Tuesday, July 13, 2010
By Midnight by Mia James
April Dunne is not impressed.
She's had to move from Edinburgh to Highgate, London, with her parents. She's left her friends - and her entire life - behind. She has to start at a new school and, worst of all, now she's stuck in a creepy old dump of a house which doesn't even have proper mobile phone reception. Ravenwood, her new school, is a prestigious academy for gifted (financially or academically) students - and the only place her parents could find her a place, in the middle of term, in the middle of London, on incredibly short notice. So she's stuck with the super-rich, and the super-smart . . . and trying to fit in is when the rest of the students seem to be more glamorous, smarter, or more talented than she is, is more than tough. It's intimidating and isolating, even when she finds a friend in the conspiracy-theorist Caro Jackson - and perhaps finds something more than friendship in the gorgeous, mysterious Gabriel Swift.
But there's more going on at Ravenwood than meets the eye. Practical jokes on new students are normal, but when Gabriel saves her from . . . something . . . . in the Highgate Cemetery, and then she discovers that a murder took place, just yards away from where she had been standing, April has to wonder if something more sinister is going on.
. . . and whether or not she's going to live through it . . .
When I initially heard about By Midnight I was a little cynical. I mean, is there really anything left that hasn't already been written about teenagers and vampires? Well, as it happens, yes there is. Not only that but I found I was pleased to be found wrong, ecstatic in fact. Much like Liz's review of Dark Goddess I also had to take a few days out before writing this so I didn't gush too much.
April Dunne has been relocated to London and is hating it, her new school is elitist and unfriendly. Alongside this her parents are arguing constantly and April can barely get a reception on her phone. A murder of a famous rock star just around the corner from April's house means she has to be home straight from school which is a disaster for her social life. Fortunately April ignores good advice and soon finds herself exploring the cemetery at night. She discovers a dead fox and blood - too much blood to belong to one fox - only to be saved by the uncommunicative but gorgeous Gabriel from school.
Things improve for April as she befriends conspiracy nut Caro who fills her in on her theories behind Ravenwood. Students have been disappearing but no-one seems too worried about finding out about it. April's dad, a journalist, is also investigating something weird - vampires. When April takes some photos at a party she discovers that some of the most popular kids in school don't show up on film. Then, another murder takes place and April finds herself being questioned by police and more involved than she wants.
So, what's so good about By Midnight? First off, the setting of Highgate in London. I love Highgate cemetery, have been on the tour and often mull over if I can afford to be buried there (I can't - bah). The real-life mystery of the Highgate vampire is explained and this forms the basis of the story. As a result the whole book is dripping in Gothic horror; from the architecture to the parties. Even the autumnal weather gives the By Midnight a kind of shadowy, murky glamour. I also loved the characters who were all "real" teenagers. Parties have alcohol and people have sex - there's none of this skirting around the issues pretending that they don't happen. The most perfect part of it for me was that it encapsulates the whole confusion of being a teenager. April remembers when she got on with her parents and when they got on with each other. Now they hiss at each other in corners whilst April's life is a closed book to most of the adults who surround her. She feels alone and confused but unable to turn to anyone except her friends to find the answers.
The pace of By Midnight is perfect too, just the right amount of action and reflection and April is instantly likeable and relateable. I found myself whizzing my way through, desperate to find out what it was that made April different and why she was being held in suspicion by her peers at Ravenwood. There's some wonderful dialogue and one-liners throughout. This little quote gives you an idea of where April and By Midnight differs from other vampire stories.
'You're certainly different, April Dunne.' He chuckled, holding his side.
'What's so funny?' said April, still annoyed.
'Well, most people confronted by a vampire for the first time scream or beg for their lives. You, on the other hand, stab the vampire and then start telling him off.'
Now I've finished I'm left drumming my fingers wondering when I can get more from April and Ravenwood.