Simon R. Green lives in Bradford-on-Avon in real life, and I’ll wager a guess as to how Drinking Midnight Wine came to be written. I think Green has met some eccentric folks and seen some weird places in the time he has lived in that town, and so it occurred to him to make up magical explanations for them, and build a fantasy novel around them.
Green does a great job of creating engaging characters and vivid scenery. Our hero is Toby, a thirtysomething bookstore clerk who loves books and the pretty lady on the train, and hates exercise and mornings. We also run into the lady-on-the-train herself, aloof Gayle, and her half-crazy sister Luna, both of whom are more than they seem, as well as a minor Norse god, a reluctant werewolf, a gossipy yet mysterious gypsy called the Waking Beauty, and a colony of hippie mice. They are set in a town where that spooky old manor on the edge of town just might hide the scion of elemental evil, and where any house might be more on the inside than it appears on the outside. The characters and setting are wonderful.
Unfortunately, the plot feels like an afterthought. Green sets up all these great characters, and puts them into a story that feels way too simplistic and rehashed. For the first two-thirds of the book, people mostly sit around and talk. The good guys talk, filling each other in on the history of the magical world, Mysterie, with the effect that very little about it remains mysterious at all. The bad guys sit around and talk about their evil plot, which can be summed up in a famous line from a certain cartoon series: “We’re going to take over the world!” Then Toby undergoes a near-death experience that seems to serve absolutely no purpose in propelling the plot along. Finally, the good guys gang up together and decide to go attack the bad guys. A fight ensues, and all ends quite sweetly. (If you don’t like mushy happy endings, you won’t like this. Emotional family reunions abound.) The heroes would have lost had it come to brute force, but love and coincidence save the day.
No real surprises, no real mystery. I guess Drinking Midnight Wine wasn’t bad, but it could have been much better.
[BOX]Drinking Midnight Wine — (2001) Publisher: When Toby Dexter falls for the woman on the train, the woman with the most perfect mouth in the world, he little realises that she isn’t quite human: she lives in the magical world that exists alongside our own. And when he follows her to ask her out, he accidently slips from his own world, Veritie, into hers. She warns him that it’s a dangerous thing to be a mortal in the magical world of Mysterie and that he must not fall in love with her: she’s much older than she looks and mortal must not love immortal. But for Toby, it’s too late. But because this is a Simon Green novel, it’s not just a romantic fantasy: in Mysterie, there’s big trouble afoot, and before Our Hero can win the hand and heart of his Lady, he’ll have to face malevolent immortals, shapeshifting demons and violent gods, all told with Simon’s trademark tongue in cheek humour and excitement. [/BOX]