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Judging the cover
on February 22, 2007
Sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover. Judging by the swooning, cleavagey woman who seems to be in the initial stages of ecstacy, with a bit of soft purply lighting, "A Stroke of Midnight" looks like a fantastical romance novel. And that... is what it is.
The cover aside, Laurell K. Hamilton's latest Merry Gentry novel is, like many of her latest novels, a minor disaster. "Stroke of Midnight" is actually better than most of them, with the complex political machinations that Hamilton is so good at. But smothering those machinations are sex and a glacial plotline.
After the events of the third book, the human media has been called into the sithen for a press conference centering on Princess Meredith. But no sooner has the conference ended than a pair of corpses -- one human, one fey -- are found. Merry convinces the Queen to let her investigate the human way, and begins delving into whodunnit.
To make things even more complex, the Goddess has been doing wonky things with Merry's powers -- now when she has sex with fey, their powers are reawakened, and then become godlike once more. Needless to say, this is doing lovely things for her obedient harem. But Merry also has to focus on the mysterious murders -- and the plot that may be forming against her aunt.
Sounds intriguing? Well, in theory it is. Unfortunately, the entire plot is not only inundated in softcore porn, but it also takes place in about twenty-four hours. As a result, the plot is so drawn-out and glacially slow that I kept wanting to bang the book against my head.
And, of course, the sex. Hamilton's writing has gotten downright nymphomaniacal in recent years, and "Stroke of Midnight" is no exception. There's virtually nobody Merry doesn't have elaborate and varied sex with, or hasn't had sex with in the past, except for close relatives. Really, she must have supernatural powers if she isn't walking funny by now.
On a more serious note, though the sex has a part in the plot, it's so frequent and detailed that it all blurs together into one throbbing, ecstatic, orgasmic blur. These things are not Hamilton's strong point, and it sabotages the book to have so much of it made up by Merry's sexual gymnastics with men, women, fey, demi-fey, and anything else that walks and talks. (If she has sex to get pregnant, why women?)
And the writing is much in the vein of the sex scenes -- boring, filleresque and rather uninvolving. This is probably because Hamilton is setting it in one day, no more, and so she has to flesh it out with a lot of repetitive dialogue and endless internal pondering. The more supernatural scenes are interesting, but they are also nothing new to readers of this series. And at the end, it merely feels like a teaser for book number five.
What "Stroke of Midnight" does to redeem itself is revive some of those Machievellian power tangles. Sure, Cel is in his cell, but there is plenty of hostility and plotting. This is where Hamilton shines, and if there had been less sex and more plotting, this book might well have blosssomed.
"A Stroke of Midnight" has a few steps in the right direction, but they are baby steps. In the end, it feels deeply unsatisfying, more suited for a drinking game (if Merry has sex with a weirdly-appendaged fey, take half a sip) than for serious fantasy reading.