Victoria Holt might be the most famous Gothic romance novelist but in terms of consistently good output, I think Phyllis A. Whitney is by far the best. POINCIANA, with its twists and turns of family drama, inheritance, Japanese art, and revenge, reminded me why I love these books so much. If you ever read those Point Horror middle grade novels as a kid, the effect of these is much the same, only with more sex and scandal, and with adult characters instead of kid ones.
Sharon is the newly orphaned daughter of a famous stage actress and her admiring husband. After her parents died in a terrible accident, she ended up marrying one of her parents' friends, a man named Ross many years her senior. He takes care of her and appreciates art as much as she did, particularly Japanese netsuke (kimono decorations), which he collects. She doesn't mind the age gap and thinks herself incredibly fortunate-- until he takes her to his family estate in Palm Beach, Poinciana. There, his mood takes a dark and sinister turn. He's no longer the man she's married, and every single one of his relatives and staff seems to hate her and want her to leave.
Jarrett, her husband's executive assistant, is sullen and resentful, and though attractive, Sharon can't help but feel hurt and annoyed that he appears to regard her as a gold-digging trophy wife. Ross's daughter, Gretchen, is similarly suspicious and resentful, and drops many hints that Ross's dark side might not be as hidden as he'd like his new wife to think. Gretchen's husband, Vasily, an easy-going European playboy, is the only one who's even remotely friendly, but it's obvious he's got something to hide. Allegra, Ross's mother, helped build the house, but now she's got dementia and is living in a lonely cottage off the property under the care of a servant named Myra while heavily sedated. And then there's Ross himself-- Ross, who's obsessed with her dead mother, keeps a portrait of her in a locked room, and even plays recordings of her singing while they make love. What's wrong with Ross? What is he, and his family, hiding? And why do they desperately want her to leave?
This was just so deliciously creepy. I was never 100% sure who was responsible for the murders and attempted murders, which is always a good sign. Whitney is so good at conjuring up this slow and creeping sense of doom, and while many Gothic romances have the atmosphere down, most of them can't quite manage the mystery. Some of Whitney's books toe the line between Gothic romance and romantic suspense, and I think you could say that this is one of these, although the ramshackle house, secretive family, and mysterious artwork definitely make this more like a traditional Gothic. I can't recommend these books enough to anyone who loves a good mystery-- they're so atmospheric and fun.
Reading this book was such a headache because FALLEN HEARTS picks up right where DARK ANGEL left off and doesn't skimp on the drama. As excited as I am to binge-read this series, picking up FALLEN was bittersweet, because it's my understanding that this is the first book in the Casteel series that wasn't written to completion by V.C. Andrews, but finished instead by the estate-appointed ghostwriter, Andrew Neiderman. I'm not sure how much he contributed, as the style is still very close to the first two, but it definitely wasn't as good as the previous book.
Heaven finally snags Logan and marries him, but the ghosts of the past won't stay buried. For one thing, she's in love with her dead uncle Troy and his phantom haunts the grounds. For another, her sister Fanny won't quit and Heaven, for some reason, hasn't learned ANYTHING from the events of the last two books and keeps inviting her back into her life again and again, with disastrous results. Then there's Tony, Heaven's father, who played a role in chasing her mother out of the Tatterton household and to her doom. His interest in Heaven is selfish and sinister, for he is a creep.
Like the other two books, this one doesn't skimp on the drama. The second book, DARK ANGEL, is probably my favorite in the series, because it struck a nice balance between realism and sensationalism, whereas this one gets a little ridiculous. I mean, Logan proposes to Heaven with a mansion made out of rainbow ice cream right in the beginning of this one, and it only gets worse from there. I hated him by the end of the book, although I started to hate Heaven a little, too, for her sanctimonious hypocrisy. Troy and Jillian fall into ruin, and Tony and Fanny made me see red-- especially Fanny, who is a lot like Joffrey from GoT in that her sole purpose is to make you mad.
Heaven made so many bad choices-- many of them recycled from the previous books-- that it was hard to sympathize with her as much. I really couldn't understand why she kept Tony and Fanny in her life, knowing what they did and what they were capable of. I was hoping for a Wuthering Heights haunting moment in which Heaven capitalized on her resemblance to her dead mother to haunt Tony and drive him to madness at the end of DARK ANGEL-- which would have been epic-- but that didn't happen then, and it didn't happen here. Jillian is the one who loses it, and it's out of a weird sense of guilt. And then there's Fanny-- I was hoping the trial at the end of the book would rake her over the metaphorical coals, but no, she got what she wanted, just as she always does. What the eff.
I experienced a lot of emotions reading this book, most of them shock and horror. It's tantamount to watching daytime television, so if you enjoy Jenny Jones and the like, this will be your cup of tea. I probably would have rated this higher if it had some of the more satisfying moments of the previous books, but I can't really give four stars to something that left me feeling this frustrated and annoyed.
Nobody ever accused me of having good taste in books, and I think that my enjoyment of classic V.C. Andrews virtually proves that. These books are like potato chips, in that you can't stop at just one. More often than not, they end on a cliffhanger, so you have to dive right into the next one. HEAVEN sets the stage for the series by introducing us to the super-poor Casteel family who live in a shack by the mountains, are basically trailer trash (except they live in a shack, so shack trash), and cursed with tragic beauty. :tear:
By the end of the book, Heaven's siblings have been auctioned off like cattle, she's been groomed by a predatory hebephile, and rejected by the man she thought she loved. If you think things couldn't possibly get any worse from there, pull on your big girl pants (or big boy pants) and take a seat, because they sure do. Heaven's new guardians are the parents of her birth mother and rich but flawed: Jillian is narcissistic and vapid, Tony is controlling and creepy. The only new "relative" she likes is her step-uncle, Troy, who lounges around in his cottage wearing puffy shirts.
This book was basically an exercise in reminding me why I hate all these characters. Fanny is terrible. Our Jane and Keith are terrible. Heaven's father is terrible. The pastor and his wife are terrible. Jillian and Troy are terrible. Logan is terrible (I knew it, though-- you can't trust boys). The girls at Heaven's boarding school are terrible, although there's this truly epic revenge prank involving a garment bag filled with diarrhea that was especially satisfying. I actually liked the ending, when Heaven goes a little crazy and dyes her hair to look like her dead mum's and wearing her mum's old dress, although I felt like what she did with that was a bit anticlimactic. I would have loved for her to dress up like the ghost of her dead mom and then fuck with Tony, who is a Certified Sick Fuck™.
Do I recommend this series? HECK YES. It's got tons of characters who are fun to despise, lots of over the top drama, and enough cheese to give Wisconsin a run for their Cheese Money™. I loved the FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC vibes this book gave me-- it all felt so claustrophobic and desperate, with enough atmosphere to drown in. Man, nobody can write doom like V.C. Andrews.
The Casteel series was the last of the family sagas that V.C. Andrews had a hand in before she died and her ghostwriter took over. It's impossible not to compare it to the Dollanganger series, especially since both approximate what you'd get if you decided to adapt a bodice-ripper for the not-so-discerning young-adult audience. On a scale of one to trash, this ranks a solid Bertrice Small: the writing is just as melodramatic, and Andrews regularly and predictably makes out parental figures to be abusive the same way that Small could be counted on to make all of her villains libertines and deviants.
HEAVEN is about a young girl named Heaven Leigh (get it?) Casteel. She lives in the hills, cramped in a small shed with her four other siblings, grandparents, father, and stepmother. She is the only child from her father's first marriage; her mother died in childbirth, and her father kept her on a pedestal in his mind. No other woman can match up, not even his daughters or his new wife, so he mostly ignores his children, abuses his wife, and is a regular attendee of the local "den of ill repute" despite the fact that they're all starving.
Heaven catches the eye of a rich boy because of her beauty, and this is a trope of Andrews's, too: there's always a soft and sensitive boy hero figure to whisk the heroine away from her wretched life-- until he proves to be just as disturbing as everyone else, only better at hiding it. Logan doesn't have a chance to show off any true colors he might have, though, as Heaven's father gets an STD, and kind of loses it after his wife has a deformed stillborn child; he gets the brilliant idea that the solution to their money problems is to sell off his children for $500/ea. to local rich people in the area.
Heaven gets sent off to live with a woman named Kitty, but her nickname could be "Mommie Dearest." She lives in a house filled with creepy ceramic animals and everything is pink. She has violent mood swings, and living in Casa de Crazy, you could find yourself having your hair lovingly combed out one minute, only to be thrown into a scalding hot Lysol bath the next (note: pretty sure this Lysol name-drop in the book was #notsponsored). Her only solace in this house is Kitty's young husband, Cal, but his feelings towards Heaven-- as you would expect-- aren't exactly pure.
HEAVEN was a good book-- and by a good book I mean it told a good story, even though the writing was arguably not good. It reminded me a lot of the stories I used to read on FictionPress back in the day, with its long laundry list of soap opera plot devices, and the fact that virtually every character in this book except for the good ones were villains. I hated Kitty, and I also hated Heaven's siblings, especially Fanny and "Our Jane." Tom was also creepy, and he and Heaven definitely had a "Flowers in the Attic" vibe going on, and I'm worried about what might happen with their relationship in the next book. Logan will be back, I'm sure, but whether he stays nice and heroic is anyone's guess.
If you're into bodice-rippers and vintage sleaze, I really can't urge you strongly enough to pick up V.C. Andrews's books. There is nothing quite like them, and you can take that how you like.
After reading so many Harlequin manga, it feels weird to pick up a manga that isn't about gushy romance, but gushy body parts. You think I'm kidding? Man, this is some creepy shit. I thought it was going to be a light-hearted gothic novel with cute little anime girls but now I'm literally freaking out because it's midnight and someone I know might disappear into the woods.
Jeanie and Amber are twin girls who are going to a boarding college in the Australian bushlands because reasons. They thought it would be an opportunity to connect with her aunt, but she drops them off and then immediately leaves under the cover of night, leaving them at the mercy of the crotchety and slightly creepy teachers, and the older than dirt VP. Almost as soon as they take up residence in the school, creepy things happen. Seances go awry, mirrors don't act normally, things watch them in the shadows, and they have some MFing terrifying nightmares about dead girls frolicking in trees raining blood. OH. EM. GEE.
I was actually very impressed by this story and how thoughtful and mysterious and creepy everything is. Sometimes horror anime goes totally over the top, like Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, or "When the Cicadas Cry" had a good atmosphere but also relied on shock horror and had a lot of splatterpunk, whereas THE DREAMING is much more psychological in nature and reminds me of Japanese horror films like The Ring and The Grudge in how it relies on atmosphere, emotion, and secrets to keep the story driving to its inevitable and creepy climax.
Even after finishing this review, I still have chills. I'm going to have to stay up for another hour or two reading something that isn't scary. If you enjoy horror movies, you should pick up this book. It is almost cinematic in its delivery, to the point where I could almost hear the wind and the eerie howls. Apparently the story was loosely inspired by The Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Have you ever felt both simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed by a book? Because that's kind of how I felt about this one, BLEDDING SORROW. It wasn't bad, but everyone was singing its praises to me about how it was such a mind-shattering Gothic novel that didn't care about happy endings, and reveled in its own twisted nature. That sounded like something I could totally get on board with, and I knew already that this author was fully capable of writing such dark and gloomy stuff that reading it could just about ruin your day, because Marilyn Harris also wrote THE EDEN PASSION, which has the dubious honor of being one of the more twisted and unpleasant "romance" novels I have ever read.
BLEDDING SORROW is only a romance in the most liberal sense of the word. There are two people who are in love in this book, but other than that, it doesn't really fit the genre for a wide variety of reasons. The focus of BLEDDING SORROW is definitely Gothic horror. The setting is an old Elizabethan house owned by the Bleddings, minor nobility that can be traced back centuries. The current owner, Geoffrey Bledding, is impoverished and must lease it out to the Historical Trust's various events. He and his staff are relegated to a distant wing of the house and are expected to make nice with the tourists and the students touring his home, which he does, playing host most convincingly.
But Geoffrey is not the gentlemanly lord that he seems. He's got his wife, Ann, locked away (an homage to the madwoman in the attic trope, perhaps), only he's the one who has caused her to be mad through many nights of druggings and rapes. Poor Ann's only solace are the small mercies of Caldy More, the servant, and the curious attentions of the handsome new coachman whose job it is to drive the coach and do menial tasks around the estate. Ironically, the first Geoffrey Bledding was also cuckolded by a coachman, and his reaction to this was, well, shall we say unreasonable.
Ghosts haunt BLEDDING SORROW, foreshadowing what will happen. All of the characters in the book seem to be locked into their paths, without question; this is a book that seems to believe in both fate, and the idea that history repeats itself. You'll suspect the ending, but it will probably still take you by surprise. I read a spoiler in one of the reviews on Goodreads and was still taken aback. Holy shit. What an unfair, depraved little book. But then, of course the woman who decided to have a narcissistic coward as the hero of her romance would choose to end her Gothic romance in this way.
Should you read it? Only if you like dark, depressing books and aren't easily offended by outmoded tropes and language. BLEDDING SORROW is not PC, and it doesn't pull back any punches when it comes to the mistreatment of its characters. I think it might have been a more effective book if the characters were more fully fleshed out. Ironically, the supporting character, Caldy More, has the most deep and thoughtful development over the book, whereas the three mains feel much more shallow and superficial - at least to me. That said, I did think it was interesting, and if you can manage to find a copy (sadly it's still out of print), it's worth a read for the WTFery alone.
Reading a Phyllis Whitney novel after a Victoria Holt has officially cemented Ms. Whitney as my new favorite gothic romance author. Many gothic romance authors wrote historical and "contemporary" gothic novels, but the "contemporary" ones were often horrendously dated and bad, because they were written in the same overly wordy and prudishly old-fashioned style, which ended up feeling jarring and anachronistic. Here, with SNOWFIRE, Whitney managed to capture the claustrophobic and smothering atmosphere of a crumbling manor home on the moors, even though it's set in a swanky modern ski lodge. How does she do it? With atmosphere, crafty wordsmithing, and a plucky heroine reminiscent of Nancy Drew who is determined to do what is right, even if it means sacrificing her own beliefs.
The heroine is named Linda and she has come to the Graystones, a cozy ski lodge, not for skiing but to exonerate her brother, Stuart. The Graystones are owned by a man named Julian McCabe, an ex-champion skiier. His wife, Margot McCabe, also used to love to ski, but an accident left her in a wheelchair and she was never quite the same afterwards. When she ended up being pushed off the ramp on her balcony by an unknown assailant, Stuart, who was studying skiing under Julian and his sinister groundsman, Emory, was blamed. There are too many holes in the story given, however, so Linda manages to secure a position as a hostess of the lodge while also attempting to ingratiate herself into the McCabe family to find out more information about who might have wanted to kill Margot - and why.
One of the things I love about Whitney's works is that she is so good at writing emotional scenes. A lot of gothic romances seem watered down and dreary, but that has never been the case for me when reading a Phyllis A. Whitney book. The McCabe family is emotionally devastated over Margot's death and features a wide array of characters that are eccentric and suspicious. There's Julian, of course, who might have wanted his wife dead because of the hindrance she proved. There's Julian's sister, Shan, who is a flower child that carries spells in her back pocket and believes that the family cat is a reincarnation of Margot (creepy). And then there's Adria, the daughter of Margot and Julian, who might also have reason to kill Margot, and seems to be seriously emotionally disturbed.
I think one of the reasons I love these gothic novels so much is that they remind me of the middle grade Point Horror novellas I devoured by the dozens in middle school. This one in particular made me think of that old R.L. Stine novella, SKI WEEKEND. They're a little dated but in a way that feels more nostalgic than tone-deaf, and I recommend them to anyone who used to read all those trashy middle grade horror novels and then grew up craving more. :)
As if I needed an excuse to read more gothic romances... well, I do, which is why I'm taking part in a Halloween Reading Challenge designed to celebrate all things paranormal, dark, and spooky in my favorite genre - romance.
Victoria Holt, who died in 1993, was one of the obvious go-to choices for the "author who is dead" category. Not only was she exceptionally prolific, she was also a writer in two of my favorite vintage romance subgenres: pulpy gothics and pulpy historicals (the historicals were written under the penname, Jean Plaidy). The only problem with that is that being so prolific means that sometimes, quality takes a nosedive. There are Holt novels that I loved... and then there are Holt novels that left me shaking my head and going WHAT.
THE SHIVERING SANDS has a kind of silly title, which made me think of the Shifting Sand Lands level from Mario 64, and an equally silly premise. Our heroine, Caroline, was the only non-archeologist in her family. She loved music. One day, both her parents died tragically on their way to a dig, leaving her archeology-loving sister, Roma, and her both adult orphans to pave their own way. Roma continued doing her thing and became a prominent influence in her field, whereas Caroline decided to give up her passion to be supportive of her man, Pietro, whom she obviously still respects despite him being a grade-A jerk who says things like "you are worthy of me." He dies tragically too, and Caroline fiddlefarts around until Roma goes missing on a dig in Kent, after which Caroline decides to go play some Scooby Doo and figure out where her sister went.
Being the widow of a famous pianist (and a pianist of some repute herself) gives her easy entrance to the family who owns the lands where Roma was investigating. And this family - this family has one of the most confusing vipers' nest of a relationship tree that I have encountered in a while. She becomes piano teacher to three girls, one of whom is the vicar's daughter (Silvia). The other two girls, Allegra and Alice, have TWO different mothers. Alice is, I believe, the illegitimate child of the vicar's daughter's wife and the Stacy patriarch, Sir William. Allegra is the daughter of the black sheep son of Sir William, Napier, and a gypsy woman. This means that Alice, while being young enough to be Napier's daughter, is actually his step-sister(?) and Silvia's half-sister. There's this crazy old woman named Sybil who likes to paint creepy paintings, and I think she is Sir William's spinster sister, which would make her Alice's aunt, and Allegra's great-aunt. Napier, meanwhile, is engaged to Sir William's rich ward, Edith, which has put him back in his father's favor, because he has been ostracized for several years due to his possible murder of his younger brother and family golden child, Beau, which led his mother to commit suicide. BUT WAIT, there's more. As it turns out, Allegra is actually Beau's daughter, not Napier's, so she is his niece, and not his daughter. And Alice isn't Sir William's child at all, but the child of a criminal. If that doesn't give you a headache, I'm not sure what will. But man, I had a hell of a time trying to keep track of all these people.
THE SHIVERING SANDS is one of my least favorite Holt novels. It's so boring and slow to start that I skimmed for the first 150-pages or so. Then she employs this gross trope she's done in a couple of other books of hers that I can't stand. The heroine falls for a MARRIED man and Holt legitimizes this relationship by killing off the wife somehow so he's freed up for the heroine. The author did this in THE DEVIL ON HORSEBACK as well, which is another book of hers I wasn't crazy about. It was even more annoying here because the wife was killed in a series of 80s slasher movie-esque murder sprees, as well as the heroine's sister (which bummed me out - I was hoping she'd be returned safely). To the author's credit, I actually didn't guess who the killer was until the reveal, and the heroine ends up in some pretty serious trouble at the end. Too bad the previous 200 pages before the grand reveal didn't make me care more. Also, F that hero, who is just as judgy and pretentious as her ex-husband. He doesn't have any of the rugged gothic charm that some of Holt's other heroes have, and the excessive name-drops of Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre didn't win this book any favors, because all it did was remind me of other, better gothic romances that I could be reading instead.
I'm even more annoyed because usually I only spend $1.99 on an ebook, but since this is an author I usually like, I bit the bullet and spend $2.50 or whatever it was this ebook cost when it was on sale. So the fact that I did that and had this book blow so much was the straw on the camel's back, as far as I'm concerned. If you want to get into this author, I'd recommend starting with THE PRIDE OF THE PEACOCK, MENFREYA IN THE MORNING, or ON THE NIGHT OF THE SEVENTH MOON. Stay away from this one, though, unless you want to be annoyed and confused, like I was.
Reading this book made me so, so happy because it's basically everything I ever wanted in a gothic novel. October is the perfect time of the year to be reading these too. When the leaves start turning and the weather cools down, there's nothing better than bundling up in your favorite blanket with a mug of tea and hunkering down with an old-timey mystery novel from the pre-Internet days.
I was suckered into buying THE QUICKSILVER POOL because the premise seemed to be promising a Daphne DuMaurier/REBECCA-inspired jaunt through the post-Civil War South. The heroine, Lora, was a nurse during the Civil War and ended up marrying wealthy Union soldier, Wade. When we meet her, he is just bringing her home to meet the fam, which includes his son from his previous marriage, Jemmy, and the looming and sinister matriarch, Mrs. Tyler.
Lora quickly becomes miserable because it's clear that her husband still carries a torch for his first wife, whose presence looms everywhere in the house. Her mother-in-law is awful, and when she's not making snide comments about how much better the first wife was, she's mocking Lora for being classless and inferior, and emotionally blackmailing everyone else in order to get her way. Other sinister characters include the sister of the first wife, a woman named Morgan who might have designs on Lora's husband, and a mysterious freed slave named Rebecca. REBECCA. Oh, yes, this was definitely REBECCA-inspired. That absolutely cinches it.
The last book I read by Phyllis Whitney was called THE MOONFLOWER and was also post-war, only that war in question was WWII. Many of the things I liked about THE QUICKSILVER POND were also present in THE MOONFLOWER - a rich and detailed setting, complex and sometimes unlikable characters who develop in interesting ways over the course of the story, and an emphasis on familial relationships and interactions that are strengthened through adversity. Another one of my favorite gothic romance authors is Victoria Holt, but many of her heroines are passive and lack agency, and she tends to fall into the trap of demonizing The Other Woman. Whitney, by contrast, is much more feminist in flavor - her heroines are independent and grow stronger as the books go on, and, even more shocking and welcome: she often has a surprising and interesting twist with the other women you meet in the story, making them into interesting and well-rounded characters.
Like THE MOONFLOWER, THE QUICKSILVER POND is slow to start, but then it really picks up the pace and is full of action. It's largely character-driven, but when those characters might be involved in covering up family secrets and murders, the pace quickly picks up. I couldn't put this book down and was desperate to find out what everyone was hiding. I wasn't disappointed. The ending was pretty great, and showed just how developed each of the characters was, in my opinion.
One caveat: the N word is used once, towards the end, but not in a positive or casual way - and the person who says it is not good. I understand some people will take issue with this, but in a post-Civil War society near the South where people are feeling angry and cheated over the outcome of the war, this felt pretty realistic to me. You may feel differently, and that is your right. /shrug
If you want to get in on the gothic-novel craze but are afraid they might put you to sleep with their harmless coziness, pick up this book. This was a great book. Definitely my fave of hers so far. You can expect to see more paranormal- and mystery-themed romances from me this month as I work through this Halloween-themed challenge. So far, it seems to me that I'm off to a pretty good start. (If you want to take a peek at what other books I'll be doing this month, you can view them here.)
Look at that cover - oh my God, the pose, the costumes, the cheese. This is what I live for, as a reviewer of vintage romance novels. Bad romance covers are a key part of the Old Skool Experience™. That said, once I got over the low resolution Photoshop job and what is either a B-movie vampire wearing a Target Halloween costume or an innovative male stripper wearing a pair of armpit tassels, I noticed the small blurb at the top that said, "A breathtaking vampire romance in the tradition of LINDA LAEL MILLER." Once I stopped giggling over the (I'm assuming) unintentional pun of "breathtaking" to refer to a vampire romance, I was like, "Wait, why does Linda Lael Miller sound so familiar?"
...Oh wait, I remember. She's that lady who wrote FOREVER AND THE NIGHT: the romance novel that has the dubious honor of being one of the worst vampire novels I ever read, due to "Anglo-Saxon" sex words, eyelid-licking, and Nazi costumes.
And this book is written "in the tradition" of... that.
To PRINCE OF THE NIGHT's credit, it isn't quite that cringe-worthy, but it's still pretty bad. What makes this sad, is that the book actually has a really great start. Cordelia is an upstanding young English miss. She's escorting her pregnant cousin, Mary, and her maid Ellen, to this reclusive Italian estate called the Three Fountains - allegedly a long-forgotten home owned by her father. When she gets there, she's shocked to find out that the estate - which is really more of a sprawling mansion - already has an owner, the Count of Albion.
Right away, things are super suspicious. There are several murders, which may or may not have to do with the Second Italian War of Independence; the Count has a number of young boys as servants, avoids being in their company, won't eat the food, and makes a creepy comment about Cordelia being a virgin; and, oh yes, the two Austrian soldiers who escorted Mary and Cordelia to the castle from the inn seem super suspicious of everyone - especially Cordelia - and nobody takes her suspicious seriously, except for the Count's sinister and elderly maid.
As I said, the beginning is great, and has that claustrophobic, gothic vibe I've grown to love, and pays a brilliant homage to the original Dracula novel written by Bram Stoker. All that changes when Cordelia finally acknowledges her attraction to Dakon (Count Albion), which in my opinion happens much too quickly, and things start getting weird as Jasmine Cresswell starts playing around with the vampire mythology in order to make it her own.
First of all, the vampires in this world come from outer-space. That's right. They are aliens.
Second of all, they can only impregnate virgins.
"It's true, then? The count must drink human blood in order to live?" "Only at ... certain times," Anna said. "For years he has tried to make do with the blood of young boys, but there is no substitute for the blood of a female virgin where my master is concerned." "The blood of men and women is the same - " "No, signorina, it cannot be, and the blood of virgins seems more potent than any other. His people have discovered that they can only produce offspring if their female partners are virgin" (250).
Third of all, all vampire offspring created with humans are male because the coupling is so violent.
"It seems so strange. In your own world, girls must presumably have been born in equal numbers with boys, so what is it about joining with human females that causes only boys to be born?" For a moment, Dakon didn't respond. "Our scientists have concluded that the violence inherent in the act of mating with a human determines that the offspring of the union will always be male," he said. His voice was harsh, and he obviously disliked reminding her of the brutal reality of his nature (302).
Vampires apparently go through this mating frenzy where they lose control to the point of rape. They can also kill by tearing the throat of the person they're mating with. So how do you get a girl?
"Perhaps they have not examined the situation from the correct point of view," Cordelia said. "But it seems to me that if you insure that the mating between a Vam-pyr and a human female is not violent, then the child resulting from that union will be a girl" (302).
So, need a boy child? Use your human wife ill. Need a girl child? Love her tender.
You know what makes this even more disturbing, though? When Dakon and Cordelia (inevitably) have a child - and of course it's a girl - and show her to her vampire grandfather, he's shocked.
ZArymp (lol) shook his head in bewilderment. "Vampire babies are always boys. For four thousand years, no Vam-pyr has ever fathered a female child" (377).
What the flipping-frick. That's got terrifying implications. For FOUR THOUSAND YEARS, vampires have been gleefully and violently ill-using humans, and nobody took a moment to stop and think, "Hmm, maybe we should be subverting the violence that's inherent in the system?" Nobody?
The sex scenes are all pretty terrible, too. Vampires were, historically, an interesting and "safe" allegory of earthly sexuality without totally offending Victorian sensibilities. Cresswell really takes the phallic imagery of a vampire's fangs and runs with it.
His sacs burst instantly, sending mating fluid streaming into the tiny openings he had made in Cordelia's throat. His whole body pulsed with the power of her blood, and her body thrummed with the erotic impact of his mating fluid (370).
This box set is a collection of Jennifer Blake's Gothic romances, most of which were published under the name "Patricia Maxwell." Unlike her bodice rippers, her Gothic romances are very clean and while they share features of her bodice rippers, such as lavish clothing and architecture porn and icy but misunderstood heroes, they are much more tame and inoffensive - at least in the sexual sense. There are other kinds of WTFery offered by these Gothic novels, as you will see.
BRIDE OF A STRANGER is definitely the most WTF in the collection. Claire is supposed to marry her cousin but ends up catching the eye of a scarred and dangerous rogue who spirits her away to his plantation mansion where all of the freed slaves still reside and practice voodoo. Claire isn't the only one feeling ambivalent about this abrupt marriage as it quickly becomes clear that someone on her new husband's estate is trying to kill her.
I'm a sucker for the "hero in pursuit" trope, so that opening when Justin made his feelings known to Claire and blackmailed her aunt into allowing marriage was, well, amazing. It gave me heart eyes, because I'm a disturbing individual. I also liked the prevalence of voodoo in the storyline, because that was a common trope with bodice rippers set in the Caribbean, so it was like seeing a bit of Jennifer Blake's bodice ripper future trying to crawl its way out through the pages. Likewise, there's a bit of orgiastic naked dancing and animal sacrifice - not a Gothic romance for maiden aunts!
This one was okay. Lillian's father is trying to force her to marry a local preacher and things get awkward when she refuses his suit. The two are riding home together, in awkward silence, when a storm hits, forcing the two of them to take shelter at a place called "The Plantation Inn." The Inn is quite crowded with a number of curious characters who all seem harmless until, of course, Lillian locks eyes with a dark and dangerous individual who sets her heart a-fluttering.
She and the other tenants also quickly find out that a murderous outlaw made his escape from nearby and might very well be among them. Suspicion rises, reaching a fever pitch after several increasingly malicious acts that include smearing someone's destroyed clothes with poop and killing the inn's cat (poor kitty). The parlor mystery set-up makes this book feel a bit different from Maxwell's usual formula of the ingenue getting wrapped up in domestic politics and treachery but I liked it. The ending was a bit confusing, though, and this book was very, very light on romance.
I fully expected to like THE SECRET OF MIRROR HOUSE more than I did, but I felt like I'd read the story before in the form of Dorothy Eden's DARKWATER and Patricia Maxwell's own DARK MASQUERADE. DARK MASQUERADE definitely follows that ingenue-gets-involved formula I was telling you about earlier, but the characters were so flat that I didn't really care about what happened to them, sadly. I wanted to like this way more than I did, but the hot-and-cold hero and wimpy heroine killed this for me. The best thing about this book is the atmosphere.
I averaged out my ratings for this book and came up with 2.8, roughly, which I'll round up to three since the first two books in this collection were quite good. I don't always have the best luck with bundles but I got this one for free and I consider liking 2 of those 3 books a bargain, indeed.
STRANGER AT PLANTATION INN is another one of those old retro gothic romances, but this one has a distinctly Agatha Christie flavor which makes it extra fun. Lillian Newton has been the victim of her father's meddling as he tries to finagle her a husband in the form of the semi-local traveling preacher, George. Lillian, being a feminist and an adventurous spirit, doesn't take kindly to George's sexism-infused gospel, and the two of them are returning home in rather awkward and miserable condition following her refusal.
A heavy rain forces the two of them to take shelter at a place called "The Plantation Inn." Run by an old-fashioned, cozy couple, the inn is peopled with tons of other travelers who are also seeking shelter. A claustrophobic atmosphere settles over the group as they chat, and various fissures and idiosyncracies surface, made ever more sinister as they learn that a murderous outlaw has escaped from nearby.
I liked STRANGER AT PLANTATION INN a lot because as I mentioned before, it has that "claustrophobic" Agatha Christie parlor mystery vibe. The bad guy(s) are also pretty inventive with their nastiness in this book, including tearing up someone's wardrobe and smearing all their ruined clothes with poop (ew) and killing the family pet (*sobs*). The escaped outlaw bit was super cheesy but it definitely added tension to the book, which I liked.
STRANGER AT PLANTATION INN is one of those throwaway-type books where you read them and are entertained, but then immediately forget the details of as soon as you close the cover (or click to the last page of the book, if you're reading a Kindle). I got it in a bundle edition of several of Patricia Maxwell's older Gothic novels and rating wise, it sits snugly in the middle of the three. If you're a fan of Agatha Christie, I think this would be a good introduction to the gothic romance genre for you, but if you're hoping for a more traditional, romantic read, this book is not that.
A lot of gothic romance novels have really similar plots, but with THE SECRET OF MIRROR HOUSE, I had an especial case of deja vu, because it felt like a mashup of two other gothic romances that I read and enjoyed a lot more: Dorothy Eden's DARKWATER and Jennifer Blake's other book, DARK MASQUERADE. That's never a good sign.
The plot is pretty basic. Following a tragedy (the death of her mother), Amelia comes to live with her relatives at Mirror House. Once there, she realizes that they're all pretty awful people who don't seem to want her to be there, and shortly after her arrival, ends up becoming victim to a number of odd and sinister tricks, including being run down in the woods and nearly being left to drown in a swampy lake. Dun, dun, dun.
The "secret" in this case is with regard to why Amelia was invited to stay at Mirror House in the first place, and the strange, masked woman who roves the halls at night like a ghost. I wanted to be more involved in this mystery than I was, but sadly, the twist was very similar to the one in DARKWATER, down to a very similar character trope. I was also really bored for most of this book. There just wasn't enough happening and I didn't care about any of the characters. Reba and Sylvestor were creepy creepsters. James was kind of smarmy. Amelia was bland and a little TSTL. Nelville is the typical Broody McMightBeABadman gothic romance hero, except this being set in Louisiana, he drops a ton of sinister aphorisms that make him sound like a Francis Underwoodesque character who wouldn't be out of place on House of Cards.
I think the best thing about this book is the humid, claustrophobic Southern atmosphere and beautiful writing. It's pretty chilly right now, but I could just picture that swampy heat and the sticky sweat pouring down my neck, and you know that's the mark of a talented writer, being able to set the scene like that. I'm working my way through Jennifer Blake's bodice rippers and gothic romances, and so far I like her bodice rippers more, because I think the temptation with a gothic novel is to be slow in order to draw out the mystery, whereas bodice rippers, as the name implies, are all about the action.
I'm curious if there's a difference between her novels published under the Patricia Maxwell name vs. the Jennifer Blake name, because I really enjoyed the last Blake gothic romance I read, but it was originally a Maxwell title (DARK MASQUERADE). We'll see, I guess!
Maybe if I had forced myself to slog through the remaining 53% I might have found it in me to award this book an extra star. But I couldn't really muster the enthusiasm. I really enjoyed the other book I read by this author, a Gothic called DARKWATER. The premise of SLEEP IN THE WOODS sounded even more intriguing.
Briar is the servant of two wealthy girls seeking husbands. They go to New Zealand to find their matches, bringing Briar with them, living with their aunt. Briar is very ambitious and strives to catch the attention with one of the local boys, but instead, at a masquerade (because #MistakenIdentity!), she ends up in the arms of the dangerous and very wealthy Saul.
Thus compromised, Saul has no choice but to marry her and take her to his home in the heart of Maori country, where the local indigenous peoples are portrayed as ruthless, violent cannibals.
I wanted to like this book. I love Gothic novels, and even though this is as un-PC as all get-out (reminiscent, in a way, of that exploitation film Cannibal Ferox), I am willing to tolerate un-PC content if it a) suits a purpose, b) suits the times, and c) doesn't involve children or animals. But I can't stomach a book that is boring. And boring this book was.
Sorry to give this a bad review, but that's how it goes.
Holy #StealthReads, Batman! It's been a while since I sneaked a book past GR's radar, but I've been so tired lately that I've mostly been napping on public transport instead of reading on it. I finally finished my most recent purse book, and that book was THE DEVIL ON HORSEBACK by Victoria Holt (because you know that with a title like that, I couldn't help but buy it).
Victoria Holt is one of those authors I keep coming back to again and again, even though I have a love-hate relationship with her books. When she's on her game, she is on her game; but she also churns out a fair number of misses. For me, THE DEVIL ON HORSEBACK was one of her misses.
Unlike most of her Gothic romances, which are set in Victorian England, THE DEVIL ON HORSEBACK is set in Georgian England with the French Revolution looming close-by.
The heroine, Minella, is the daughter of a school teacher who has lofty aspirations for her daughter. These aspirations come to a bitter end with her untimely death - especially when the nobleman who was angling after Minella is corralled back into his family's clutches, basically leaving her alone and penniless. Minella has a friend named Margot who is the daughter of a Comte, and she ends up pregnant (out of wedlock). Her angry father sends the two of them away (blackmailing Minella into going by saying that the scandal would threaten her school) until Margot gives birth.
Minella continues to live with Margot and her father, much to the perplexity of their rich friends. She starts hearing whispers that make her uneasy - whispers whose truths are confirmed when the Comte asks her to be his mistress! She is attracted to him despite herself, traitorous body, etc. etc., but cannot give in to such wicked urges because propriety! So she tells him no, because he is married and she is not that kind of woman, etc. etc. How convenient then that the Comte's wife dies shortly thereafter, overdosing on her own medicine! How coincidental! Surely the two are not related, right? RIGHT?
Meanwhile, the French Revolution is happening and stones are thrown at glass houses and people are being attacked and executed. It's really more of a backdrop thing than an actual addition to the setting until the very end, and only when it directly impacts one of the two main characters. This plot twist fails to capture the horror of the French Revolution, however, and is resolved bloodlessly and quickly.
I am disappointed by this book. My friend Naksed said that this book reminded her of a watered down DEMON LOVER, and even though I did not like DEMON LOVER, I think that is true. The plot and the writing were so much better in DEMON LOVER, and if it weren't for how spineless the heroine was and how unrealistic her reactions were to the brutish hero's actions, I would have given it a much higher rating. The wicked Comte had a few good lines:
"When we transgress," he went on, "we must pay for our sins. This is the payment I ask." He took my face in his hands and kissed me on the lips - not once but many times (22)
"I assure you I am the tireless hunter. I never give up until I have my prey" (157)
But mostly, he just came across as a creepy older dude who was obsessed with the best friend of his daughter, at the expense of his still-very-much-alive-until-one-point wife. I spent most of this novel feeling very bored, and that is a very terrible way to feel while reading a book.
THE EDEN PASSION is a literary Dementor: it will suck all of the joy out of your life, leaving you feeling empty and desolate inside. I thought, after reading the two previous books in the serious, that I was adequately prepared for the emotional despair of THE EDEN PASSION, but I was sorely mistaken. THIS OTHER EDEN is a dark, Gothic bodice ripper with a few horrific scenes peppered along to spice up the obsessive love story, and THE PRINCE OF EDEN is a tale of doomed love set amidst a backdrop of petty rivalries and greed for land in the vein of Philippa Gregory's Wideacre trilogy.
THE EDEN PASSION is a different beast entirely.
***WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***
There are three parts to this novel, which I'm going to describe as parts I, II, and II in the breakdown to follow. Oh, and for the record, this book isn't a standalone. You need to read the first two books in the series, not just for characters and important background information, but also because each book builds off the former, and sometimes you can't appreciate the gloomy doom and horror properly if you don't have the information provided in the previous books. You will have a nebulous sense that something is wrong, and you might suspect, but you won't know why, with that same level of sinking, open-mouthed horror that you would have if you read the other books.
PART I of the book literally opens with the last chapter of book 2, THE PRINCE OF EDEN. After his father's death, John comes to Eden, broken and bedeviled. The occupants are shocked, obviously, not just because his return is unwelcome (it is), but also because he's the spitting image of his father, Edward, who caused quite a scandal with his affair with his brother's wife, and his rather casual selling of Eden-owned land to fund his schools for the poor and underprivileged in London. At first, he is treated as a servant and forced to shovel manure, pending the authenticity of his claim to Eden ancestry, but Harriet Eden, the current lady Eden, has a change-of-heart, and invites him into the castle. Her motives aren't exactly pure, though, and John's entrance to the castle sparks a dark retelling of Oedipus Rex, in nearly every way, and let me tell you, the author knew what she was doing. She even alludes to it, sneakily, by having one of the children (one of John's half-siblings), refer to Sophocles and one of his plays in the schoolroom. Yeah, I see your game.
When the inevitable tragedy happens, PART II begins. A stunned and traumatized John stumbles from Eden and ends up meeting a manic pixie dreamgirl named Lila, who I'm half-convinced is actually Luna Lovegood in disguise (she's the blonde woman on the original 80s cover). Lila is known for being weird, as she makes up stories and talks to her pet cat, Wolfe, and seems to conceive of herself as being a bit mystical and touched with supernatural powers. John and Lila hit it off, and agree to exchange letters. Meanwhile, John ends up going out to pull himself up like his bootstraps but ends up being enlisted into the Crimean War. After being wounded and recovering in a hospital where Florence Nightingale makes a cameo appearance, he goes to India just in time for the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Another tragedy strikes the Indian woman he meets there, Dhari, also in the form of gruesome mutilation, and he ends up taking both her and her son, Aslam, with him out of guilt. Jeez, at this point, I'm thinking, "Are any of the women in his acquaintance NOT going to have anything bad happen to them? Lila is imprisoned in her room by her overprotective parents and John's foster mother, Elizabeth, is brutally raped and beaten by the villain, King Asshat himself.
Part III brings everything full circle. Elizabeth and John reunite and he forgives her for returning to the Oldest Profession in the World. Dhari smilingly steps back as John marries his new, white wife. King Asshat is whipped and sent home in his carriage in disgrace. All the happy people return to a now impoverished Eden Castle, where the madwoman in the attic awaits their return. It begins as it ends, with John coming home, but both Johns are very different people - for better, or for worse.
THE EDEN PASSION was a really intense read and I actually had to set it aside for a week or two around the 200-page mark because there's a scene of self-mutilation in here that's pretty graphic. Likewise, PART II in India is also pretty hard to swallow. The N-word is bandied around a lot, and the hypocrisy of the Christian missionaries is shown with how they say their prayers even as they take advantage of the locals, and Dhari herself was almost a victim to the practice of Suttee, something the ex-missionary who takes her as he pleases tells the table with relish despite her obvious mortification and shame. The portrayal of British Colonial India is portrayed, naturally, with all of the cultural sensitivity of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There weren't ninja Kali worshipers with scimitars and questionable buffets of leech-filled snakes and monkey brains on ice, but I feel like those could have just as easily been ideas that Marilyn Harris was keeping on the back-burner. You know, just in case all the surprise incest and character tortures weren't enough. I think the last time I read a bodice-ripper that was so dark and so cruel to the characters inside was when I read Parris Afton Bonds's DUST DEVIL. That was another book that also had me needing to set it down, but unlike THE EDEN PASSION, it petered out in the end once the cruel deed was done.
THE EDEN PASSION is not a bad book. It is definitely my least favorite of the three, though (book 2 was my favorite, but I think the first book had the most poetic writing). The quality of the writing and the complexity of the characters pales somewhat here, and I got the impression that Harris was trying to overcompensate for that with more shocking twists and horrific tortures. There's a real Game of Thrones vibe in this book, where the wars and the relationships play a foil to some truly horrific scenes that appear to be done specifically to horrify and scandalize. I couldn't help but wonder what the public at large made of this book when it came out. Was it banned from certain venues? Or, because it was packaged as a romance, did it just end up becoming a best-kept secret that sat on the check-out racks at local grocery stores like a ticking time-bomb of general wtfery?
I don't know, but if you feel like you're too happy in life and want to take yourself down a few pegs, check out the Eden series and enjoy the greatest ritualistic act of literary suffering since embarking upon the Game of Thrones series. Endeavour publishing has been rerelasing these books for Kindle and you can get a fair number of these previously out-of-print books on the cheap, and they don't appear to be censoring out or rewriting the questionable parts like other rereleases, either.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Bodice rippers have a bad reputation. When people think "bodice ripper," they tend to picture a Technicolor book cover featuring a buxom women swooning in the arms of a shirtless hunk and a plot that contains more cheese than the state of Wisconsin. The book I tricked my romance group into reading certainly fell under that category. But while some of them are awful, there are some genuinely good ones that are either extraordinarily well-researched or else so cracktastic that the anachronisms and politically incorrect terms become, if not amusing then morbidly fascinating. (I encourage anyone interested in exploring bodice rippers for themselves to check out my bodice ripper shelf on Goodreads. Anything 3+ stars is v. good(!), and yes, I do try to discuss trigger warnings.)
The Eden series falls into both the well-researched and the cracktastic camp, which makes them extra special. The series is being rereleased for Kindle (books 1 & 2 are currently free if you have Kindle Unlimited), and Netgalley recently approved me for a copy of book 3 in the series, THE EDEN PASSION. Once I stopped screaming with excitement, I immediately picked up my ***hard cover editions*** of the first two books to binge through. The first book, THIS OTHER EDEN, is more of a traditional bodice ripper, with the hero and heroine coming to blows (literally - and it involves a public whipping) and going through about sixty different kinds of hell, before reuniting in what is more of a satisfactory ending than a truly happy one. It had its flaws, but I loved the detail and the fact that all of the characters are morally grey.
The second book, THE PRINCE OF EDEN, is a family saga - which were quite popular in the 80s, and often turned into the more "unisex" version of bodice rippers. THE PRINCE OF EDEN is about the children of Marianne and Thomas, the main couple in the first book. This book is set several decades later. Thomas is dead, Marianne is an old woman, and their two sons are middle-aged. Edward is a bastard, because despite having the same parents as his brother, he was born before his parents were married due to a technicality (read: marriage!pranks). Out of guilt, Thomas Eden bequeathed to Edward the entire Eden family fortune, as well as the estate. The legitimate son, James, received the title - and that's it. Everything he has is dependent on his brother's good will.
Obviously, there is bad blood about this, and James and his sinister and incestuous servants, the Cranfords (read: Lannisters) are planning a lawsuit with the help of the family lawyer, Sir Claudius. All of them want the Eden money for themselves, and it fills them with Impotent Victorian Rage™ that Edward is going out to the slums of London and using the money to help poor orphans and prostitutes. Edward is an idealist, and, despite seeing the darker side of humanity on a daily basis, painfully naive, cushioned by the wealth and privilege that he takes for granted and gives away freely. When that reality touches him personally with tragedy, he turns to opium for solace, and ends up having an affair with his brother's bride-to-be, Harriet Powels.
There isn't really much in the way of plot in this book, apart from the will-they, won't they matter of the lawsuit. But this book is peopled with such a broad spectrum of intriguing characters that I really didn't care. The Cranfords were so sinister and conniving. James is weak and spineless, but has occasional moments of kindness. Edward wants so desperately to do the right thing but constantly reverts to the sins of the father. Marilyn Harris is really good at making you feel things about her characters, and when bad things happen to them, it hurts. THE PRINCE OF EDEN wasn't as crazy as its prequel, but there were still a few bits of OTT that surfaced, such as baby torture, a woman who "gets off" by riding her horse without underclothes, Mr. and Mrs. Incest, Bad Things Happening in Prisons, and of course, a gritty portrayal of drug addiction, withdrawal, and relapse.
I would have given this five full stars if the ending hadn't disappointed me. I was ready to pump my fist in triumph, but Marilyn Harris yanked away my joy before my outstretched fingers had scarcely brushed it. I can't forgive her for that. I'm a very petty individual, and thieves of joy are the absolute worst criminals in the literary cannon. This is a well known fact.
Apart from that, the Eden series is amazing, and it's on Kindle, so please, please read these books, and tag me in your reviews so I can stalk your updates, because everyone knows that watching your friends read your favorite books is the next-best thing to reading them yourself. :-)
THIS BOOK IS CURRENTLY 99-CENTS FOR KINDLE! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Y'all need to pick up my favorite gothic bodice ripper asap, so you can tell me what you think! I'm counting on you!
🌟 I read this for the Yule Bingo Challenge, for the category of Voldemort: book w/ a villain. For more info on this challenge, click here. 🌟
Books like this are why I read bodice rippers. Okay, some of them are bad, and reading them is a meta-experience tantamount to MST3K, where the bulk of the enjoyment is making fun of what a festering pile of fail they are. But on the other hand, some of these vintage delights are genuinely good, on their own merit, and while cheesy and oftentimes un-PC, they tell a damn good story.
THIS OTHER EDEN was recently rereleased for Kindle via Endeavour Press, and so was its sequel, THE PRINCE OF EDEN. THE EDEN PASSION is to be released shortly after - and I know this, because I was lucky enough to receive a FREE copy of the third book in this series for review. You know what that means - a reread of the first book, and a gleeful binge of the second, before dive-bombing into the third. Romance novels are like potato chips: you don't consume just one. YOU EAT THEM ALL. ...Or, failing that, you eat as many as you can before someone rips the bag from you.
THIS OTHER EDEN is set in Georgian England. It opens with the public whipping of a sixteen-year-old girl named Marianne Locke. She's being punished for disobedience to Lord Eden - there are many reasons behind this "disobedience": she witnessed the illegal operations he's holding in his cellar, was too proud for her station, and most bitterly, she dared to refuse his advances. Marianne waits for her fate in a charnel pit, which is where people throw the corpses of dead animals and dead human beings post-slaughter, before being hauled out of that stinking cesspit for public flagellation.
Obviously, this punishment traumatizes her on a mental and physical level, so she's sent to live with her half-sister, Jane. Jane resents her younger sister because she was always the favorite, and sees this as the perfect chance for revenge. She has her sister live in the pantry (and then later a servant's bedroom) and has her perform all the duties of a servant for her and her common law husband. Unfortunately the husband quickly falls for Marianne, and this creates tension. And yet - it's a weird tension, because even though things between Jane and Marianne are tense, they never really seem to overtly hate one another and resort to things like murder, the way characters do in Bertrice Small novels. That's a subtlety that really makes THIS OTHER EDEN stand out: all the characters are complex and none of them are purely good or purely bad.
For example, even though Jane softens towards her sister, she's still quick to sell her out to Lord Eden multiple times whenever she needs the money. And Eden is only too happy to take this blood money. He spends about 80% of the book, plotting and scheming to find ways to get Marianne into bed. (And not just any bed, at one point he attempts the use of a Celestial Bed, which is a very real and ridiculous thing.) At first it's a matter of domination and pride, but then he actually starts to love her - but unfortunately, he realizes he loves her only after he screws up, and at that point he is literally willing to give her anything, even the literal skin off his own back, to have her.
This is a gloomy Gothic behemoth that is the perfect example of the evolving romance genre, when the Gothics of the 60s and 70s began to yield to the infamous bodice rippers of the early 80s. It pulls off both roles with finesse: gloomy castles, smuggling operations, scammy sexologists, muddling and sinister relatives, rape, murder attempts, dens of iniquity, superstitious townsfolk, the French revolution, and so much more. But THIS OTHER EDEN goes one step further, with a hero who is truly selfish and childish, and a heroine who is opportunistic and self-absorbed. This is less a romance than an intricate (and intimate) character study of two truly terrible people who gradually overcome their flaws, as well as a realistic portrayal of class and the entitlement of divine right, and how a character might realistically go about overcoming that for the sake of love.
On my first reading of this book, I gave it 3 stars. I'm not sure what 2013 me was thinking, because this book is really, really good. The lush and vibrant writing alone is worth an extra star. Seriously, I could just swim in the prose of this novel as if it were a warm, dark sea. The atmosphere, story, and wide cast of characters are all unique and compelling. This is definitely one of the better bodice rippers I've read, and probably the best-written one to boot. If you're a fan of epic, atmospheric stories like OUTLANDER, where half the fun is the journey and the delay of gratification when it comes to unresolved sexual tension, you should pick up THIS OTHER EDEN. I don't think it will disappoint.
I finished my Halloween Reading Challenge! FINALLY!
SHORECLIFF is a strange little book. The cover is deceiving, because that old skool gown and misty castle would have you thinking that this is a wallpaper Victorian about some governess who might be in love with a murderer, etc. But no. SHORECLIFF is set in the 1960s (Twiggy is mentioned).
Anita and Charles inherit a crumbly old mansion when one of his relatives kicks it, much to the dismay of some of his other relations, including his cousin and foster sister, Pat. One of the clauses of the will states that Pat gets to continue to live with them, even though the house and the bulk of the fortune goes to them.
Once there, Charles gets the idea to write a book about his ancestress, Amanda Shore, who, according to legend, murdered her husband and then went to France, where she had a beauty treatment that coated her entire face in enamel. This part was confusing to me, because the words the author used made it sound like the enamel was injected into her face, but I suspect that - since this would have been happening in the 1860s (100 years ago, from "today", i.e. the 1960s, according to the cover) - the enamel treatment was actually referring to lead enamel, the popular makeup of the day.
Anyway, Charles starts acting weird and Anita starts seeing what looks like the ghost of Amanda looming around the house. Charles accuses her of sabotage. Anita accuses him of being in love with Amanda and Pat, by turns, and claims that Amanda is coming to get her revenge, etc. Their marriage suffers. There's a psychic who appears and makes ominous comments that for some reason most people seem to take seriously. More stuff happens, then there's a Scooby-Doo style unmasking.
I read this book while drinking wine, and went through two glasses over the course of this book. Wine did not improve the logic of this storyline or the characters' actions (although it actually was a lovely compliment to that dry, sweet, "old book smell"). I see that this author also wrote some novelizations of the vampire soap, Dark Shadows, which helps explain the expositional dialogue and unnecessary melodrama. It was pretty bad. Still, it was not the worst gothic novel I have read - that dubious honor goes to MISTRESS OF THE MOOR. #IRegretNothing
I've only read one other book by Phyllis A. Whitney and I didn't like it, but the idea of a Gothic romance set in Japan was way too good to pass up. I went to Japan last summer for the first time and it was a total culture shock because it's so different from American culture, and I loved learning about the history, the people, and the art. One of the last places we visited was Hiroshima, and given that we learn a distinctly biased version of WWII, it was great to hear it from the perspective of those who lost the war -in a horrific way.
I bring up Hiroshima because WWII plays a key role in THE MOONFLOWER. It's a contemporary gothic - or was, when it was first published in 1958 - and with the War having occurred just over a decade before, it's still very much fresh on every one's minds.
Marcia married a much older man who was a scientist. He went to Japan from his work and came back changed - irritable, haunted, cruel. Then he goes back and she basically stops hearing from him, so Marcia takes her young daughter Laurie and goes to hunt him down in Kyoto. The man she sees there isn't at all glad to see her; he wants her to return, and says all kinds of terrible things to her and their child. Their Japanese neighbors who share their duplex are unfriendly, and the wife of the man who lives there, Chiyo, seems oddly frightened of Marcia and her daughter.
Mysterious and awful things keep happening - ugly and possibly haunted masks, ghostly specters roaming at night, things going missing, dark secrets, and of course, the husband's complete personality change. Marcia is utterly puzzled and wonders what could have possibly happened to give her husband Jerome such stubborn ties to this alien country that is still slowly recovering from the devastating blow of the bomb.
THE MOONFLOWER moves at a slow and grueling pace in typical gothic fashion but the atmosphere more than makes up for it. There are some dated descriptions that seem a little racist, but honestly this is one of the best portrayals of Asian culture for the time that it is written (and even in some contemporary literature I have read, which is sad) that I have ever seen. Whitney was obviously very interested in Japanese culture and had a stake in doing it well. Many of the cultural references are on point, even to this day, and I loved the descriptions of places I've actually been to, like the Kyoto shrines, Nijo Castle, and Miyajima Island (which is one of the most beautiful places ever).
I'd kind of guessed what the twist might be, and it did make a lot of sense. I think people who saw the effects of the Hiroshima bombing and felt responsible had a lot of residual guilt. It completely destroyed the city. I went to the Peace Museum there and was lucky enough to hear some of the survivors speak (they were only babies/young children when the bomb fell) and discuss the effects that it had on them and their families. People react to tragedy in odd and frightening ways, and even though I hated Jerome by the end of the book, I could at least understand why he did what he did.
If you like vintage books but don't want to commit to the horror that is bodice-ripper, this is a good jumping off point. It has the colorful settings and flowery writing that is typical of books written at this time, but is also vivid and surprisingly insightful. I enjoyed it a lot.
As of 10/04/17, this book is currently only $1.99 for Kindle.
I really enjoyed this little book. Granted, my hopes were low. I'd looked through the reviews of DARKWATER and many of them were saying that DARKWATER was dull and flat, with a raging Mary Sue of a heroine who wouldn't STFU.
To my surprise, I found myself with a rather delightful Gothic romance written in the vein of such popular favorites as Victoria Holt or Patricia Maxwell (AKA, Jennifer Blake). Better yet, I got to buddy read it with one of my new Goodreads friends, Elena.
Fanny is the ward of some awful relations. Her uncle, Edgar, is an enabler to his cold and greedy wife, Louisa, and air-headed, vain daughter, Amelia. Much to the rage and annoyance of Louisa and Amelia, Fanny is far prettier than Amelia, the heiress, and is constantly turning heads despite being poor. When Edgar finds out he has two new wards to take care of, he's the only one who seems indifferent, even pleased. Louisa is annoyed and Amelia, disenchanted. Fanny is the only member of the family who truly harbors a soft spot for the young children, and despite having planned to use their pick-up as a chance to escape, voluntarily stays on in order to care for and nanny them.
I just want to pause here, and say that I often hate seeing children in fiction because they're either way too precocious and cutesy, or else used as plot points without much in the way of characterization. These children, Nolly (Olivia) and Marcus were incredibly well-written and actually acted like children (i.e. at times sweet, at other times, bratty). They added a lot of comic relief but they also stood on their own as characters. I also thought that Fanny's family was well done. Amelia was far from being the b*tchy, jealous rival... she had moments of thoughtless kindness, and even Louisa had some humanizing emotions. I felt like that made their dynamic so much more interesting.
Oh, and then there's George. Fanny's creepy, "no maybe means yes" cousin. Ew, George. Ew.
The love interest, Adam Marsh, appears mysteriously (such is the way of the gothic romance) and leaves just as mysteriously. When he returns, he seems more interested in Amelia than Fanny (much to Fanny's devastating) and he strings Fanny along while cavorting with Amelia, which I really disliked him for. Obviously there is an explanation towards the end, but I so did not buy that.
Call me slow, but I didn't guess the perpetrator(s) until the very end. I wasn't trying to figure it out, though. I was reading DARKWATER in between reading Stephen King's IT, and this cozy mystery was the perfect balm for sleepless nights inspired by psychotic, murder-happy clowns. I just sat back and let the story carry me away, and found myself pleasantly surprised by the journey.
If you enjoy Gothic novels, this is a great addition to the collection. I want to read more Eden now!
I missed out on V.C. Andrews as a teen, so I'm accumulating as many of them as I can now. You know, for science. So far, I've mostly been reading the ones that were originally written by V.C. herself and not her ghostwriter, Andrew Neiderman. The Dollanganger series was excellent and so was her one standalone book, MY SWEET AUDRINA. HIDDEN JEWEL was a Neiderman effort, but I thought that one was reasonably okay, even if it lacked that special brand of spiciness that the Dollanganger books had. DAWN is one of Neiderman's earlier efforts, published just four years after the real V.C. Andrews died. I expected it to be even better than the Landry book I read, since it was published earlier and - I figured - he'd probably be working extra hard to do her justice.
Ha - nope!
DAWN is one weird book. Parts of it are just boring and badly written, with words repeated over and over again (especially "quickly", for some reason, which seemed to appear at least once per page), and emotions being told instead of shown via dialogue tags. "Don't be so obvious," she yelled angrily. "Be subtle!"
Plus, we get gems like these:
Good-bye to my first and what I thought would be my most wonderful romantic love, I thought. Good-bye to being swept off my feet and floating alongside warm, soft white clouds. Our passionate kisses shattered and fell with the raindrops, and no one could tell which were my tears and which were the drops of rain (227).
Sounds like she's confusing an acid trip with love, don't you think?
The plot is one part THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON, one part MY SWEET AUDRINA, and one part FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. Dawn and Jimmy Longchamp have always been on the move but now their dad is determined to bring some stability to their lives: he's taken a job as janitor at a private school, which means that both kiddos get free tuition as a bonus.
Obviously the rich kiddos do not take kindly to poverty in their midst, and begin hazing like it's rush week at a d-baggy party college. People mock and laugh at Jimmy, but it's Dawn who really bears the brunt of the bullying - they stop just short of parading her through the streets with a shorn head while screaming SHAME! SHAME! The only rich kiddo who's actually nice to her is the brother of Clara Sue, the mean Queen Bee who has a rage-boner for Dawn: Philip Cutler.
"Nice guys" in V.C. Andrews books can never be trusted and Philip is no exception. He quickly begins pushing Dawn to go all the way with him, fondling her in his car, kissing her passionately in public, etc. Jimmy is, of course, super jealous, even though he's her brother. And oh, by the way - did I mention that the Longchamp parents seem to think it's cool to not only have their teen children share a bedroom, but also have them both sleep in the same bed? Also, he watches her get dressed.
Anyway, Dawn thinks she's finally gotten the better of her bullies and her evil headmaster... but then her mother dies and makes a cryptic statement about forgiveness and the police come to take her father and siblings away - and Dawn finds out that she isn't Dawn Longchamp. She's Dawn Cutler. The Longchamps kidnapped her from their employers when she was just a baby to replace a stillborn.
Dawn is pulled out of school and whisked away to the elite Cutler Cove hotel, where the grandmother matriarch (who seems to be inspired by the grandma in FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC) runs a tight ship. Think Dunstin Checks In (1996) without the orangutan-provided comic relief. While there, Dawn experiences even more bullying... this time at the hands of her new relatives: Psycho Grandma and Queen Bee Mean Girl. Psycho Grandma forces Dawn into what is basically child slave labor, forcing her to work as a maid free of charge; steals and destroys some of Dawn's belongings; gives her a new name (Eugenia) and then starves her when she doesn't use it; and when someone (*cough* Clara Sue) steals a necklace from one of the guests, she basically gives Dawn a cavity search looking for it.
Philip is at the hotel, too, and at first he seems nice, but then it turns out that he's still not over that heavy petting they did together before they realized they were brother and sis. Towards the end of the book, he rapes her, saying that it's important that he "teaches" her how sex works and that it's her fault for leading him on, etc. Dawn is so upset, because she doesn't want to have sex with this brother - she wants to have sex with her other brother now that she knows that they're not related, and even takes a moment later on to wish how Jimmy was the one who got her v-card instead of Philip.
But wait - there's more!
Dawn tracks down the maid who was responsible for her and finds out that she's the product of an affair that Mama Cutler had with a musician. Angry, Grandma Psycho had arranged for a kidnap by paying the Longchamps to take her away. She had second thoughts later, but was willing to let the Longchamps take the fall for it rather than have scandal befall the family. What a betch, right? So Dawn whips out the blackmail, and Grandma Psycho admires her balls and decides that maybe Dawn and her can reach an "agreement." Dawn gets send to NYC to study music and bought all manner of expensive clothes while Philip and Clara seethe, dreaming of the day when she and Jimmy can reunite and have it's-not-incest-anymore-let's-party style sexings.
This left such a bad taste in my mouth. It might actually be worst than the time that I ate a piece of dark chocolate for dessert after having kimchee for dinner (although that was pretty bad, too).
"V.C. Andrews" as we knew and loved her died in 1986. Subsequent titles are published by a ghostwriter hired by the estate, Andrew Neiderman. The first Neiderman/Andrews book I read was one of the later titles published in the mid-2000s, when I guess he decided that he gave no f*cks and was going to write whatever, because it was about a creepy school and not a Gothic family drama - what. It actually put me off Andrews books for a while, because it was so bad.
One of my friends intervened and told me that what I had read was V.C. Andrews in the same way that New Coke is Coke - AKA, not. So I went back and read MY SWEET AUDRINA and FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC and was blown away at the difference; V.C. Andrews is not high literature, but she writes trash with glitz and glam and rhinestones the hell out of those old musty newspapers, so even though you know that you're reading garbage, you're reading sparkly garbage (which is better).
With that in mind, I decided to go back and revisit "V.C. Andrews" (as done by Neiderman), thinking that the early books - the ones written when he actually still gave f*cks - might be better.
To my surprise...they were!
HIDDEN JEWEL is actually the fourth book in the Landry series, about Ruby's daughter, Pearl, but I decided to treat it as a standalone and just dove in and man is it insane. Pearl is a socialite with a popular boyfriend and a graduation party coming up, and she wants to be a doctor. Her boyfriend dumps her for an evil slutty type on the day of her party since she doesn't put out. After that, every male character tries to sexually molest Pearl, including her father (well, sort of - he just disrobes, thinking she's her mom, and pulls some "Paint me like your French girls"-type Titanic BS which, understandably freaks Pearl out), an interning doctor (aka, Dr. Bad Touch) who invites her to study only to lecture her about vaginismus and dyspareunia and then attempts to determine whether or not she's frigid (the leading cause of vaginismus, according to him) by undressing her and telling her she has "wonderfully healthy skin" (86), a creepy swamp dude who tries to pull some Craster-type BS by abducting her and forcing her to be his shed-wife via a chain and some beatings, and then the actual patriarchal-type love interest who's supposed to be a good guy but comes across as a not-so-smooth-talking-creep circa 1959.
It's got all sorts of wacky hijinks, like family curses, voodoo (Pearl's grandmother is a traiteur), deaths, alcoholism, and sex, all set against the backdrop of Louisiana, with some half-hearted attempts to imbue it with some Cajun culture. I fully expected to despise this book like the other "V.C. Andrews" book I read, so you could color me surprised when I actually found myself enjoying this trashy dreck. Neiderman is trying so hard and it's actually endearing, because he is almost successful at capturing that elusive V.C. Andrews Classic style and there are some genuinely beautiful descriptions in here, mostly of the food and the nature variety.
The sex? Not so much.
We exploded against each other. I bit down on his ear so hard I thought I tasted blood (279)
...it was a long, flowing stream of passion that climbed higher and higher until it burst in a waterfall, pounding rocks below again and again and again, each time punctuated with a bigger, happier Yes.
Obligatory visual interlude:
I would read the other books in this series, and maybe also the Cutler & Casteel series, too. I'm digging this early Neiderman vibe. It's not as good as the original, but at least it's trying.
Stepback pic from the die-cut Pocket Books edition:
I'm not sure who the creepy dude in blue is, but I think it's supposed to be Dr. Bad Touch(?).
The only Catherine Coulter books I've read prior to THE COUNTESS were two of her bodice rippers. One of them was okay (it was the "extensively rewritten" edition of one of her bodice ripper classics). The other was annoying and I hated it. This, averaged out, did not seem particularly reassuring and I told myself that if I picked up THE COUNTESS and hated it that I would simply chuck all of her books into the donation bin unread. To my surprise, however, I actually enjoyed THE COUNTESS quite a bit!
Andrea "Andy" Jameson is a headstrong heiress who has been indulged by her grandfather and has serious issues with her actual father. She falls for a young man named John who seems to like her dog almost as much as he likes her, but finds herself afraid of him (for reasons that will be explained later). She ends up marrying herself off to a much safer option - an older man who promises that he won't touch her. Unfortunately, this older man is the uncle to John. Oops.
Awkwardness abounds as Andy lives in the same house as both John and Lawrence (the uncle) as well as John's brother, Thomas, his wife Amelia, and the daughter of Lawrence's previous wife, who allegedly committed suicide by jumping out from one of the windows of the rooms adjoining Andy's. The relationships between these various family members are complex and fraught with rivalries. Plus, there's a creepy mystery surrounding Lawrence's previous wife's death. Especially since several attempts are made on Andy's own life in increasingly bolder attempts.
Andy is a great heroine. She's headstrong and brave without being an idiot (the previous heroines written by this author were both idiots). I see that this book was also published as THE AUTUMN COUNTESS and, like the bodice ripper I read, is also "extensively rewritten." I'm not sure what the author changed, but it actually works here. The plot is spooky, the heroine is brave, the hero is dashing and manly, and the supporting characters are all interesting and serve as more than just hapless plot points to pepper the story with mystery and red herrings.
Also, the villain is creepy AF:
"I have decided to take you, Andrea, as a man takes a woman. You are a virgin. I have not enjoyed a virgin in a great number of years. It will be exciting. I won't mind you fighting me, but not all that much. Just a bit to give excitement to the taming. Since you (spoiler), you must obey me. Ah, to have your virgin's blood on me, to feel my seed deep inside you. I will enjoy that. I will be the only man ever to have you" (319).
P.S. Since I noticed nobody else has posted it yet, here's the stepback to the 1999 edition:
Remember when TWILIGHT was at the height of its popularity, and people began opening up Wikipedia to search for paranormal creatures to have fall in love with some ditzy teenage girl so they could write the Next Big YA Paranormal Romance, too? Yeah. I think we all remember the "girls in prom dresses" period of YA fiction. Those were dark times, my friends. Dark, dark times.
I feel like ASHES ON THE WAVES is definitely influenced by TWILIGHT. The male love interest speaks in an archaic way and seems a bit too naive. He also tries and fails to convince the heroine to stay away from him because he's dangerous, although in this case it's because he might be a demon instead of a vampire. The heroine, by contrast, is a pretty girl without a lot of substance. She moves from a big city to a dreary, isolated small town - except instead of the Olympic Peninsula, it's an island sandwiched between Scotland and Ireland and entrenched in Celtic folklore.
Liam, the hero, is regarded by everyone on Dorcha with suspicion because they think he killed his mom at birth (like, legit killed her, with scratch marks and gushing blood and everything). He's drop-dead gorgeous, has a paralyzed arm, and has absolutely zero knowledge about the world. He's so sheltered and naive that when he gets jealous over a girl, he thinks his anger is a result of a demon possessing him. Everyone on Dorcha wants him dead, and most of them try.
Anna, the heroine, is a rich heiress who lives in the big mansion on the island. She's being exiled because of some racy behavior she displayed in her parents' ritzy circles. She doesn't really have much of a personality. Her two conflicts in this book are 1. fall in love with Liam and 2. act out because her parents don't love her enough. She and Liam even meet when he stops her from jumping off a cliff. Ashes on the Waves? More like Ashes on the New Moon. *tips wineglass*
The paranormal element in this book is interesting, but not utilized very well. Here you have creatures like Na Fir Ghorm, the Cailleach, the Bean Sidhe, and Selkies - and what do they spend their time doing? Making bets on the purity of the love between two teenagers. I am not kidding. We're talking Shipping Wars. Mary Lindsey turned the Fae into a crude facsimile of Tumblr.
Likewise, the Edgar Allan Poe connection is also tenuous. I liked the snippets of poetry at the beginning of each chapter and the book itself is supposed to be a retelling of Annabel Lee, but it feels kind of weird to base a book on a song...especially when you have all the Fae stuff thrown in as well. The author had some creative ideas but she ended up throwing them all together in the hopes that they would fit, and they really didn't. It was not a cohesive effort by any means, in my opinion.
"Just go with it" me enjoyed how easy it was to read this book. "Feminist" me was annoyed by the instant love, the lack of development of the female character, and the fact that a fourteen-year-old is engaged to and then almost raped by a man twice her age, because on this island, due to the shortage of men, it's apparently okay to marry children to adults. Even though this takes place in the twenty-first century. "Amateur critic" me was annoyed by all the other things, like the characterization, the cheesy plot, and that bizarro ending.
Seriously, what was that ending. I looked to see if there was a sequel because I thought I was missing something important, but nope; I guess that's how it ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.
ROSEBLOOD is about three of my favorite things: The Phantom of the Opera, the Comte de Saint-Germain, and vampires. All three together? Oh, heck yes. Set in a gloomy boarding school/converted opera house in the middle of France, I was certain that this neo-Gothic, ROSEBLOOD, would be able to do one of my favorite classics justice in a new and interesting way.
I was wrong.
It kills me to say this, because the writing in ROSEBLOOD is so beautiful that it actually almost convinced me that ROSEBLOOD was a better book than it actually was. A.G. Howard can write. However, her characters and story-telling choices are odd. Like, campy 80s horror movie odd. There were so many moments in here that had me blinking, and going, "Did that really happen?" Towards the end of the story, it happened more and more.
**WARNING: THAR BE MAJOR SPOILERS**
First, let me get something out of the way that really bothered me. I hate this new YA trend of taking the "ugly" characters in classic stories and making them beautiful. Sarah J. Maas did this in A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, taking the "beast" and making him a gorgeous fairy prince cursed to wear a mask. A.G. Howard does this in ROSEBLOOD, with the "phantom" love interest being not the tortured, disfigured genius, but the tortured, disfigured genius's adopted (but gorgeous) son, Thorn. Coincidentally enough, Thorn also wears a mask, just like Tam Lin, only for fun. When you do this, it takes all the original meaning out of the story. Part of what made Beauty and the Beast such a powerful story was that the beast was a horrible man when he was attractive and human; it took being ugly and monstrous to make him realize how lonely and awful it is to be despised when your exterior matches your interior, and it took a love that was based on more than looks (well, you can argue about that, since, you know, "Beauty" and the Beast) to redeem him. Likewise, part of what makes Phantom of the Opera such a tragic story is that Erik's genius and artistry goes unappreciated because of his lack of looks; what draws him to Christine isn't just her ethereal beauty and innate talent, but also because he sees her as his soulmate; the beautiful foil to his hideous appearance.
STOP MAKING THESE CHARACTERS GORGEOUS AND SHALLOWING EVERYTHING UP.
Anyway, to the plot of the story. Our heroine is named "Rune." She has a tragic history. She doesn't want to go to this special school because she has a special ability: she is compelled to sing at certain moments, and always does it beautifully. Naturally, she is "compelled" to do this while the resident Queen Bee is auditioning, before pretending to pass out. Her mother sticks around for a while but is about to go on honeymoon with Rune's new stepfather, so like Bella Swan's mom, or Mindy from Animaniacs, she goes, "Okay, I love you, bye-bye," and swans off, leaving Rune to her own devices. Luckily, Rune makes a whole bunch of friends, immediately, who are so fascinated by her lack of personality and her special secrets that they see absolutely zero problems about sneaking into her room and snooping into her belongings. This happens several times.
Rune meets a boy named Thorn who appears around the Opera House. He always wears a half-mask, but is super attracted to the half of the face that she can see. He tells her that they're "twin souls." No, literally, they are two halves of the same soul: incarnations of the Christine from the Phantom of the Opera myth. Only, Thorn can't sing because when he was young, he was kidnapped by sex traffickers, and his voice scared them so much that they poured lye down his throat. So instead of singing, Thorn plays the violin, and when he plays, Rune no longer feels sick after she sings.
This is because Rune, Thorn, and the Phantom (Erik), are all PSYCHIC VAMPIRES who use their magical abilities to draw out people's life force.
Erik even owns a themed club in Paris. A rave club, where he picks off victims when he's so inclined. This is one of many moments, when I was just shocked and could only mumble, "Phantom...of the Rave? Phantom...rave...huh? Rave...phantom...rave..."
PHANTOM OF THE RAVE.
I'm sorry, I can't let that go. Erik doesn't belong anywhere near a rave. I refuse to believe that his artistic integrity would allow him to tolerate dub-step.
If you're wondering where Rune fits into all this, it ties back to the Phantom. Apparently, he and Christine got together at one point and had a baby (YESSSSSS). The baby was stillborn, but Erik has been keeping it alive in a Frankenstein-style incubator for all these years, waiting for Christine's reincarnation so he could kidnap that person, cut out their vocal chords, and implant them in the baby...because this will bring the baby to life again for some reason. All his attempts to get to Rune have been to activate her power, have Thorn seduce her, and then basically cut out her throat.
I've seen and read several Phantom of the Opera adaptions, and this was one of the worst because it was so weird. It reminded me, actually, of that bad Italian remake, Il fantasma dell'opera(1998), which features Julian Sands looking less like the Phantom of the Opera and more like a reject from Interview of the Vampire since a) he's not disfigured (and is actually pretty hot), and b) the movie is less about him pursuing Christina for his sensually artistic purposes and more about sex (if I recall correctly, it actually features an orgy scene) and countless violent murder sprees. Not that ROSEBLOOD was gratuitously violent or needlessly sexual - it wasn't; it's similar because, like Il fantasma dell'opera, it was so over the top that in its attempt to differentiate itself from the work it was paying homage to, it pretty much lost sight of the original's purpose and become something totally and completely different. For better or for worse.
P.S. I'm disappointed to say that the Saint-Germaine connection basically goes nowhere, which is a shame, because he was a fascinating guy. For another story about Saint-Germaine and vampires that's actually pretty good, I suggest you check out Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint-Germaine series.
The best question to ask yourself before picking up this novel is: "Did I enjoy Daphne du Maurier's REBECCA?" MENFREYA is REBECCA redux; a romance about a young, insecure woman who doesn't feel as if she deserves the man who whisks her away to the magnificent house of her dreams - and also a mystery, involving death, murder, secrets, and an insidious other woman.
Honestly, it's magnificent how so many of Victoria Holt's (or Jean Plaidy's or Philippa Carr's - they're all the same novels) are good, considering how quickly she churned them out. Granted, there are some rather glaring misses on her repertoire, but the bijous outweigh the blights. I keep coming back to her again and again, which says something because quite often there's no sex, and often no romance even until the very end. I come for the atmosphere, and the layers of mystery and strange events, with the Eyresque heroine at the focal point of it all, steadfastly navigating through the oddities & terrors.
Harriet Delvaney is an interesting and sympathetic character because unlike so many other gothic heroines, she isn't beautiful; she's plain with good but unremarkable features, and a limp. Her father resents her, since her mother died in childbirth, and at one point she actually attempts to run away...to Menfreya, where she's friends with the Menfreys, especially their children Bevil and Gwennan. (Those names, though - omg.) The Menfrey's are everything she wishes she was: beautiful, mysterious, with a rich, epic family history that is both dark and romantic and doomed.
As Harriet grows older, she becomes clever, sarcastic, and bitter. She's in love with Bevil, but his ease with women makes her heartbroken and insecure. Various people around her die in unpleasant ways, diminishing the already small circle of people who care about her at all. She gets more and more involved with the Menfreys, and her fascination with them continues even when they tumble off their respective pedestals to reveal the flaws in their seeming perfection. And even when she does finally marry, it isn't what she expects: her marriage is plagued with insecurities and suspicions that her husband only married her for her fortune, that he's seeing other women on the side, and, toward the end, that someone might actually be trying to murder her to steal her husband!
MENFREYA is probably one of my favorite Holt novels to date. There's a lot of emotion in this book, and passion too. Harriet is a great heroine, who is selfish but also smart, and whose insecurities actually feel relatable. Bevil is a more typical gothic hero, in the sense that you're never 100% sure whether he's hero or villain until the end. The difference, I think, is that Bevil's sinister attributes were more realistic, like his cold anger and tendency towards mockery (and there's a rape/forced seduction scene in here, that's of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it variety). The atmosphere of this book, which is set in Cornwall, is so gloomy and dramatic, but romantic and a little fanciful. Honestly, it's like you took Dodie Smith's I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and du Maurier's REBECCA and mashed them up to glorious effect. A must-read - especially if you're a fan of Holt already, like me.
Here's a picture of the lovely hard cover I had with my fancy Pokemon card bookmark: