The Midnight Dance by Nikki Katz
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
Seventeen-year-old Penny is a lead dancer at the Grande Teatro, a finishing school where she and eleven other young women are training to become the finest ballerinas in Italy. Tucked deep into the woods, the school is overseen by the mysterious and handsome young Master who keeps the girls ensconced in the estate – and in the only life Penny has never known.
But when flashes of memories, memories of a life very different from the one she thinks she’s been leading, start to appear, Penny begins to question the Grand Teatro and the motivations of the Master. With a kind and attractive kitchen boy, Cricket, at her side, Penny vows to escape the confines of her school and the strict rules that dictate every step she takes. But at every turn, the Master finds a way to stop her, and Penny must find a way to escape the school and uncover the secrets of her past before it’s too late.
What I Liked:
I've read a number of books published by Swoon Reads, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing. This imprint is unique because it is crowd-sourced in terms of the work, and there are always a ton of manuscripts available to read and explore on the website. The Midnight Dance is one of many that has been picked up for publication by Swoon Reads. I've had mixed results with the Swoon Reads books I've read so far, but this one is among my favorites. I adore Cindy Anstey's books, but I think those will share the spotlight with this book. The Midnight Dance was haunting and mysterious, yet swoony and seductive. It was an interesting book to read, and while I could definitely see the author developing her writing and craft, I have a good feeling about her future work.
Penny is one of the lead dancers of the Grande Teatro, a coveted dance school that is selective about its students. There are only a handful of students at any given time, with rare new faces on occasion. The girls are educated in many subjects, but their focus is dance, as they all strive to be the best ballerina in Italy. The school is overseen by Master, who is shrouded in mystery and handsome looks. Every girl has a crush on him... except for Penny, who can't shake the creepy feeling she has started to feel when he is near. What's more, her memory is starting to jumble, and she isn't sure what is real and what isn't. Somehow, Master is messing with her mind. With the help of the charming kitchen steward, Penny is determined to find out what happened in her past that will determine her future at the school.
I love how this story is set up. At first, I was just as confused as Penny; what is happening to her memories? Why is she starting to remember this or that? And then - why did she suddenly forget what she started to remember? Usually I hate being enveloped in this kind of confusion, especially so early on, but I found that this only intrigued me even more. From start, we know that there is something wrong with Penny's memories. And soon after, Penny finds out that Master might have something to do with it, and Cricket seems to have an idea as to what is happening to her. But these realizations are only the tip of the iceberg. Master is a lot worse than she expected. and Cricket is so much more than a kitchen steward.
I liked Penny just fine, though I didn't love her, nor did I hate her. I really felt for her, as she tried to navigate her life while realizing that she had no idea who she really was. She had no idea what her life before the school was like. She didn't even know what her favorite food was. It was easy to root for her, because she was so clearly wronged. But I also liked her persistence, even when she was throwing herself into obvious danger. She wanted nothing more than to understand what was happening to her, stop Master, and save the other girls.
Cricket is such a sweetheart! He is the kitchen steward which basically means that he brings everyone their meals and clears tables. There is a lot more to him than meets the eye, but Master keeps him on a tight leash. Cricket is smart, loyal, protective, and stubborn, and he never stops trying to help Penny regain her true memories. He is one of the constants of the story that is inherently good and kind. But he also has a protective streak that shows up every now and then, which I loved.
I was hooked soon after the story began, and I didn't want to stop reading. It's too bad I started reading the book on the Metro to work, because I really wanted to keep reading. Hate or love this book, you have to say that it is engaging (well, hopefully). There are so many revelations dropped, as the story goes on. Some might be obvious, but the placement and timing are really good.
I love the Italian influence and setting. There are so many Italian food references - it was impossible not to get hungry, after reading this book. I really want some antipasto or ciabatta or something now (it's nearly midnight at the moment!). The author references a lot of Italian food, but also sprinkles in the occasional term or phrase in Italian. You can't not know that the story is set in Italy!
The story is also a historical one, set in the 1800s. I love this time period and it definitely worked well for this story. The types of things that Master was doing were very advanced, yet the author made them fit into the story.
There is some sci-fi to this book! I don't want to say anything specific, but it's pretty cool. Terrible, but cool. I love that we get to see Master's backstory and how he came to work on the sci-fi stuff. Again, it is terrible stuff (what he is doing), but it is also fascinating. You kind of feel bad for him? At least initially.
There is a romance and it is swoony! And very non-love-triangle-y. I promise there is no triangle or square or anything of the sort. Cricket and Penny are adorable together, even if they aren't actually a couple for most of the book. There is obvious but subtle chemistry between them, and I couldn't wait for them to finally acknowledge their feelings, or kiss! See my 09/28 Swoon Thursday post.
Overall, this book worked for me. I enjoyed it, especially for the entertaining and mysterious story. The adorable romance definitely didn't hurt, and the fact that this book is a standalone makes it a great choice.
What I Did Not Like:
I acknowledge the fact that there definitely could have been more plot and character development. The author's writing and craft seems new and unpracticed. It's hard to describe what I'm talking about without sharing whole pages or talking about specifics, but basically, we know this is a debut. I fully believe that the author will get better as a writer the more she writes. This story felt juvenile on occasion, which I noticed several times, but it wasn't too distracting. I see the author's potential!
Would I Recommend It:
If you like historical fiction novels with romance and some slightly creepy sci-fi elements, check out this book! It has an air of mystery to it, and it's a fast read. The ending is really good and it is perfect as the ending of a standalone. And the romance was definitely swoony! Swoon Reads is living up to the name.
4 stars. I am glad this book is a standalone, but I definitely want to read more by this author! I'll be looking out for her 2018 book. I'm sure her next book will be even better!
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