by Naomi Bellis, historical/paranormal (2007)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22095-0
Draw Down The Darkness features a plot that is not typically found in a spy-themed historical romance set in England. Unfortunately, I find the way the author deals with her story pretty disappointing.
The plot is pretty simple. Nicholas Saville, Viscount Redfern is secretly a spy working for Sir Alaric, the voodoo dude and spy boss of everyone in England, because Sir Alaric can easily reveal to all that Redfern's brother committed suicide instead of merely dying of natural causes and therefore ruin the family name. In the process, he leaves his sweetheart Helen Barrett hanging for so many years that, when the story opens, she's had enough and tells him pretty much that they should start seeing other people.
In the meantime, the Earl of Waring, makes it clear to Helen that he would like to know her better. Helen is practical enough to realize that a marriage to Lord Waring is sensible since not only he is rich and handsome, he is also powerful enough to help her brother achieve his political ambitions. Yet, Lord Waring is no Nicholas and there is something about Lord Waring that gives her the creeps. Alas, Lord Waring only has to gift her a magical necklace that she can't take off and she falls literally under his spell. Can Redfern save her from Lord Waring? Conveniently enough, the main suspect in Redfern's quest to unmask a traitor aiding the French in creating trouble in Ireland is Lord Waring...
Draw Down The Darkness is not a most interesting romance because most of the time the heroine is befuddled or disoriented thanks to the effect of the necklace she is wearing. The reader will have to accept that Redfern and Helen have this special something that have already taken place before this story begins. I have no problems with this if the story is interesting enough, but in this case, Ms Bellis makes what I feel is a fatal mistake when it comes to Redfern: Redfern doesn't do anything at all when it comes to Helen. He won't tell her what is going on, thus leaving her utterly confused about his feelings about her. He keeps telling himself that she is better off without him, but at the same time he keeps sending mixed messages to poor Helen. If he can come clean to Helen, this story would be so much shorter, but then again, I suppose this idiotic man believes that the world will love him more if he plays the martyr.
Speaking of his angst, I think Nicholas is a moron because he's deliberately hurting the woman he claims to love because he insists that he needs to keep his family name intact. No, it's not that he wants money for himself you see, it's that his younger sister needs new shoes and all that jazz. His continuous justification of his deception of Helen ends up making me convinced that Helen is right at first when she feels that she will always come second to Nicholas. He knows that she is hurting, and in this story, she is literally hurting, but he won't even tell her anything to clear her confusion. I find that reprehensible, especially when he claims to love her so much.
And even as a spy, Nicholas comes off as horribly inept here. When he is supposed to be on a spying mission, he tends to dwell in his thoughts, lost in the past, until he spots Helen and becomes completely distracted. He gets involved in public confrontations. His method of interrogation is as subtle as a jab in one's eye with a knife. Sir Alaric must be senile to keep this man on as a spy for so long because Nicholas isn't a good spy, he's just a self-absorbed passive whiner.
Helen comes off as a very real character here. She's not stupid, except maybe when it comes to her inexplicable attraction to Nicholas. She has spirit and willpower, but alas, for most of this story, she's confused and weak due to the effect of the necklace. Nicholas could have made up for the lack by stepping up and being an interesting character in his own right, but he doesn't do anything here. He doesn't tell her what is going on, he doesn't have the decency to stay away from her since he wants to drive her away for her own good... he doesn't do anything but to whine and act like a silly emo here. Poor Helen can't carry the story on her own, although by the late half of the story when she shrugs off the effect of the necklace, she actually does pretty much everything that the hero sets out to do. That only makes me wonder why Ms Bellis would choose to saddle a heroine like Helen with that wet blanket Nicholas. Is she trying to torture me?
I find Draw Down The Darkness an interesting story due to its not-so-typical plot and strong heroine, and I only wish that the hero has been a different person with a different personality here.
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