It dances right on the edge of being hopelessly twee, but there's a grounding element of emotional truth that makes the stakes real and powerful.
Lord Ransom Falconer…oh, excuse me. I was about to tell you the plot, but we have to pause for a moment to truly appreciate the name “Lord Ransom Falconer”. Done? Then let's proceed. Lord AwesomeMcCoolname is known for being rigorously dutiful and self-controlled. He goes into the countryside to find and recruit an inventor, Merlin Langbourne. He wants the inventor to come back to his estate so the inventor can make weapons for use against Napoleon and also be protected from Napoleonic kidnappers. To his astonishment, not only is Merlin a woman, she is a severely absent minded and hopelessly naive slightly mad scientist. She has two cranky retainers, who yell at her a lot, and she opens her own front door, and she keeps a pet hedgehog in her pocket. Lord McCoolname is helpless against her powers.
So there's plot, and things happen – for some reason every one takes turns getting knocked out with chloroform, and someone might be a spy, and there's secret passages (not a double entendre), but what's important to the story is simply this:
1. Will Merlin be able to build a working flying machine?
2. Will Ransom ever pull himself to together to accept Merlin for who she is, accept that her dreams and goals are crucial to her happiness, and admit that he is afraid of heights?
3. Will the hedgehog survive? (SPOILER: Yes, it will.)
This book is all about characters and scenery. Merlin is a great character, but honestly she is so severely naive and absent minded that I was a little worried about her mental health. She has no notion of the rules and mores of society and no concept of relationships between men and women, sexual or otherwise. Merlin is really only able to focus on one thing at a time, and that's usually her inventions. Even by the end, when true love has struck, it's quite clear that if you remove Ransom from her life, she'll be sad, but if you come between her and a “three-sixty-fourths-inch Vaucanson helical pinion gear” she will be PISSED.
As for Ransom, he is so dedicated to being in control, and he's never, ever in control. Sometimes it's funny to watch him try to be in control and sometimes it's sad and sometimes it's just a bit much (Dude, TELL HER YOU'RE AFRAID OF HEIGHTS!). He is the most hapless alpha male I ever saw. He and Merlin are a fun couple because she deflates all his self-importance and refuses to get wrapped up in the drama that Ransom feels surrounded by. He runs around yelling, “Merlin! Dearest! You are held captive! The Horror!” and she's all, “Yes, Dear, but I know you'll save me. Have you seen my book on integral calculus?”
As a romance, I found the book a little odd. It's clear that Ransom is crazy about Merlin, but it's not as obvious that Merlin is crazy about Ransom. She's likes having him around, she appreciates the fact that he is a reliable rescuer, she sees deep into his tortured soul, and she likes the sex, but really she just wants to go invent stuff. They will clearly be very happy together but I'm not convinced that it's a love story for the ages. Beyond the romance, the story is enchanting, with flying machines and ballrooms and ruined castles and moors and village fairs. The supporting cast of characters is lots of fun with many varieties of eccentricity being represented. We have the shiftless brother who just wants approval, the fallen woman who has a heart of gold, the cranky old retainer, a child with a stutter, a mysterious person of unknown origin, and more. The crowd scenes are a lot of fun!
How much you like Midsummer Moon will depend on your mood. If you are in the mood for a book in which the main character likes to invent stuff and has a cute pet hedgehog, then this book will be a definite winner. Although the book isn't intended as steampunk, it does have a certain steampunky goodness to it, what with Merlin and her flying machine and her obsession with gears. I know we have many fans of the web comic Girl Genius on our site, and my guess is if you love Girl Genius you'll love Midsummer Moon, and vice versa.
And if you haven't read Girl Genius, clear your calendar, starting right away, and go check it out.