My individual star ratings for each short-story/novella are be as follows…
Turned At Dusk: 2 stars
Saved At Sunrise: 3 stars
Unbreakable: 3.5 stars
Spellbinder: 2.5 stars
Fierce: 4 stars
First off we have TURNED AT DARK -- an origin short-story for the Vampire character of Della.
Unfortunately, his reader wasn’t able to find any of the characters likable. Della’s parents were pretty good-cop/bad-cop one-dimensional; her boyfriend had no discernible personality; and her supposedly dead cousin, Chan, had little by way of backstory. Della herself is angry, self-pitying, and bull-headed—living in denial through most of the story even when faced with glaring evidence of the supernatural evidence in her very blood. She continually makes decisions that would earn most heroines the title of “too stupid to live”…so I suppose it’s a good thing she’s a Vampire, and so not technically “alive” to begin with? That point remains unclear, however. Though Chan seems to be our window into the specifics of vampirism, readers receive precious few details outside of blood tastes and preferences… and the fact that they hate werewolves.
Which relates to my greatest disappointment: The worldbuilding was scant. As a result, I can’t recommend this as an introduction or even recap on the Shadow Falls world. While the writing is polished, the overall story isn’t particularly memorable—and for something billed as a YA, it had a strangely New Adult feel to it. I can only conclude that this is the wrong place to try to pick up the series.
Next we have SAVED AT SUNRISE -- a novella immediately following ‘Turned at Dark.’ It tracks Vampire Della and her potential love interest--a shapeshifter named Steve--as they perform a recon mission for the supernatural world’s version of the FBI. While Della isn’t much more likeable than she was in her origin story (still rash, judgmental, and headstrong to the point of stupid), there was at least some fleshing out to entice more reader investment in her character. Steve, however, makes the story worth reading. Not only is he easier to connect with, but he’s somehow able to be patient with Della’s many faults and wounded self-absorption. It’s just a pity we never experience any telling from his point of view—as Della can be a tiringly acrid head for readers to be stuck in.
Then there’s UBREAKABLE -- easily the most unique and heavily foreshadowed novella in the ‘Almost Midnight’ collection. It’s told in a sort of back-and-forth format between single page BREAKING NEWS segments detailing a plane crash and attempted rescue, and the events of a day prior--as given from the 3rd-person-limited perspective of 14-year-old Chase Tallman.
This felt like the truest YA piece in the entire paranormal anthology. The emotional conveyance generally feels accurate to what one would expect from the 14 and 15-year-olds primarily featured—if not a touch older. Chase is perched on the cusp between awkward and brave; his single-minded quest forgivable due to his otherwise beneficent and believable temperament.
I actually wish this had been the first story in the ‘Almost Midnight’ collection. The supernatural elements are more eerily hinted at throughout most of the novella, only making a clear showing toward the very end. For anyone reading the anthology it belongs to without previous knowledge of the Shadow Falls world, this may be the smoothest way to ease into it. It also has the benefit of presenting a more endearing main character.
SPELLBINDER is the plucky tale of a screw-up spellcaster, which rapidly turns into a murder mystery. Miranda is a largely sympathetic and sometimes even likeable character—well meaning and kind almost to the point of blandness. Her failures are often comedic, and her sense of loyalty is beyond reproach.
Some readers may find the love triangle disappointing—at least for those who weren’t previously familiar with Perry outside of Miranda’s impression of his abandonment. Especially after we only see Shawn looking out for her in the first half of the story. Even after Perry is reeled in, the chemistry between him and Miranda is more distracting than convincing. On top of the issues she’s having with her family, it amplifies an atmosphere of drama that borders on supernatural soap opera. The pacing flagged at times, making this one of the more put-downable stories in the ‘Almost Midnight’ collection. Miranda’s personality and antics often lend a lighthearted air to the tale—despite the life-or-death underpinnings.
And finally there’s FIERCE – a bonus novella, and this reader’s favorite of the ‘Almost Midnight’ collection. Fredericka made for an insecure “lone wolf” heroine with prominent daddy issues—yet her more positive traits of independence, self-determination, and emotional control created a believable and connective balance. There is a complexity to her unresolved and in-progress problems that gave the story more depth than any other piece in the anthology, without going slightly overboard into the overcomplicated drama waters like the preceding novella, Spellbinder.
Cary (a.k.a. pervy teacher) came across as pretty flat and may make readers wonder what about him Fredericka could have ever thought herself attracted to in the first place, but a number of other facets make up for the questionable antagonism. The tie-ins with Fredericka’s previous dislike for Kylie and longing for base friendship round out the story—and her character—nicely. I would have liked to see more worldbuilding in the realm of were-culture, but what was given here was enough to entice me into seeking out a full novel in the series that will hopefully do the job.
While the overall line editing was clean, there were times when it felt as though the prose would have benefited from another content edit sweep. *Examples: page 344 - “From the puzzled look in the teacher’s eyes, she knew he found it as puzzling as she did.”
Also, the excessive use of the word “brighten” in the last novella.
CONTENT NOTE: For parents or teens to whom it may concern…
The sensuality level runs closer to a New Adult than YA in several of the works--and the second novella, Saved At Sunrise, includes a topless in-bed makeout session (sans actual relationship or commitment.) Readers can also expect that any of the works involving Della will also contain a higher degree of coarse language.
I would recommend this collection to existing fans of the Shadow Fall series, but advise those unfamiliar with the full length novels not to use this anthology as a preferred introduction to C.C. Hunter’s world.