The Hard and the Soft

[This review has (some minor) spoilers…]

Today is the release day for Tessa Dare’s new Spindle Cove book, A Lady By Midnight.

Here is my short review: it’s not as good as A Week  to Be Wicked (what is, though? WHAT IS?) but it’s wonderful in its own right and you should read it.

Now, to the long review…

Summary from Dare’s website:

After years of fending for herself, Kate Taylor found friendship and acceptance in Spindle Cove–but she never stopped yearning for love. The very last place she’d look for it is in the arms of Corporal Thorne. The militia commander is as stone cold as he is brutally handsome. But when mysterious strangers come searching for Kate, Thorne steps forward as her fiance. He claims to have only Kate’s safety in mind. So why is there smoldering passion in his kiss?

Long ago, Samuel Thorne devoted his life to guarding Kate’s happiness. He wants what’s best for her, and he knows it’s not marriage to a man like him. To outlast their temporary engagement, he must keep his hands off her tempting body and lock her warm smiles out of his withered heart. It’s the toughest battle of this hardened warrior’s life…and the first he seems destined to lose.

I named this review “The Hard and the Soft” because I felt like those were two elements that best explain Kate and Thorne.

Kate is a kind soul who wears her heart on her sleeve (and on her face, in the form of a birthmark). She appears, on the surface, to be soft. Yet, inside, her long, difficult past has made her strong and steady and able to weather emotional storms. She is hard, but not in a negative way. Perhaps it would be better to say that she is solid.

Thorne, on the other hand, appears hard in every way possible. He is silent except for when he is giving short, crisp answers. He is a physically big man whose size Dare constantly notes. He is a soldier whose hardness was carved and defined in battle. And this is how Dare describes Thorne’s heart:

“whatever black, smoking cinder remained in his heart.”

“stone-hearted”

“that stony thing you call a heart”

“Taylor had diagnosed Corporal Thorne as possessing a stone for a heart and having rocks in his head.”

“His heart was starved to a wasted shadow”

Yet, just as Dare slowly revealed the hard, strong center of Kate that allowed her to make her way through the world as a woman alone, she spends much of A Lady By Midnight peeling back the emotional layers of Thorne, showing the reader that, in fact, what lies inside of him is a rather soft center that is too easily hurt if anyone gets too close.

What works here, like it did in A Week to Be Wicked, is that these characters, so different in many ways, compliment each other so perfectly. Finding that comfortable fit, though, takes work. And it is a rough go. Thorne is hiding secrets and Kate is searching for a family. He thinks that he must protect her by pushing her away and she wants nothing more than to escape into the warmth of his arms (and, as we learn, they are warm, strong, capable arms).

Here’s a thing about me that explains what I love about this book: I like when characters admit to liking each other right from the get go, when there is so side-stepping around those emotions. The conflict isn’t about revealing how they feel about one another but rather from dealing with external forces and interior emotions that block them from being able to commit. And this is true here.

I love this exchange, which starts with Thorne:

“I’m not pulling you anywhere. I’m staying close enough to look out for you, without interfering.”

“Of course you’re interfering. You interfere with my breathing, you teasing man. I can’t just ignore you, Thorne. I’ve never been able to ignore you, even when I disliked you. Now I’m a toy on your string, dangling on your every move and word. One minute, you’re paying me no mind at all, and the next…you’re staring at me the way you’re doing now. As though you’re a voracious, starving beast and I’m…”

His jaw tightened.

She gulped and finished in a whisper, “Edible.”

His exhalation was prolonged, measured. An impressive display of restraint.

“Well?” she prompted. “You can’t deny it. There’s something between us.”

“There isn’t nearly enough between us, and that’s the danger. Don’t you have a modest frock in your wardrobe? For God’s sake, just look at that gown.”

I’ve written this before but absolutely adore Dare’s writing style and her economical use of language. Here are some examples:

“A vinegar jar had more sweetness in it than he did.”

“”You don’t know me,” he said. Both a statement and a question.”

“It was far too quiet. They were much too alone.”

“”Am I causing you pain?” she asked. “Always. Every time you’re near.””

My least favorite part of this book was Ethan. I get why Dare included him. He functioned as a way to push Thorne’s hand, make him commit, finally, to Kate. It felt too manufactured – when they finally came around to the answer for solving their problems, I felt like they could have just started from there.

That’s a minor thing in an overall majorly wonderful novel. Dare never disappoints, it seems.

I give A Lady By Midnight 4 out of 5 stars. And I’ve added it to “My Favorite Romance Novels” list.

Published by Avon Books and can be purchased online at these places:
Print: Amazon | B & N | BAM! | Powells | Other Retailers
Digital: Kindle | Nook | Kobo | Sony | AllRomance

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