sage's Reviews > The Meaning of Night

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox
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's review
Jun 20, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: crime, fiction, queer-interest, historical-fiction, mystery, did-i-have-comments
Read from June 20 to 23, 2011

** spoiler alert ** oh, man, where to begin. I loved and hated parts of this book, and I totally get how the reviews swing from one extreme to the other.

The good: Okay, the best thing is the author's clear passion for the subject, and it's really compelling to know that he wrote this during ultimately unsuccessful treatment for a brain tumor. But if you set aside the author and just look at the story, the knowledge of the setting (mid-19th Century England) is gloriously thorough. The locations leap off the page in their realism, and I dig that a lot. I also like the inverted structure of the secret heir trope. I don't know that I've ever read the secret heir trope constructed in quite this way before.

The bad: parts of this are seriously overwritten. You could snip 200 pages and not lose much. The plot itself is excruciatingly slow to start and then entirely predictable from the 2/3 mark. Actually, I had the ending right from the second chapter, but there were so many red herrings that I believed he was going in another direction until I hit the 2/3 mark. The chapters themselves are too short and badly paced. The editor should have combined many of them into larger chapters with section breaks. All the nice women characters are whores, servants, invisible, or dead. All the other women characters are evil.

A note on entitlement: I can't ding the novel for entitlement and white privilege because the novel is ABOUT entitlement and English noble privilege. The intent of the Dead Mother (TM) was to free her son from the pernicious nature of that society, even though he's somehow still considered a gentleman instead of a commoner (I totally don't get how that works), and in the end, the Dead Mother wins. I love that the Dead Mother wins, because all too often the Dead Mother would have been written off as crazy while the hero stepped up as the new heir in SPITE of her wishes.

The good: setting, as I said. I got very engrossed from the midpoint up to the 85% mark, or so, when I got seriously bored of the too predictable doomed romance with EC. It's interesting to see a bibliophilic mystery in which the murderer is the protagonist and gets away with it. The tangents on crazy-rare ancient books were fascinating to my inner librarian, but I get how they might get on the nerves of readers who could care less.

The GLBT tag: non-judgy mention of boy and boy-girl brothels and street whores. Also, some scenes are slashy as hell, particularly those with Edward and the various father figures (his boss--who wishes he were Edward's father and who bonds with him fervently during their weekly pornography appreciation dates, his gf's father, and his mortal enemy's father). Edward and his friend Glice are really intimate, too.

Anyway, I wish the story itself had been better because the setting was meticulously awesome and the concept was really compelling.

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