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Heart of Midnight by J. Robert King

Posted by travizzt on September 9, 2010

A world ruled by song and werewolves, where a boy is full of revenge and a dark secret. Welcome my friends to Harmonia and the tragic tale of Casimir.

Heart of Midnight by J. Robert King- This is the fourth book that was released in the Ravenloft line of novels based off the Ravenloft setting in the pen and paper roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons. This is also a stand-alone novel and can be read without any prior knowledge with Ravenloft or Dungeons and Dragons. J. Robert King has written a number of novels in various shared-world and otherwise. He has written another novel that is set in Ravenloft titled Carnival of Fear. He’s written two book in the First Quest setting called Rogues to Riches and Summerhill Hounds. He wrote The Blood Wars Trilogy (Blood Hostages, Abyssal Warriors, and Planar Powers) which was set in the Planescape universe. He wrote a novel in the Dragonlance universe called Vinas Solamnus. He also wrote three novellas for The Double Diamond Triangle Saga (The Abduction, Conspiracy, and co-wrote The Diamond with Ed Greenwood) which is set in the Forgotten Realms universe. However, most of his work is in the Magic: The Gathering tie-in novels. He wrote The Invasion Cycle (Invasion, Planeshift, and Apocalypse), The Onslaught Cycle (Onslaught, Legions, and Scourge), a stand-alone novel titled The Thran, and wrote the third book in The Artifacts series called Time Streams. He wrote an Arthurian fantasy trilogy called The Mad Merlin Trilogy (Mad Merlin, Lancelot du Lethe, and Le Morte d’Avalon) and a Sherlock Holmes based book titled Shadow the Reichenbach Falls. Some of his original works include Suicidals Anonymous, Humors (an anthology of poems), and Angel of Death and it’s sequel Death’s Disciples. Edge of Destiny, a Guild Wars novel, is next upcoming book. J. Robert King has also contributed a number of short stories to various anthologies and was the editor on some. Heart of Midnight was released in December 1992 and published by TSR, Inc. However, this book is hard to find and you’ll most likely need to pick it up used.
Casimir wants revenge on the father who killed his mother, cursed him, and left him homeless. After years of plotting, he and his friend Thoris, finally decide that it’s time. The killer is also the towns meistersinger, or leader, and as the time comes to choose a new ruler for Harmonia, Casimir enters the contest under disguise. The contest to choose the meistersinger tests bardic skills, and after a few rounds pass Casimir is up against his father. The current meistersinger has yet to lose for the past twenty years due to drugging the ale before the contest begins, however Casimir doesn’t drink and as the final stage is about to start, the liquid is forced down his throat. Because of this Casimir loses but reveals himself as the meistersinger’s son. The meistersinger, horrified to know that his son is still alive, send men to follow Casimir back to where he lives. After the location is discover, the men burn down the poor house, hoping to kill Casimir. However, Casimir isn’t there upon his return he saves Thoris from the flames. With a few surviving children, Casimir and Thoris,  regroup in the rundown church of Milil and begin a plan to finally take revenge. The plan goes into motion and it’s soon revealed that the meistersinger is a werewolf and chases down Casimir. However, Casimir is waiting for him as a wolf and quickly dispatches the meistersinger. After showing proof of the meistersinger’s death, Casimir becomes the new meistersinger. As his reign starts, the famous bard, Harkon Lukas starts to teach him things about ruling and about his dark powers. But as time passes, is the bard really helping Casimir or turning him into something more beastly?

1) Beginning. The first half of the novel is a little rough. Some chapters have a rushed pace to them. For example, the contest scene was very hard to follow. Things happened so fast with little details that I was totally lost and left scratching my head. On top of this, we have the characters showing little to no character development. The situations that the characters find themselves in doesn’t seem to faze their attitudes and their actions too much. For the longest time, the characters seemed bland but they did have hints of something more to them, but those hints weren’t explored until later in the novel. The beginning just had a rushed feel to it. Everything that happened occurred too fast and you couldn’t really delve into the problems and issues that were brought up. This was the major problem with Heart of Midnight, you couldn’t get behind the characters right away and everything happened way too fast.
2) Casimir. One of the blandest main characters I’ve seen in a while. He was wishy-washy, unlikable, and with a personality that switches every chapter. I really do not understand the appeal of Casimir, and would have rather seen a story focus more on Thoris or Casimir’s love, Julianna. Those two would have been much more interesting leads instead of Casimir, who seemed to appear as little more than a side character. However, at the start of the story, he appeared to be a very sympathetic and likable character, but this doesn’t last long. After the beginning, Casimir quickly turns into a side character. I would have rather seen more of the impact his change causes on his friends, instead of the focus being mostly on Casimir. Then at the end, he just becomes unbearably whiny. There were times that he did seem to be an interesting and intriguing character, but during those scenes, another character stole the spotlight. Casimir just grated on my nerves.

1) Harkon Lukas. He is just a great character and villain. While he isn’t really there for the first half of the story and he only seemed to be more like a side character during that half, he really turned out to be amazing. He was manipulative in a way I haven’t seen in many books. There were even times when I thought I was being misled to think something else. Then he was as vile as you can get but you couldn’t help but like him. His actions were undeniably evil and what he says is cruel, but there was something about him that made you forget all the negatives to his personality. I couldn’t help but feel charmed by him. However, the twist involving Lukas was really predictable, but when the scene finally came up, I was still surprised. He just had this undeniable charm to him and you weren’t meant to like him, you couldn’t help but like him.
2) Atmosphere. The atmosphere was the other good thing about this story. It was extremely creepy and had some very good violent scenes. It had that Universal monster movie feel combined with some of the violent, gory movies of the past twenty years. Some of the descriptions of the buildings and settings really reminded me of some of those 1930’s movies. During the werewolf transformations, I couldn’t help but think of movies like American Werewolf in London with a hint of the 1940’s Wolfman. The story also had a very good heartbreaking feel to it. Seeing how Casimir is affecting his friends is really sad. You almost feel bad for these characters and what they are going through. The best example of this is when Thoris learns of Casimir’s secret. The whole exchange the two have is moving and sad at the same time. The story had a very good, creepy atmosphere to it.

Side Notes:
1) Songs. I can’t read songs with a rhythm when it’s written in a book. I didn’t mind the songs in the novel, but I would mostly skip them.
2) Two Books. I really do think that this book should have been split into two books instead of one. The beginning, up until Casimir’s revenge, should have been the first book. That whole story needed more detail and character development. Then the second half, while better and a saving grace of the story, could have used a little more as well. Seeing Casimir deal with his new-found political powers as well as his lycanthropy could have used more. It almost seemed like there were two novels that were forced together.
3) Cover Art. The artwork itself is just bland. Casimir looks decent and interesting but other than that, the background is bland and the coloring is just plain boring. The mask is really nice looking and is the only thing that catches the eye. Also, Casimir’s face does look menacing, but it’s hard to really see. As for everything else, it’s just plain and unexciting.

Overall: 3/5
Final Thoughts:
Heart of Midnight has things going against it and going for it. The biggest problem is the rough beginning. Most of the time I could barely follow what has happening early on. The characters started out as bland, uninteresting people who I couldn’t careless about. Also, Casimir wasn’t interesting. He seemed to be a minor character that was promoted to the lead without changing a thing. He did have good moments, but they were few and far between. However, Harkon Lukas pretty much saves the story. Lukas had amazing charm to him that actually made me like someone so vile and despicable. He seemed to manipulate everyone in the story, including me. That in itself was shocking. When a character makes you think one thing even though you know it’s not true is very impressive. Speaking of impressive, the atmosphere had this impressively creepy tone to it. It was as through blending the best Universal horror movies with some of the best werewolf movies of the past twenty years. When all is said and done, is Heart of Midnight worth picking up? Yes and no. If you enjoy werewolf fiction and want to be pleasantly surprised to be manipulated by a fictional character, yes. However, because of the rough start, I am very reluctant to recommend to the average reader.

2 Responses to “Heart of Midnight by J. Robert King”

  1. Jason said

    I’ve been enjoying your Ravenloft novel reviews, Travis. I’ve been a fan of the setting for a while, but only finally started working my way through the novels (I’m always able to find one or two at used book stores).

    I just finished reading ‘Heart of Midnight,’ and I think you’re pretty much spot on. For a first novel, King does a nice job building the atmosphere. But the characters, especially Casimir, are either so bland or so unlikable that I struggled to actually finish.

    • travizzt said

      I’ve really enjoyed all the Ravenloft novels I’ve read. It’s a shame that they aren’t writing anymore. Used book stores are where I’ve found most of them that I’ve read (Half Priced Books is definitely my best friend).

      I’m glad that you liked my review!

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