25 December, 2012
Review: A Kiss For Midwinter by Courtney Milan
In what shocks no one ever (assuming they read my reviews) A Kiss for Midwinter gets high marks from me. I love what Milan does with the emotional life of her characters. In this case she's taken a character that bored me silly in The Duchess War and reinvented her as a fascinating person. Lydia is one of those determinedly happy people. All the glasses are half full all the time and if they're not she'll figure out a way to use shorter tumblers. She's fond of everyone, looking as she does on their brighter side. Everyone but Jonas. When Lydia looks at him she can't maintain her facade of blithe cheer. Jonas knows a bit more about Lydia than she's comfortable with.
Jonas I loved from the beginning. He's the gruff medical character that ends up (eventually, not in this novella, but traditionally) grumbling about his bum leg as he's pulled from his bed in the wee hours to attend yet another odd medical crisis at the local estate. This is that guy, 40 or so years earlier. From the moment he tells Lydia she's the eleventh best looking girl in town I knew who he was. (I know a Jonas or two and that's how their brains work.) He wants a wife and he wants that wife to be Lydia. He needs her determined cheer and her ability to draw a gauze curtain over life's harsher realities. Jonas is a man who faces reality too clearly, too often. A touch of whimsy would serve him well.
For most authors, telling you all of this would spoil the novella. For Milan, that's just the opening pages. Learning why Lydia avoids Jonas, watching Jonas teach Lydia that his opinion of her is not the one she made up in her head, all these things, are still ahead of you. Milan packs enough detail into her leads for a full length novel. Adding in a subtle (and very holiday appropriate) theme about the transient nature of established traditions, Milan brings Christmas in as more than just a seasonal setting. Times are changing in Victorian England. They're changing what people do and how people think. For Lydia the challenge is to stop acting happy long enough to really be happy. For Jonas, it's to accept (as every doctor must) that some things are beyond his ability to repair.