3-3.25 stars - because it is, after all, a Julia Quinn bookSplendid was mostly that - splendid. Dancing at Midnight was... a fun read and worth the read in the end, but rather tortured at times (and not just the Hero), rambling, and seemed to include a lot more story elements than necessary.I applaud Ms. Quinn for writing a book about a war hero - one that doesn't push away the nastiness of war. But our hero in this book, John, isn't as tortured by the war as he is about what he thinks is his own failure to prevent the rape of a 13-yr old Spanish girl by one of his soldiers. I empathize with John's grief over Ana, and the event was horrible -- enough to cause the nightmares that plague him. But John is not at fault; even if he was drunk, was John supposed to follow Spenser around everywhere he went to ensure that Spenser didn't rape Ana? Ana's mother's comments ("It might as well have been you.") stick with John, and I can see an anguished mother crying out such horrid words immediately after the deed. And since Ana killed herself shortly thereafter, I can also see how John would be tortured by the event.So perhaps this is where I'm insensitive or unaware of how such events affect people, but for *this* to be what makes John think that he is unworthy of love or any woman seems... overkill. If Ms. Quinn had brought in a bit more about his war experience or even his family's carelessness and lack of love.... Perhaps it was because the story kept going and going and going, and we kept coming around to the same sticking point. It was reminiscent of "Splendid" in that way; so perhaps, this is when Ms. Quinn was still learning and decided to stick with something she knew?And then there's Arabella (Belle)... she doesn't seem to be the same sparkling Belle we met in Splendid. Yes, her cousin Emma is happily and blissfully married to Alex. Yes, her family is away. And yes, Belle is still reading and being teased as a "bluestocking". But at the beginning of this book, this Belle seems to THROW herself at John, constantly... and she does so by convincing herself it's because he doesn't like her and EVERYONE should like Belle. It's hollow and shallow... and silly. And Belle didn't strike me as any of those. She seems out of character, and I suppose one could argue that Belle is acting thus because she's falling in love. But love doesn't generally make us LESS of who we are, but MORE; it might make us silly from time-to-time, but not shallow or trite.Really, between Belle and John, our H/H seem to be quite confused and emotional people. You never know if they're going to scream at one another, kiss one another, or banter with witty repartee.And once again, we're forced to endure a sub-plot that seems so unnecessary. Yes, there's been some foreshadowing, and yes, even the gentlest of readers has an idea of what's coming. But John has already overcome his fears and self-loathing -- he's already realized that by saving Belle from her fever, that he is allowing forgiveness to wash away the misplaced shame, guilt, and burden. So why must we deal with Spenser again?And poor Belle, to be kidnapped again! At least this time, the kidnapping wasn't the final act. Thank goodness for Persephone! She's truly one of the delights of this story from the moment she makes her entrance. And she plays an active role in rescuing everyone from the dreaded Spenser more than once. But the whole incident (as in Splendor) seems to be thrown in for an extra measure of drama, not because it's necessary to the story. And in Caroline, Belle's mother, I see the foreshadowing of Violet Bridgerton. I can only imagine that Belle's father Henry is the image of what Viscount Bridgerton would have been, had he lived to be a flesh-and-blood part of the Bridgerton stories.With so much good in this book, it's exhausting to think about all the ground we cover... a whirlwind meet-cute, she-loves-him-he-loves-her-not go-round, fighting for the one you love, steamy scenes that mean marriage is soon too follow, a delightful marriage ceremony (one of my favorite quotes comes from that), and then the whole dreadful affair with Spenser drawing it all out... Ms. Quinn is forgiven for putting us through all of that though, because the majority of the story is enjoyable and a fun read. And this *is* one of her earlier books. And I've heard that the 2nd or sophomore attempt is often the most difficult and usually not the best work. But because of its shining moments, I'll give it 3+ stars and a recommendation.