The Hathaways have accidentally inherited a viscountcy, and oldest sister Amelia is trying desperately to hold the family together with both hands. Their inheritance comes with massive expenses and no money, the manor house could be knocked down by a strong breeze, brother Leo, the new viscount, is attempting to drink himself into oblivion as an escape from grief, sister Win is nearly an invalid after scarlet fever, sister Poppy is beautiful but entirely unprepared for the social whirl, sister Beatrix has an obsession with animals and mild kleptomania, and adopted brother Merripen is a prickly and protective Rom with a dangerous temper.
While trying to sort this mess out in her head, Amelia wanders onto familiar territory and into a familiar character (at least for continuous Kleypas readers) — her family’s new lands, as it turns out, stand adjacent to those of Lord Westcliff, of the Wallflowers series. The man she encounters is Cam Rohan, half-Roma factotum of Lord St. Vincent’s gaming club, out in the country for a weekend. Cam’s struggling through some personal challenges of his own at the moment, feeling shame over his inexplicable ability to accumulate wealth and over the extent to which he has become tied down, to one location, in conflict with his Romany roots.
The cultural differences provide the first hurdles — Kleypas doesn’t succumb to “gypsy” stereotypes and treats the Roma with a great deal of respect (though I honestly don’t know with how much accuracy or romanticizing, in spite of the careful treatment), but she also doesn’t gloss over the prejudices (which are not only historical but very much still extant). Both Cam and Amelia start out viewing a relationship between them as impossible for this reason. When Cam makes up his mind that Amelia is the girl for him, however, he won’t be gainsaid — even by the lady herself. Amelia seeks to retain her independence, having mentally placed herself on the shelf, devoted entirely to her family. Cam has to tease out her romantic side, but also proves himself indispensable when it comes to managing the family. He’s a great hero — as I knew he would be when we first met him — dark and mischievous, practical yet cheeky. He coaxes Amelia into loving him — or, at least, into admitting what she already feels — with a great deal of charm and sly humour. I’ve seen from some reviews on Goodreads that other readers have been frustrated with Amelia’s delay in succumbing, but I find it quite realistic, both for the social considerations and for emotional veracity. That feeling of not wanting to surrender independence, particularly when you’ve just gotten used to the idea of it and the responsibility it entails, can be powerful, and I was glad that Kleypas gave us a heroine who didn’t melt immediately and forget her own values and goals at the first sign of interest from a dark and handsome stranger. I like Amelia for her stubbornness and her occasional fits of pique; they make her a far more interesting and relatable character.
The conflicts in this book are a lot less predictable than in many romance novels — as is often the case with Kleypas, since she frequently steps outside the traditional bounds with her subject matter. Ex-fiances, rooms covered in bees (a personal horror for me), possible hauntings — they all swirl together, giving Mine Till Midnight an extra edge of excitement alongside of the romance. As ever, Kleypas shines best with the ensemble, and the Hathaways are certainly no exception. From the first book, we get a cast of three-dimensional characters, each with their own quirks and foibles — and some with darker demons to face down. The seeds of the rest of the series are all here, but they never threaten to overwhelm the main plotline. Overall, Mine Till Midnight is a thoroughly enjoyable book and a great start to another lively, engaging series from Ms. Kleypas.