From the BLURB:
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 . . .
‘By Midnight’ is the first book in a new Urban Fantasy YA series called ‘Ravenwood Mysteries’. The author is Mia James (pseudonym of husband and wife writing duo John and Tasmina Perry).
The book kicks off with sixteen-year-old April Dunne moving with her parents to Highgate, London. April’s father is an investigative journalist who just lost his prestigious Edinburgh post and has had to move his family to Highgate to work for a small-time society rag. April is completely uprooted, and worst of all she has to attend the snooty Ravenwood Academy. Ravenwood is a high school for gifted and ‘genius’ kids, which April is not. The popular kids wear fur-coats, some of the kids are heirs to multi-billion dollar enterprises and all of them have their sights set on the Ivy League. April is out of her depth... even more so when beautiful boy Gabriel Swift takes a disconcerting interest in her.
But pretty soon April discovers the real reason for her father uprooting the family... A story about a Highgate vampire piqued his investigative interest.
I will warn that the beginning of this book is very, very slow. The action doesn’t properly start until about page 207 of this 436-page book. Mia James takes a good chunk of the beginning to world-build the Ravenwood scene and set-up the Highgate vampire mystery. This wind-up is necessary, but since this is a YA Urban Fantasy the pace would benefit from a speed injection. The young audience reading a book which promises vampires are probably used to a more helter-skelter tempo befitting this fantasy genre.
The slow-burn beginning could have been acceptable if there was more focus on the romantic plot. Unfortunately the romance picks up momentum around the same time as the main plot. I really wish Mia James had concentrated on developing the April/Gabriel relationship. They tread a fine-line between writing Gabriel as a mysterious boy and a non-existent character. I think they should have brought him out of the shadows earlier and given more page-time to his and April’s developing feelings. As it is, April and Gabriel’s attraction to one another comes across as slap-dash and almost superficial, as though they are *only* interested in one another’s looks rather than a more deep and meaningful connection.
The lack of romantic emphasis in the beginning also makes the first 207 pages come across as waffling, especially when the mystery plot and romantic plot converge and start picking up the pace at the same time. You do wonder why they didn’t just pick the story up at page 207 to start with?
The slow pace is a bit regrettable, because if readers stick with it ‘By Midnight’ actually has a lot to offer...
‘By Midnight’ is the thinking teenager’s answer to ‘Twilight’. The book is first and foremost a paranormal romance, but there’s also a great mystery woven throughout. Mia James has made the most of the book’s London setting with the legend of the Highgate Vampire. Mia James draws on various London legends to complement the vampire mythology; everything from Jack the Ripper to the bubonic plague is linked to vampires. At times April’s investigations into these various anomalies get weighed down in textbook investigation and summary. But the added layer of London mystery and intrigue makes for a creepy gothic spin and sets the book apart from most other fluffy YA paranormal romances.
“Listen, I’m sorry I've messed you about,” said Gabriel after a pause. “I should have called, I really should have called, I really should. It’s just...” he trailed off. Then, after a glance at her, he continued in a rush, “It’s just there are things I can’t explain right now, things you probably would rather not hear, and altogether it means I think we’d be pretty bad for each other.”The pop-culture aspect is spot-on. Ravenwood Academy and the cliques that populate it conjure an image of Gossip Girl meets Skins. The girls have claws and the boys delusions of grandeur – Mia James is definitely writing relatable and realistic teenage characters... with bite.
Then Gabriel turned to face her, those dark eyes glittering in the streetlights. “But I want us to be bad for each other, I want us to be...”
“Together,” he said softly. “I want us to be together. Like this, like now, just the two of us, no one else. But believe me, things would always be difficult, there would always be things I couldn’t explain.”
Mia James is also writing ‘By Midnight’ in the wake of the ‘Twilight’ craze, so I thought it was quite ingenious that they acknowledged that in the novel. At one point April daydreams a romantic interlude starring RPatz. Brilliant! I loved the fact that ‘Twilight’ isn’t swept under the rug, but rather openly used as a point of reference.
This is a more mature YA Urban Fantasy. As well as writing a sophisticated mystery plot and drawing on London gothic elements, Mia James is also writing some heavy emotional baggage for their characters. Not to give anything away, but April experiences some intense situations and harrowing experiences. Mia James handles the heavy emotions beautifully and with such finesse, and it’s nice to read a YA book in which family dilemmas aren’t brushed aside but rather made a main focus.
The book has a few problems, like a tendency to lapse into page-long summary and not enough romantic development. The slowly unravelling plot could also be a sore point for a YA audience that like a quicker pace... but if you stick with it this book has a lot to offer. A rollercoaster ending, heart-palpitating action and vampires that hark back to their original monster origins. Coupled with a high-school setting this is a fabulous new addition to the YA urban fantasy scene.