Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Nightshift (Midnight Texas #3) by Charlaine Harris

People are committing suicide at the Midnight crossroads. Once is tragic, twice unlikely and three times definitely more than a coincidence

There’s a dark presence under the crossroads. It’s been there for centuries - but it’s waking up. The inhabitants only clue to what it is and what it wants is in a book that none of them can read. They’re running out of time and the dark voice Fiji hears is growing louder

Meanwhile Olivia’s family may have finally caught up with her - with lethal repercussions and increased suspicion about the true motives of her neighbours

I really do like the concept of Midnight - a small town in rural Texas where the supernatural gathers, where people with secrets gather to build their new life. Over the last few books this has developed further as the members of the community have grown closer together. And this is something Charlaine Harris has always been very very good at: building a community, building all those little social interactions, those visits and family histories and little gossips that gives a real sense of community

This does, in some cases, slow the pacing as various characters discuss their issues with each other, then discuss those issues with other characters and all pry into each other’s business - especially since we have a lot of characters all with their own back stories and issues (which I, again, really like). But it works here because the overall story of this small town is the community that has been built here. So I don’t mind that we spend what appears to be a truly unnecessary amount of time discussing Lemuel’s human life even though it adds absolutely nothing to the plot. Or that we have Manfred’s old cronies from Las Vegas living nearby. Or the time spent gossiping around tables discussing what Chuy and Joe are (which is not known for most of this book and these are somewhat peripheral characters - which is a little weird given what they’re facing). It works because that’s what these books are.

I do think Olivia’s story is a little…. Weirdly convoluted. But hey, it’s not completely out there so I can run with it.

At times it seems the characters are somewhat distracted from the main plot, largely waiting for Lemuel to translate a convenient book he’s found - convenient in that it has all the answers and plot convenient in that it’s written in a convoluted ancient language for no good reason (and, honestly it makes little sense and really is just a method of drawing out the main plot so they can focus on the smaller side plots and relations. But it works).

The plot itself does have those convenience issues and does sort of circle slowly towards the ending rather than run for it - and it has some weird road bumps with Olivia’s story kind of running mundanely across the main supernatural - there’s something dark and evil under the crossroads plot line.

But the plot was interesting, contained a lot of hooks and some nice diversions and was an excellent vehicle for these characters and the world. Especially Fiji - this book does a really good job of developing the town witch, bringing her past and letting us explore her character but also her growth as she both hardens and decides to live up to her potential: there’s definite character growth there. And her cat is awesome too.

I am a little bemused why everyone is super suspicious that Madonna manages to keep her restaurant open with limited custom, yet Bobo has a pawn shop, Chuy and Joe have a combine antiques/nail salon and Fiji runs a new age shop. I mean… there’s not enough custom to keep a restaurant open (despite half the locals eating their regularly) but a magic shop does?

There are some… unfortunate lines in this book. I’ve said before that this series has massive improved on the other worlds in terms of less problematic depictions of marginalised people - we have multiple female characters with Olivia and Fiji and even the more minor characters of Madonna and Lenore all feel decent and quite respectful and Olivia and Fiji actually grow together and like each other and may even come close to friends. We have Madonna and Teacher and Chuy and Marie as POC and Joe and Chuy as a gay couple and, while not perfect, they’re so much better than what I’ve seen before. We even have a female vampire who is angry at a man FOR GOOD REASON and this is actually acknowledged as reasonable!

There’s definite trying here - but occasionally we do have lines like people saying if more gay couples were like Chuy and Joe they would be happier and more accepting which is… an issue. Or we introduce a Native American character… who is a shaman and full of woo-woo. Or how Madonna and Teacher are considered outsiders in Midnight despite being there for 2 years: longer than Mannfred by far. Yes they have secrets… but that’s the whole point of Midnight. At least towards the end of the book that changes.

Most of this book is from Fiji’s point of view and it’s actually a little damaging: because Fiji is supposed to be a nice lady and part of the plot is that Fiji becomes harder as a person. But it’s like the author had… trouble writing a nice person from their pov? Like her sister arrives and she’s supposed to be a grossly stereotypical awful woman who infuriates Fiji… but we’re told it without it being well shown. Like she’s left her husband and needs somewhere to stay but doesn’t want to live with her parents because their dad has alzheimers and she doesn’t want to become a carer… but then Fiji says she doesn’t want to either so it’s kind of weird she gets all judgemental about it. And she complains that Kiki hasn’t given her any money or contributed to the house… which is true. But she spends about a week with Fiji - I can’t imagine my brother visiting me for a week and me charging him board! In the end we have her mainly growling at her sister because she’s a slutwhorejezebel who FLIRTS with attractive single men (except Teacher. Because Kiki doesn’t regard Black men as potential partners: again she’s attacking Kiki for not paying rent and flirting with attractive guys but she just HANDWAVES this blatant racism).

Later Fiji has a regular visit her shop who she cannot stand because she’s pretentious and carries a bag with her shop label on it where people can see so they ask her about it. Ugh, these terrible customers who buy things regularly and then regularly tell other people about your business! UGH HOW AWFUL. I also found her whole anger at Bobo kind of… immature and weird? She’s effectively having a tantrum because she thinks he’s friendzoned her

I also still don’t think that the idea that this book shares a world with all Charlaine Harris’s other series actually works. Apart from anything else whether or not the supernatural is well known to the public and we seem to jump back and forth between everyone knowing about vampires et al, to no-one believing in magic which is jarring. Apart from anything else, I’m not sure if the point of Midnight - a town where supernatural creatures gather and hide their secret.