Thursday, March 20, 2008

Shadows of the Night
By Lydia Joyce

From the cover:
“Fern and Colin Radcliffe had a conventional courtship and expected a conventional marriage. But Fern's wedding night leaves her shaken — and reborn. Driven by a desire to control her own destiny, she strikes out at her new husband in a passionate assertion of independence. In doing so, she awakens a secret craving in the recently bound couple — an exquisite erotic delight that ignites their love and creates an insatiable hunger for more. To encourage this new, forbidden love, they spend their honeymoon alone at Colin's isolated estate — the perfect setting to explore a world of pain, pleasure, and power. But their exploration is interrupted by a devastating secret from Colin's past — a secret that threatens their future together...and their very lives.”
This is one of those book jacket blurbs that make me wonder if whoever was responsible for writing it had actually done more than skim the book. The broad outline is there, but the emphasis is on all the wrong things.
Fern and Colin do, in fact, have a fairly conventional courtship before marrying and decamping to Brighton for what should be a conventional honeymoon. Like many women of the time, Fern is completely ignorant of all things sexual, but her bridegroom has experience to spare. Once he has convinced Fern that what they are doing is both normal and expected, she begins to give herself over to the experience. However, she starts to feel that she is losing a part of herself, and she rebels. Colin has always had things go his way, and expects that Fern will fall willingly into her role as wife, hostess, and mother. His smug complacency is shaken when Fern, who has had enough of being condescended to, delivers a forceful and richly deserved slap to his face. Suddenly, Colin realizes that not only is his wife not exactly the bland, biddable creature he thought she was, but his entire bland, comfortable life is not quite what he thought either.
This is where things really start to get interesting. Unsettled by the new dynamic developing with his wife, and with his world tilting out of orbit, Colin decides to pack up and go to Wrexmere, an ancestral estate he inherited some time ago but one which he has never visited. He has had some difficulty getting information about what, exactly, is going on at there (never a good sign,) so he feels the trip will kill two birds with one stone.
Fast forward two days to the newlyweds’ arrival at Wrexmere. The author has created a setting so fabulously creepy and classically gothic that I half expected to encounter the first Mrs. Rochester creeping around a corner. Due to a combination of thoughtlessness and sheer stubbornness, Fern and Colin are deposited at the ancient estate on the edge of the moors just before nightfall, with no servants of their own and no caretakers in sight. Decidedly odd, given that Colin has been paying a local couple, the Restons, to look after the place in his absence. The two have no choice but to make the best of it, with night falling and a storm coming in, so they begin investigating the old house. The unpleasant surprises start adding up fast: inches of dust, moldy featherbeds, cell-like rooms, apparent bloodstains, and mysterious packets of old letters clearly written by someone not quite in their right mind.
In the face of all this, the couple goes from being relative strangers in a marriage of convenience to passionate lovers united against unknown threats. Though they do eventually find help in the form of the village vicar, the mystery of the letters and the hostile, neglectful caretakers remains. Solving the riddle does unearth secrets from the past, with the most horrific and dangerous of these being centuries old. On a dark and stormy night, everything comes to a head in a classic chase scene that ends on the ruined parapets of the ancient mansion.
This is the closest thing to a true, gothic romance that I have read in a long time. I grew up on the works of Phyllis A. Whitney, and found Shadows in the Night to be a very enjoyable modern interpretation of the classic form. A strong heroine who truly evolves in the course of the story, a hotter, sexier relationship between the two main characters, and the vividly evoked desolate setting make this a real find for those who enjoy a good scare along with their romance. I will definitely read other Lydia Joyce titles, but I have every intention of ignoring the blurb!

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