Lord Barnaby Greenwood inherited his family home upon his father’s death, but financial trouble is putting him at risk of losing it. Barnaby is drowning in debt trying to maintain the historic home and he worries the time is fast approaching when the bank will come calling. It is overwhelming Barnaby, causing him to pull away from friends, as well as from neighbors in the local village. The one thing Barnaby refuses to do, however, is sell off his land to developers. He is being pressured by a builder who wants to buy the King’s Wood from him in order to build mansions. Barnaby keeps turning him down, but the man is relentless. However, Barnaby knows the Wood is special to his family, as well as an important historical site, and he is unwilling to see it mowed down.
Barnaby’s defense of the Wood catches the attention of the powerful Holly King who seeks to reward Barnaby for his actions. The gift comes in the form of a magical companion, as one of Barnaby’s beloved sculptures comes to life. As a child, Barnaby used to confide in the statue, telling him about his life and all his secrets. Now, Cosmo has become human, but only until Christmas. It doesn’t give the men much time together, but for Barnaby, it is gift like no other. He has been so lonely, so isolated as he navigates his financial trouble. Having Cosmo around is such a joy. While Cosmo knows a lot about the world from listening in as a statue for so many years, he is experiencing so many new things and delights in them all. He has an enthusiasm for life that reminds Barnaby of all the things he has pushed aside over the years and helps him appreciate the world around him in a new way. Cosmo also has a bit of his own magic, and he is able to help Barnaby with some of the problems he is facing.
As the men spend their precious days together, the world begins to look brighter for Barnaby. He is finding a happiness in his life he has long been missing, especially as some of his burdens begin to ease. He is also finding a love with Cosmo and a connection unlike any other. But Cosmo’s days as a human are limited, and Barnaby knows that the price for having Cosmo in his life is ultimately losing him. As the clock moves closer to Christmas, it is going to take a little more magic for the men to find their happy ending.
On a Midnight Clear is a sweet and romantic fantasy that has a lovely holiday feel. This book has a very different style than most I have read from Morton. Rather than a romantic comedy with snark and banter, this is a true contemporary fantasy, with magic and otherworldly beings who make up an elaborate world that humans never see. As Cosmo comes to life, he introduces Barnaby to this magical world, much of which takes place in and around his own home. We learn that the sculptures can hear what is going on around them, and one hour a night, they come to life and move around (unable to be detected by humans). This isn’t elaborate world building, but it is clever and unique, and just enough to take this romance between the men and elevate it to magical. There are so many fun little moments and the fantasy world plays really nicely into the holiday atmosphere and the magic of the season.
I loved Barnaby and Cosmo together and found it so rewarding to watch them find happiness. Barnaby is just beaten down by life. He still mourns his father’s death and feels this overwhelming responsibility to keep the house running, yet he is saddled by estate taxes that have put him into debt. He feels guilty and embarrassed and has pulled away from everyone. Not to mention his home has become dark and rundown and depressing. Yet despite the fact that the money from selling the woods could change it all for him, Barnaby stands by his principles and refuses to sell. So as a reader, I was so happy to watch things work out for him, both in terms of his finances and his personal life. Cosmo is full of such a joy for life that it brings it all back for Barnaby. Morton gives Cosmo just the right mix of awareness about the world and naiveté to make him endearing and sweet, without being too childlike. He delights in the foods he eats, is thrilled about the snow, and notices all the little things that most of us ignore. Cosmo brings happiness back to Barnaby and it just creates such a lovely vibe for this type of story.
Overall, I found this one super sweet and endearing. There is a nice sense of magic and wonder, a sweet relationship between the men, and a bit of holiday joy all wrapped up together.