Trust Julia Quinn to make you laugh. Any historical romance writer could be funny, but Quinn’s sense of humor is quite particular and, if I may add, simply irresistible. It’s been her trademark, I think. And Dancing at Midnight does not miss this trait out. It was first published in 1995 and is one of Quinn’s remarkably hilarious historical romance works. I’m not sure if it’s the best one, but I dare say that it’s the epitome of a complete work of entertainment fiction, comprised of a light narrative, fun-to-follow plot, and definitely ridiculous scenes and laugh-triggering dialogues.
The story opens with a quirkily amusing encounter between the newly knighted Baron, John Blackwood, and the smart and stubborn Lady Arabella Blydon on the border of the noble man’s estate. They like each other instantly, just like what happens in almost all historical romances, if you don’t mind me pointing it out, but they are both hindered by their own feelings, of insecurity and reasonable dislike respectively. As much as she likes John, Belle finds his icy attitude hurting and hard to comprehend, for she believes that John must be a very nice and good person. But the iciness is not without a reason: John has this horrid past inflicting heavy burden of guilt on him which in turn, gradually, shapes what he is and what he feels about himself. However, strong-willed as she is, Belle does not just give up making John confess his feelings for her. By some dramatically childish way of hers, Belle successfully gets him coming after her and admitting his deep love for her. Unfortunately, it happens just exactly the same time as his finding out that someone lurking in the dark plans to murder him. He decides that he cannot risk Belle’s life, but with Belle’s strong love and stubbornness, he fails to push her away.
I wouldn’t say that it’s a novel thing to couple a sad-secluded-hunted-by-a-horrid-past hero and a sweet-beautiful-nice-young-stubborn heroine together in a historical romance. And I wouldn’t lie that I am so bored and tired of those kinds of characters. But Julia Quinn has somehow presented John Blackwood and Lady Arabella Blydon in a very different way. They are not frustratingly annoying to read, and their funny interaction and conversations shed joyful light on their portrayal even more. The character of John Blackwood might be interlaced with a horrible past and shameful guilt, but I honestly didn’t find him too dark nor complicated. He’s lighter than any burdened-by-his-past male character I’ve ever found in historical romances I’ve read so far. And he’s got Belle Blydon’s light, oddly hilarious stubbornness to match. Belle is not a female character you want to slap just because she is steadfastly determined nor because she is childish by nature. Her character is more of smart and funny, yet innocent and loyal, undoubtedly bearable to read and enjoy. Quinn has definitely created John Blackwood and Belle Blydon to be meant for each other. Together, they comprise a charming, amusing couple.
The problem is, being fun and entertaining is not enough for a novel, however trivial people think the genre is. Dancing at Midnight is written in a light narrative, and it has a naturally flowing plot, seeming not to be unrealistic albeit it’s not a long book. But it’s just such a shame that it lacks the supporting yet deciding factor, which is the solid foundation for John Blackwood’s past bringing a sense of guilt to him. Sometimes a small mistake can indeed make someone feel bad for the whole of their lives, but I seriously don’t get the importance of John’s guilt about something which is not his doing, something which is not directly his fault. His sense of guilt is too big and heavy, and taken too seriously by the author, for him to refuse an unconditional love. Since John’s physical handicap is not that serious, too, I guess that icy and secluded attitude of his is not necessary at all. And there is this particular scene that annoyed me, the climax scene where John and Belle cs trick their enemy, George Spencer, into their capture in Lady Tumbley’s party. I expected it to be better written, better described, more detailed, and emanate more of violence air. I won’t argue about its necessity of being funny and ridiculous, since it’s Julia Quinn’s work, but I genuinely feel awkward every time I read a violence scene that is not violent at all. Among all the weaknesses in a historical romance, this is the least that I anticipate.
All in all, I can only say that Julia Quinn’s Dancing at Midnight is a totally light read. It’s meant to entertain us, to make our day. There is nothing particularly serious about it, there is even nothing special about it aside from its hilarious, and sometimes slapstick, jokes. I personally think it’s fun, especially for its funny scenes and dialogues, but I don’t think it’s marvelously great.