This author was recommended by a friend as a read-alike to Georgette Heyer, and I can see that, though I think Heyer's writing is more sparkling. I ca...moreThis author was recommended by a friend as a read-alike to Georgette Heyer, and I can see that, though I think Heyer's writing is more sparkling. I can also see how Veryan might have influenced writers like Stephanie Laurens.
The writing is light and fast-paced, the setting was fun in some ways (secret passages, yay!) and scary in others (the government's post-war hunt for Jacobites), and I enjoyed the secondary characters. It did have a Scooby Doo tone throughout much of the story though, so be warned if that's not your cuppa. Also, it starts with one of the villains threatening to sexual assault the heroine, and I would have stopped at that point if I had less faith in the person who recommended this. (view spoiler)[He never quite manages it, thankfully, and doesn't really interact with the heroine much past the first third. (hide spoiler)]
I didn't quite fall in love with Penelope and Quentin as a couple -- I mean, they were entertaining at times, but I prefer heroes who are less likely to say "it would be a pity to let it all go to waste" (p. 139) right before falling into the bosom of the villain's wife, while the heroine is left waiting for his return, anxious that he might expose or further injure himself. Actually spent good chunks of the book wishing Penelope would switch her affections to Gordon or Tiele, as most of the trouble they encountered was because of Quentin's poor judgment and recklessness.
Still, enjoyed it enough that I'm planning to read more in the series. I'm hoping the sequel bait heroes that showed up in this story show more sense, though.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The book format wasn't quite what I expected. The basic formula is: brief author introduction of the school of writing (Historical Gothic, Radcliffe s...moreThe book format wasn't quite what I expected. The basic formula is: brief author introduction of the school of writing (Historical Gothic, Radcliffe style, Gothic Horror, etc.) followed by a brief excerpt from an influential piece (The Castle of Otranto, The Monk, Northanger Abbey, etc.).
Since I read a library copy that I was only able to keep for 6 weeks, I ended up having to rush through it a lot faster than would be ideal. It's more a reference book than a read-straight-through book.
The good - the brief introduction to prominent Gothic works from this period was a great way for me to see what authors/styles appealed to me and which ones aren't my cup of tea. For example, the zaniness of The Castle of Otranto is why I liked it, so reading that Clara Reeve kept the general concept but deliberately subtracted the goofy parts when she wrote The Old English Baron makes me think it's safe for me to skip that one.
- the commentary about Gothic novels within the context of their time was fascinating, the impact of the French Revolution on the thinking behind some of the novels especially. I suspected that Gothic novels were mocked by the powers that be as being silly brain candy for the female folk because that's how things work, but I had no idea that they were also a target for questioning the social order and women's' (dis)empowerment.
"the attack on Gothic novels in the contemporary press was informed by a conservative political ideology. As the Revolution in France degenerated into the wholesale slaughter of the Terror, which seemed to bury the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, much of the reactionary ruling class in England condemned such democratic ideals as leading inevitably to the complete collapse of society. Gothic novels were politically censured as 'the terrorist system of writing', and their authors denounced as Jacobins set on destroying England. Gothic novels were un-English -- and unmanly. Even the less demonstrative women novelists were branded as belonging to 'the Wollstonecraft school' of early feminism." (xi)
The less good - I was hoping for a little more original criticism by the author. The brief pieces that were included here were insightful and engaging, but they served more to whet my appetite than to sate it.
- some of the works the author references are going to be challenging to find. Like Hubert de Sevrac by Mary Robinson? The excerpt was amazing! But unless I want to read it online or on microform (which I don't), I'm SOL and pouty about it.(less)
This was so much fun! The setting is Georgian England, but the story structure and tone seemed much more 1930s to me, a slapstick comedy that had me c...moreThis was so much fun! The setting is Georgian England, but the story structure and tone seemed much more 1930s to me, a slapstick comedy that had me casting Carole Lombard as the mischievous Miss Thane, Errol Flynn as the dashing Ludovic, Fredric March as the level-headed Tristram, and... I'm still struggling to figure out who could do justice to Eustacie's morbid enthusiasms, prompted by too many Gothic romances.
If I hadn't been reading a library book, I would have dog-earred about half the pages in search of the perfect quote to share. But instead of quoting half the book, I'll share what is probably my favorite passage (along with the scene where Eustacie describes her imagined trip to the guillotine and the scene where Miss Thane and Tristram announce their betrothal. So many possible choices!)
"A secret panel?" repeated Miss Thane in an awed voice. "You mean actually a secret panel?" Ludovic regarded her with some slight concern. "Yes, why not?" "I thought it too good to be true," said Miss Thane. "If there is one thing above all others I have wanted all my life to do it is to search for a secret panel! I suppose," she added hopefully, "it would be too much to expect to find an underground passage leading from the secret panel?" Eustacie clasped her hands ecstatically. "But yes, of course! An underground passage--" "With bats and dead men's bones," shuddered Miss Thane. French common sense asserted itself. Eustacie frowned. "Not bats, no. That is not reasonable. But certainly some bones, chained to the wall." "And damp--it must be damp!" "Not damp; cobwebs," put in Ludovic. "Huge ones, which cling to you like--" "Ghostly fingers!" supplied Miss Thane. "Oh, Ludovic, there is a passage?" breated Eustacie. He laughed, "Lord, no! It's just a priests' hole, that's all." "How wretched!" said Miss Thane, quite disgusted. "It makes me lose all heart."
The concept is cool -- is the focus on individualistic self-help strategies inhibiting our willingness to confront the (often invisible) societal fact...moreThe concept is cool -- is the focus on individualistic self-help strategies inhibiting our willingness to confront the (often invisible) societal factors that lead women to feel overwhelmed with the demands put on them/seek therapy?
Maybe the writing style is throwing me off, but the actual content seems... very different, and much more historical than action-oriented. I don't know. Maybe I'm just the wrong audience.
In any case, this is due to be returned to the library and I won't be sad to give it back. Did not finish, no rating.(less)
Synopsis: After her father's death, Theodora Lestrange leaves Edinburgh to visit a childhood friend in Roumania and work on her novel. There,...more3.5 stars
Synopsis: After her father's death, Theodora Lestrange leaves Edinburgh to visit a childhood friend in Roumania and work on her novel. There, she meets the brooding Count Andrei Dragulescu. Gothic hijinks ensue.
The eerie tone is set as soon as Theodora enters Transylvania:
"The water flows from springs through the graveyards and into the town, its purity contaminated by the dead."
and continues throughout descriptions of the decayed castle:
"The candlelight gloom concealed the tarnish and moth I had detected by daylight, and the fire burning in the tremendous hearth and the great dog lounging beside it lent an air of medieval grandeur."
Similarly eery is her host, the Count Dragulescu. Recently returned to the castle after his father's death, the count had spent the past decade debauching around Paris, using Casanova and Baudelaire as his role models. At this point I was glad to be reading this for the Gothic aspects rather than the romance, as... ugh, not my scene. But I'm not the heroine of this particular story, Theodora is, and she had a much different response to the count:
"I dipped a spoon into the pudding and took a bite. It melted, creamy and luxurious against my tongue, the comfort of a nursery pudding dissolving into something quite exotic and otherworldly. What had been bland and uninspiring in Scotland here was mysterious and almost sensual. It seemed a fitting metaphor for the place itself, I decided with a flick of my gaze towards the count. I dipped my spoon again and gave myself up to the pleasures of the table."
Indeed, Theodora seems to relish her time in this strange land with its unexpected sensuality and danger, learning about the myths of werewolves and strigoi (vampires) with the same fascination as she learned about the local black apples. (Albeit with less doubts, vis à vis the apples.)
Even after learning that the count's late father might be a strigoi, out to destroy everyone who carries his blood, including his pregnant mistress/housemaid, Theodora becomes more immersed in the mystery and danger of the castle and its inhabitants. The count, of course, picks up on Theodora's Gothic fascination, and structures his seduction accordingly:
"Is it so terrible to believe in the dark and terrible things you have been told of? Fear and passion walk hand in hand, you know. We are afraid of being destroyed, being possessed, and yet we crave it. What child has not thrilled to ghost stories whispered under the bedclothes by the dark of the moon? And what man or woman has not longed to be lost in the wood and found again? I shook my head. "You speak in riddles and I do not understand you. He leaned forward, his grey eyes quite black in the shadowy room. "Then let me speak plainly. You are afraid here and you do not know what to believe. I have told you that I will protect you. You have only to trust me and you will be free to enjoy your fears."
Honestly, while I did mostly enjoy Theodora and Andrei's interaction, her endless ruminations about the relationship did start to wear on me after awhile. Which is why I was happy when condescending Charles (her publisher and not-quite-fiancé) arrives from Edinburgh to find out what's going on. I think he's supposed to be the level-headed nice boy in the love triangle, but since Theodora isn't really interested in him romantically, he serves more as a safety net for her in case she needs an out.
But his arrival also serves as a catalyst for the plot to really start, which I welcomed. A creepy atmosphere is all well and good, but story progression is also nice. Without spoiling things, what followed includes an attempted murder, more rumors of strigoi, betrayal, secret passages, a flight through the woods, poison, and a dog rescue. (Fun!)
Overall, I really enjoyed the author's writing style: While modern enough to be more accessible than its 19th century counterparts, it has the classic Gothic pacing and atmospheric tone, a mix of scary and sensual that made me smell the juniper and basil, and wonder what new monstrous thing would be unveiled next.(less)