Ms. Riley struggles with the traditional narrative, especially dialogue. Thankfully, she excels with the expository format and chooses to tell a large portion of the story through that format. Those parts that are from a letter or diary entries are extremely well-written, well-plotted, and effective. The rest is less than desirable and more an enticement to start skimming rather than struggle through the overly simplistic dialogue and heavy reliance on melodrama. Her dialogue in particular is short and very formal. There is no natural flow to a conversation but rather a wooden interchange between two or more characters that is painful to watch unfold.
Similarly, Ms. Riley’s male characters are particularly poorly developed. They are all caricatures and can too easily be lumped into three distinct categories – pleasant, odd, and older; young and lecherous playboys; and the knights in shining armor. It does not make them interesting characters in the least. Even worse, their voices ring false. They are all so sensitive, and there is a feminine quality to their words that is difficult to describe but there nonetheless. Compared to Anahita or even Maud, the men are weak and unworthy.
The saving grace of the entire novel is Anahita’s story itself. The mystery surrounding her first love and her son’s fate are intriguing, and one has no idea how this particular plot will end. Anni herself is a remarkable character – a wee bit too selfless and good but amazing for the grace with which she faces the many indignities she experiences. Strong, secure in her self-image, intelligent, and independent, she is the type of character that makes a reader feel good about life. Her story is interesting for its exoticness as well as for the extreme highs and lows she experiences. The fact that her story unfolds through letters is an advantage given how much more careful Ms. Riley is with this format.
The modern-day elements of The Midnight Rose are not nearly as compelling as Anni’s story. They also suffer from predictability. Rebecca is a very weak character compared to Anni, and there is nothing surprising about her growth into a more independent and self-confident woman. It is the same with Rebecca’s love interest. How that subplot unfolds is also unsurprising. It is as if Ms. Riley spent so much time developing Anni’s story that the rest of it was a mere afterthought that she quickly cobbled together to surround the main plot.
The Midnight Rose is proof that a story can be very interesting but poorly written. Anni’s story will capture a reader’s attention in spite of the weaknesses of the narrative elements. This is a good thing because there are weaknesses aplenty, including a proclivity for unnatural dialogue and flat characters. The Midnight Rose is the type of novel a reader should just enjoy for the story without worrying about anything else. If one does that, it becomes a fascinating glimpse into the royal palaces of India as well as the estate system of the United Kingdom and the pressures contained within each.