the ladies must swoon.”

    She was flirting with him. But then, Sophia had the nasty habit of flirting with every man. Louisa had even observed her flirting with Dutton on more than one occasion, and, worse, Dutton had appeared to enjoy it very much.

    “If they swoon, Lady Dalby,” Iveston answered softly, “I fear it is in response to my father’s title, not my flushed manhood.”

    To which Sophia laughed in a manner not entirely modest and to which the Marquis of Iveston blushed. Louisa was entirely sympathetic. Obvious blushing was the curse of those with skin like snow and blushing was the curse of those who parleyed with Sophia Dalby.

    “And modest besides,” Sophia said with a grin. “You will never convince me that ladies do not swoon when faced with your… flushed manhood? What a charming turn of phrase you possess, Lord Iveston. You remind me of your brother, Lord Henry. He, too, has a way with words.”


    “But, of course, it is always the woman who does the choosing in these matters,” Sophia said pleasantly, her dark eyes shining with mirth, cutting him off before he had even begun to lay down the ground rules of their association. “Not that most men realize that, naturally. But you realize that, don’t you, your grace? It is your most enchanting trait, as you must surely know.”

    He knew nothing of the sort. He was somewhat dimly aware that Sophia had redrawn the lines of their relationship, insulted him, and complimented him all in the same breath. He found himself in the odd position of wanting to agree with her. And that is exactly what he did.

  15. Harry~DayDream
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 10:38:34

    I think that is a good point. I notice that I'm often fond of books with birds or other flying things (like Sharon Shinn's angel series or Shana Abe's drakon series). Something about the idea of human beings being able to take flight captures my imagination. And it makes such a good metaphor for freedom.

    Janine, I totally agree on that and there are many spcies of birds, which add to the variety of a potential story. The metaphor of total freedom is also an excellent point, plus the possibility of glides and moves. Of course I meant that apart from wolves and now birds, there are many animals that can be used by authors for their shapeshifters like bears, foxes, large cats, horses, deers and possibly reptiles and sea creatures.

    I wonder if you, Janine, and Harry~Day Dream would like Claudia Dain's new series. They are a bit of a complicated read because there are so many people in her books, but the dialogue is fantastic. It is full of the parry and thrust.

    I love it! Hopefully some day I would be able to read them. These can be great material for research on how people talked back then, since some of my work is suited in a steam punk Victorian world and dialogue needs to eb just like that. Thank you for the recommendation.

  16. Janine
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 10:56:07

    Thanks Jane. I was actually thinking of description rather than dialogue when Harry~Day Dream mentioned long winding sentences. Something like this, from Heyer’s Frederica:

    Lady Buxted, never one to except defeat, had come to Alverstoke House, on the flimisest of pretexts, accompanied by her eldest daughter, who, failing to soften her uncle’s heart by cajolery, had dissolved into tears. But as she was not one of those few, fortunate females who could cry without rendering themselves hideous he was as imprevious to her tears as to his sister’s account of the straitened circumstances to which she had been reduced.

    I really enjoyed the writing in the exerpts you posted. I read and liked several of Dain’s earlier novels. I think my favorite of these may be The Marriage Bed, which has a really interesting twist in it that I didn’t see coming.

    The last of her books that I read was To Burn, which exemplified some of the things that don’t work for me so well about her writing. There were an awful lot of sexual innuendos and speculations in the secondary characters’ dialogue when they were talking about the hero and heroine. At some point I began to wonder if these characters had nothing else to talk about.

    But the bigger problems for me were the religious overtones of the ending and the way the story seemed to dismiss the hero’s original, pagan religion in favor of Christianity. It was like the non-Christian characters’ own religion had never mattered to them at all. There was also a speech at the end of the book, given by the heroine, I think, in which she seemed to dismiss other religions as inferior to Christianity.

    I am very curious about Dain’s recent Courtesan series but I guess what I want to know is whether there is a lot of innuendo and speculation from the larger community of characters in the book and whether there are relgious overtones in these books as well.

    I think Dain is a very creative author, her plots were often fresh and original, and I really like the excerpts you posted, too. But I have so many books I want to try and so little time to read them in that I think whether I read the Courtesan books will depend on your answer.

  17. Debra
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 11:41:09


    You mentioned Shana Abe's Drakon series. Do you have a review for this here somewhere? I have been considering starting the series but haven’t seen a review for it. Thanks

  18. Janine
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 11:44:23

    I have a review that I did here. I really recommend that series.

  19. (Jān)
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 12:07:32

    The excerpt from Frederica made me smile just reading that little bit.

    Thanks for reviewing this one Janine. I was wondering if I’d like it. I have the same aversion to the dependence on soulmates these days, so I wouldn’t enjoy it. I don’t mind it as much if it’s part of the attraction, but to leave it at that is just a lazy excuse for a relationship to me.

    Re: the Abe Drakon series Debra, I’m with Janine on that and love it.

  20. Jane
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 12:40:52

    Oy, the pressure, Janine. LOL. No, I don’t find any references to religion. I think that Dain tries to be very true to the time period and was attempting to reflect, through the overtones of Christianity,

    The Courtesan series strength rests on social intercourse and I use the term intercourse deliberately because part of the fun is the loaded double entendres that dominate the exchanges between the men and the women.

    I find that this kind of exemplifies the spirit of the Courtesan books:

    Sophia’s left eyebrow rose fractionally. “Surely Lord Dutton can tolerate some unpleasantness in his life. He is a man, after all, and men are rather good at tolerating unpleasant things. The same should never be said of women. We may occasionally be required to endure unpleasantness, but we should, at all costs, avoid become adept at it.”

    While the Marriage Bed might have been about religion and come across as distasteful, the Courtesan’s series is about a woman’s helplessness in a patriarchal society and what she can do to ameliorate that by working the system, so to speak. Women in the Regency period had but few choices in life. A society woman had only one: be married. I see these books as showing how women in society flirted and schemed to achieve the best result possible which was marriage to a well favored man that they actually loved.

    Society is shown to be one constant chase, women chasing after men and men chasing after women and many not chasing after the right ones.

    It is, however, dialogue heavy and if you are looking for long, wonderful descriptions, you’ll not likely find it in Dain’s series unless it is someone speaking.

  21. Janine
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 12:54:43

    While the Marriage Bed might have been about religion and come across as distasteful,

    No, no. I liked The Marriage Bed very much. The one that didn’t work so well for me was To Burn. I don’t know if you have read that one? The hero is a Saxon and the heroine a Roman? In any case, I found it sort of convenient that the heroine’s religion (Christianty) was given all kinds of emphasis but the hero’s religion, which was pagan, was not — not just in the hero’s POV but also in the POVs of all his compatriots.

    I don’t want to beat the point in with a stick, but it’s not religion per se that bothers me. I like many medieval romances that have religious characters, like the aforementioned Bed of Spices, Uncommon Vows, For My Lady’s Heart, and The Marriage Bed. Not to mention some 19th century romances with religious characters as well, including Gaffney’s To Love and to Cherish, Putney’s One Perfect Rose, and Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm. I absolutely agree that religion can often give a strong sense of what those times were truly like, and I don’t have any problem with that whatsoever, just with the implication (which I felt was made in To Burn) that Christianity is superior to other religions.

  22. Jane
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 13:03:44

    I understand where you are coming from and I didn’t mean to belittle your position. I think any book that overemphasizes religion, particularly in romance, to the point of being prosthelytizing, is going to be a failure for me as well. I have not yet read To Burn. There are some Dain books I recognized from what other people said about them that I knew that they were just not for me.

  23. Janine
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 13:32:49

    Don’t worry, I didn’t feel you were belittling my position. :) And as for To Burn, you might like it better than I did. As I recall, some readers did. I am probably more likely to be bothered by that issue than many other readers.

    I will think about trying the Courtesan series, since I did really like the excerpts you posted. I can enjoy great repartee as much as great description.

  24. Phoebe Matthews
    Jun 24, 2009 @ 10:02:29

    How nice to be alerted to another good book. I do like the genre. Another great medieval writer that I especially enjoy is a UK author named Lindsay Townsend. She does some outstanding research.

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