💙 I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Victorian Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. 💙
A couple years ago, I won a giveaway of the second book in this series, LADY IN RED, but I never read it because I am a trash person. It's not even that I lost the book: I can literally see it sitting right on my bookshelf across the room at this very moment. You see, I hadn't realized when I signed up for the giveaway that it was the 2nd book in the series, and that freaked me out a little. How could I read book 2 if I hadn't read book 1? What if there were...spoilers?
Fast forward to late last year, when THE DARK LADY finally went on sale for Kindle. I say "finally" because I was literally stalking this book for years, waiting for the price to drop because I'm a cheapskate. If you're thinking to yourself, "That seems excessive, waiting several years for a price drop of a few dollars," welcome to Nenialand, pal - where I can spend $5 on a cup of coffee but have trouble rationalizing the purchase of an ebook for $4.99.
THE DARK LADY is a fun book and really tries to follow in the footsteps of its Gothic predecessors from the 60s and 70s, but with the edgy modern twist of sex, scandal, and drugs. I'm a huge fan of Gothic Romances but they were notoriously tame and scarcely escalated beyond kissing. It's a shame, because some of them - Victoria Holt, in particular - were very sensual about their passions, and you could totally tell that they wanted to write a dirty story but probably didn't feel as though they were allowed. Well, you needn't worry about that in THE DARK LADY. There are several rather steamy scenes at various points in this book, floating atop the murky sea of angst like bits of erotic driftwood. Mostly, though, the focus of the book is on the angst of the two leads: Ian and Eva.
I don't want to say too much about these characters, but Ian is an ex-soldier who served in India and Eva was recently imprisoned in a Bedlam-style madhouse. Both of them carry the burden of dark secrets and the sense of responsibility for things that really weren't their fault. These experiences have warped them considerably, and impact their ability to relate to one another, even though they were close as children. This relationship-focused angle of the book, set amidst the backdrop of filial obligation and responsibility, smacked of yet another one of my favorite Gothic Romance authors: Marilyn Harris. Harris is quite a bit darker and depraved when it comes to fleshing out her characters, though, and even though Ian and Eva are cast in a darker mold than many other contemporary romance heroes and heroines, they still pale in the shadows of that truly glorious madness that is the Eden family, Marilyn Harris's main claim to fame, and one of my favorite yet-to-be-completed-by-me series.
The atmosphere of this book is dark and lovely, with many wonderful passages. Sometimes the writing can be a bit plodding, but I liked it for the most part because it was in keeping with the Gothic style. Like others, I thought the matter of Eva's opium addiction was resolved too cleanly (as soon as it was no longer convenient for the plot, really), but that's par for the course with most issues in Romancelandia, sadly. If it's no longer convenient, it's no longer in the plot. Bye, and don't let the deus ex machina hit you on the way out! The whole thing with Mrs. Palmer also seemed anticlimactic. I wanted to find out about her history and what turned her into such a revenge-getting, torture-happy crazypants-wearing individual. But no. Maybe this is dealt with in later books.
I guess I'll finally be checking out LADY IN RED now!
3 out of 5 stars