Midnight Magic is a collection of three stories themed around a painting that is able to give people a second chance at their lives
"Second Chance" by Rebecca York sets the stage for these three stories, introducing us to the
titular painting "Midnight Magic" that is the door to a different time and place for those who are ready to use it. Sara Drimmon owns an antique shop and is still recovering from the unexpected death of her fiancé, Matt, in an arson attack nearly a year before. She is invited to visit an antique shop
where she sees the painting and is told that it can give her a second chance. Not expecting anything to happen, she takes a closer look at the painting
- and finds herself back in time at a party a year before where she first met Matt. She has a second chance with him and, presumably,
the opportunity to change events so that he doesn't die in the fire - but will
she mess up the opportunity?
The device of traveling back in time to re-live your life is an interesting one.
From the beginning, Sara behaves differently in the hopes of changing the course of history, partly through choice and also because she knows so much about Matt;
the last time around, this was their first meeting. She has to keep secrets from him
because she doesn't think he will believe her if she tells him the truth, but in keeping her counsel she is behaving oddly to him. Will their relationship actually
move forward as it did the first time, or will he be put off? Sara soon discovers that events are different in this timeline and that she may not be able to save Matt this time around,
either. Although interesting, the story feels superficial on many levels. It's hard to get much sense of the characters,
and the plot device of Sara keeping her knowledge of the future to herself
sometimes seems awkward;I felt like saying "just tell him and get it over with!" In such a short story, it's difficult to really work with the characters and plot, but the
"baddie" seems to behave in a remarkably foolish way at the end just so the story can
wrap up neatly.
"Ulterior Motives" by Susan Kearney uses the same device of a magical painting for a very different effect. Merline Sullivan is a famous singer hounded by the paparazzi.
Taking refuge in an antiques shop after a car accident, she finds herself drawn through the painting to somewhere completely new - and without oxygen. As she passes, out she sees a man leaning over her.
Upon awakening, she finds herself in a hospital on a space station far from earth and three hundred years in the future. Her original rescuer, Tomm Jabal from the planet Siraz, tries to help her with information about the world they are in, but she's a rather headstrong lady and finds herself making a contract to sing with someone else. It goes rather wrong, she has to be rescued; when the action shifts to a pastoral planet, she still finds herself being pursued by a nasty man.
The concept of the painting that allows people to travel to different times and places has great possibilities, but the execution of the story in this case
falls flat. The plot seems facile in that Merline is able to escape remarkably easily from her problems, she settles into an entirely new world incredibly quickly, and her singing is apparently so fantastic it's known galaxy-wide. The hero is a shadowy figure - we never really learn much about him and his thoughts and feelings - and his interactions with Merline are
cardboard and one-dimensional. The story has little tension; it feels sometimes more like a travelogue as Merline wanders through this new world, guitar case over her shoulder. This isn't a story with much depth or characterization - fine for a light read, disappointing for someone who wants a little more from a paranormal romance.
The third story in this collection is "Temptation" by Jeanie London, set in 1713. Nina de Lacy and her guardian, Gray Talbot, Earl of Westbury, have moved to the United States. Nina is blessed
- or cursed - with the ability to see the death that people are likely to suffer if she touches them.
She can give them advice during this connection to help them change some of their decisions to move toward a better death. Gray Talbot is the only person she has ever met whose touch doesn't cause her to live these experiences. However, when she and Gray see the face of a red-haired man in the painting
"Midnight Magic" and discover that he is a local shipbuilder and artist, she finds another man whom she can touch and whose behavior and decisions are
quite contrary to Gray's. Nina feels a real debt to Gray, but she can't avoid the attraction to Damian the artist.
Which man should she choose?
This story feels different from the other two in this varied collection. Although set 300 years ago, the historical accuracy isn't that strong - the names of all three protagonists aren't right for English or Scottish people of the period - and Nina's behavior
is strikingly unusual for a titled lady of eighteen years old. She must decide between Gray and Damian, and though it's not easy to see
how things will end, the actual conclusion is probably one that would not appeal to many of the readers. Damian seems rather unheroic for a hero; Gray
isn't much better as he doesn't seem to really connect with Nina or understand her. Some of the background detail, such as shipbuilding and the artist arranging his portrait,
is well-written, but the characters never really come to life, making this a rather disappointing story overall.