Written by: Laurell K. Hamilton
Published by: Ballantine Books

Stroke of Midnight is Laurell K. Hamilton’s newest addition to the series centering upon the deadly exploits and dangers of Meredith Gentry, faery princess and former PI. What sounds like a lame wish fulfillment story is in fact not quite so simple and happy as it sounds like it could be. Merry is still trying to get pregnant in order to demonstrate her suitability to rule the Unseelie Court–given that the Queen is the representative of the fertility of the Court, it is important that she be fertile. Meanwhile, she survives another assassination attempt on her person and on the person of someone very dear to her. An almost secondary murder mystery plot also keeps Merry running and trying to become worth of being Queen.

What is interesting about this series is that it contains only a fraction of the sex that the author’s other major series now contains on a regular basis. At the same time, the violence is also toned down and much less explicit, for all the faery talk of violence, torture, and darkness. The reality is that this series, which started out sexier and originally looked like it was going to be Hamilton’s soft-core porn series, is in fact much less offensive and puerile than the other series. This is not to say that Stroke of Midnight is a poster child for family values–Merry is descended from five (count ’em), five fertility deities, but the sex at least has a convenient plot excuse and is still rarer than in her other series, where the main character went from chaste and religious to violent and slutty in about two books.

What sex there is in this book is quite explicit, but the total stands at only about three scenes, each of which lasts no more than a couple pages, and actually (shock of all shocks) add something, if only something small, to the plot. Besides, the real old faery tales were stuffed with more sex and violence (and sex as violence) than any of Hamilton’s books could ever dream, so for once it’s almost appropriate to have some physicality rule a scene or two. Even the torture scene at the end of this one is bearable and not all that gratuitously explicit or plain-old-gross.

The book does a nice job of injecting a healthy amount of quasi-Celtic mythology and faery folklore into our story. For example, the Green Man symbolism is a lot more important, interestingly tying Merry’s struggles into a symbolic parallel for the struggles of the entire Faery race, not to mention the lost grace of the Goddess that cost the fey their power and many artifacts.

For all that’s right with this book–the characterizations, the scene descriptions, and the mythic resonances–there are still a few things that could be improved. For example, as a minor quibble, a character’s name, Gillett, is spelled a couple of times with a final “e”–an editing glitch. With regard to the plot, however, there are a few holes. Are we to believe the murderer’s identity was truthfully revealed or not? Was there no reaction from Niceven after Merry, et al., almost get her people killed in droves? What happened to the oh-so-painful (and disgusting) moth tattoo while Merry was hugging on Rhys and then pleasuring Amatheon and Adair? And how long with this bloody struggle for the throne drag out? I mean, for Danu’s sake, Merry’s supposed to be the earthly representative of the Earth Goddess and she’s descended from fertility spirits, and she can’t get pregnant when she’s acting like a rabbit in May? Come on. Blood and passion can reawaken the Spirit Plane, but not her womb? And countless other issues that make me tired.

Stroke of Midnight can be recommended to those who have wearied of the endless meaningless, violent, and out-of-character sex in the Anita Black series, but who all the same are not offended by sexual content. If you want a faery tale for grown-ups and are willing to make it to the end, there is some payoff in this one, which is, interestingly, 366 pages in, paralleling the year and a day in most faery tales. Definitely not for kids, but even adults with weak stomachs for violence can handle this one.

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