by Lydia Joyce, historical (2008)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22342-5
After I am done with Lydia Joyce's latest historical romance, Shadows Of The Night, I realize that I have a hard time deciding whether I like it or not as a whole. There are many little fragments of the story - a scene here, a scene there - that I love, but yet, when these fragments are put together, I am however rather ambivalent about the whole thing.
This is the story of Fern and Colin Radcliffe. They have just become husband and wife shortly after the story begins. The thing is, Colin doesn't expect to love his wife. He chose Fern in the first place because she's conventional. She fits the conventional definition of beauty of his time, she behaves like a typical society belle of her time, and he knows her from way back as an undemanding and sweet young lady. In other words, she will be the perfect wife that he can file away somewhere in the neat compartments of his life. He also expects to return to the comforts of his mistress, of course.
But you know how romance heroines can be, I'm sure. Fern will soon want to analyze every move and every look. She will want to know what he is feeling, why he is feeling that way, whether he feels what she feels, and more until the poor man can't figure out which way is up or down anymore. Then again, the wife is hot and she actually takes to the brand of kinky loving that he enjoys, so there's plenty of her that is still to love, so to speak. I love how he likes pain and how she learns to enjoy dishing out pain in the bedroom, I tell you. So, will these two ever get over the initial awkward start of their marriage as well as Colin's various secrets to find a happily ever after?
Shadows Of The Night morphs into a mystery in its second half, but the first half is an exquisitely written and fine example of character study that should be read, I feel, when one is able to pay full attention to the book. Ms Joyce's sensitive and detailed portrayal of Fern's feelings about being married to a man that she realizes is actually a stranger to her is just wonderful to read. Fern feels so real as a result, as are every one of her emotions, that I feel as if Ms Joyce has cast some kind of reverse possession spell and transplanted me into Fern's body.
But like most of Laura Kinsale's more serious romances, I realize that this story appeals to me intellectually but at the same time it does leave me cold. The main problem here is that, putting aside the fine-comb dissection of the main characters' emotions and thoughts, there isn't any good reason I can see here as to why Colin is worth loving. Like a typical Laura Kinsale hero, Colin here is more like some kind of stone statue that the heroine has to chip and hack away at. But why is he worth the effort? I have no idea and therefore I have a hard time warming up, viscerally, to the romance. I see the whole effort on Fern's part as an attempt to make the marriage more comfortable and not because Colin is the catch of the season.
That's not saying that I don't enjoy reading about these characters, of course, because I do. It's just that I'm not jumping out and down as a result while calling up my friends and telling them that I have found that book that they have to read.
But the biggest flaw of the story, in my opinion, and one that causes this book to miss the keeper grade, is that the second half or so of this story where the Gothic-like mystery plays a bigger role and pushes the emotional aspects of the story slightly to the background is not as interesting as the first half. I want to read more about Fern and Colin adapting to their marriage. If I can't have Fern happily taking a riding crop to Colin's quivering behind and scolding him for being a bad boy even as he begs for mercy as well as more, I'd love to have more introspective psychoanalyzing and character study that Ms Joyce does so well. The mystery, in comparison, does come off as much less exciting.
Still, on the whole this is still one of the better books that I have read recently. It makes me think, challenges me, and pulls me into the characters' heads so well. I wish that it also engages my heart a little more, but that's a small issue, really. Therefore, while it does lose some of its initial momentum as the story turns into a mystery romp, Shadows Of The Night is still a memorable read for all the good reasons.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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