Thoughts: Low Midnight, by Carrie Vaughn

So, maybe you thought I’d turned some kind of classy corner in my reading material. Maybe you were wrong. Time to review the penultimate book in the Kitty Norville series! We’re well over halfway there!

So. Low Midnight. I was super impressed with myself when I worked out what the title meant. Get it? It’s like high noon, but the opposite.

But Dove, you ask, where is Kitty? Usually all the titles have Kitty in them.

Well, Best Beloved, usually all the books are from Kitty’s point of view. This time it’s all Cormac* all the time.

And though it’s hard not to feel the asymmetry of one out of thirteen books suddenly being from a different character’s point of view, it was sort of a refreshing change. I’ve been getting vaguely annoyed by some of Kitty’s reactions and failures to react to various things in the last few books (including Cormac and Amelia’s indirect killing of an ancient vampire ally and jeopardising of the future of the world or whatever – we still don’t know what Roman’s goal even is by the end of the penultimate book) but I didn’t have that problem with Cormac (though I did get that vague irritation with Amelia).

I think it’s partly because Cormac has such simple wants. He wants to live a quiet, solitary life and be left alone. That’s pretty much it. Kitty, on the other hand, is more complex than that (in this specific way), and that opens the door for small inconsistencies to slip through, in that sometimes things that should bother her seem to just not bother her (see: Cormac and Amelia’s indirect killing of an ancient vampire ally and showing no remorse at all). Cormac’s also a former love interest, so he definitely has a veneer of romanticism over the top of his flaws, making him automatically easier to get on with, whereas Kitty is an everywoman, with all those flaws and struggles and insecurities laid bare.

Amelia has the same sort of complexity – every now and then her magical mentor ghost mask slips and she shows quite a worrying thirst for power, but this is never explored. Cormac doesn’t even think about it. It’s played as her pure, fierce curiosity for knowledge, but she did get a bit disturbing when something powerful was dangled in front of her. And that’s… more interesting, frankly. Where does curiosity about how things work become a desire for power? I guess we’ll never know.

Will this come up in the future? Is she going to turn out to be a liability or worse? Time is really running out for plays like that.

The tone of the book was very different from the Kitty-centric books – third person, very brusque, very Cormac. It was well done and easy to slip into.

HOWEVER. Because Vaughn seems to just want to get on my nerves, of course Cormac’s mental magician-ghost-hitchhiker Lady Amelia Parker (the most noble surname of all time) is “British”. This means she uses the construction “I’ve not [seen this sort of magic before or whatever]” whenever humanly possible, while still doing such quintessentially turn-of-the-century “British” things as reading “dime novels”.

But no. I’ve complained about Vaughn’s failure to write convincing “British” voices enough in previous posts. What I want to complain about now is that her sections didn’t feel different enough from Cormac’s. Vaughn is obviously capable of writing in different styles, in quite a nuanced way (Kitty and Cormac) but she seriously held back with Amelia’s sections, when they should be the most different of all, both in sensibility and syntax and vocabulary. It felt like a hugely missed opportunity, much like the storytelling sections of Kitty in the Underworld.

She stayed quiet when it was convenient to the story, which was sort of disappointing. Having a ghost hitchhiking in your mind shouldn’t be convenient. There wasn’t anything in there that hinted at what we’re told about the beginning of their encounter with one another when Cormac was in prison – that she almost drove him mad. I’m aware that this is all very personal style and opinion, and I’m at risk of complaining about the book not being a different book, but eh, no one’s going to see this and make a decision to read the series or not because of my opinions, so I’m happy in my choices. And I think I’m still in the territory of being disappointed in promises made and broken by the book itself at this point.

Anyway, there were things I liked!

Cormac has a sort of helpful anti-hero lone cowboy aspect to him here, blowing into town and fixing problems in his blunt, explosive but efficient way, and then leaving again. It was cool to see him facing characters from the past that Kitty has only heard stories of, and indeed, interesting to see Kitty from his point of view. I was pleased that Vaughn didn’t fall too in love with her own creation. Cormac’s feelings towards her were genuine and realistic. I also liked following Amelia’s story and flashbacks, my style issues notwithstanding. Being in Kitty’s head all the time means we’ve probably missed out on a lot like this. It’s hard for me not to wish that there had been a couple more volumes like this, from other characters’ viewpoints. Getting Cormac’s prison adventure in flashback only was disappointing, even though it wouldn’t have made for a decent full book on its own. But that’s absolutely a necessary evil of the way Vaughn is telling this story, and overall I think we’ve gained a lot more by witnessing Kitty’s development than we’ve lost random bits of story.

I know, I know, one can’t have everything in one’s book series unless one is Robert Jordan.

While he’s in the mountains trying to find gold, solve 100 year old murders, mediate gang disputes and get the gangs out of the area at the same time, he’s also in charge of fielding the crowdsourced response to the encoded book of shadows the gang came into possession of in the last book, and this yields some fruit too. I must admit, I did guess the mysterious emailer’s identity. I didn’t think it was definitely him, but it occurred to me that it might be, and that it was very possibly someone on his side. Still, his reveal was pretty satisfying.

Calling the amulet they gained from the fairytale-style worthiness quest a red herring was idiotic though – like, fine, leave it in the long grass until needed, but don’t go out of your way to say it’s a red herring when it’s so patently a Key Item. Like, “Gosh, whatever will we do? Roman has been using magic for centuries and he is the best wizard in the world and we don’t have time to learn that kind of magic! Oh look, here’s an amulet which allows people with zero magic to reflect a wizard’s attacks right back at them, killing them instantly. The two are totally unrelated!” Please, girl.

Incidentally, though Cormac gets the key to the encoded book of shadows… we still don’t get to find out what is inside.

This next book is going to have to be a doozy, to both introduce and resolve all the things that still need introducing and resolving.

*and Amelia

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