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REVIEW: Shadows of the Night by Lydia Joyce

Dear Ms. Joyce,

Shadows of the NightWhen we first encounter Colin Radcliffe, the hero of your fifth book, Shadows of the Night, it is the morning of his wedding day and he has just risen from the bed he shared with Emma Morel, his married mistress. Colin agrees to Emma’s suggestion that they spend a few months apart rather than resume their affair immediately following his honeymoon, but he feels inconvenienced by the need to do so.

Fern Ashcroft has been raised to be a good wife and mother. It’s not until she and Colin are married that Fern realizes that while she knows everything there is to know about running a household and hosting a party, she knows almost nothing about her husband, or about how to make a marriage work. While Fern is filled with confusion and fear about how to proceed in her relationship with her husband, Colin shows no such hesitation. Fern reflects on the differences between them thus:

A woman was not cast in the same mold as a man, as her mother had so often told her. A woman was made of finer stuff, both more delicate and more sublime, and so she should be like a climbing rose, wrapping herself around a sturdy trellis, thereby embellishing it as it supported her.

A slight rebelliousness stirred at that simile, as it always did, but she suppressed it. She was not mythical Amazon to go charging about like a man, even if there was a small part of her — a very small part that seemed almost to belong to someone else — that whispered that it ought to be otherwise.

On their way to their honeymoon in Brighton, Fern and Colin each discover a side of the other that doesn’t bode well for their future together. Colin is impatient with Fern’s nervousness, and that only serves to put Fern further on edge. Neither of them looks forward to their wedding night, but despite the fact that Colin has too much to drink, he succeeds in seducing his wife and congratulates himself on marrying such a sensual woman.

But for Fern the pleasure of the marriage bed is a blow, because the intense sensations that her body feels in response to Colin’s touch only make her feel more helpless and in her husband’s power. As she sees it, Colin has stolen something from her.

The next morning, Fern feels vulnerable and angry, and the small flame of her rebelliousness begins to grow. When an opportunity to assert her independence arrives, Fern attempts to do so, and when Colin responds by putting his foot down and telling her that she is never to disagree with him in public, she shocks both of them by dealing him a slap. But Colin’s reaction is not what either of them expects: for the first time that he can recall, he feels truly alive.

Pain sharpens all of Colin’s senses, arouses him, and also causes him to see Fern as a person with feelings of her own for the first time. Because he wants to experience this again, Colin tries to provoke Fern to strike him once more. But Fern is sharper than he expects, and quickly realizes what it is that Colin desires from her. She becomes cognizant of the fact that she is no longer as helpless as she was the night before.

The power of his new feelings makes Colin feel vulnerable, and he cannot bear to remain among society while his transformation from a man who merely goes through the motions life requires of him into a living being takes place. Therefore he decides that he and Fern should go to Wrexmere, a remote property that he has recently inherited.

Upon their arrival in Wrexmere, Colin and Fern discover that the manor house is in disrepair despite the income that the property’s steward has been collecting. But what at first looks like a simple case of embezzlement turns out to be more complicated, and Fern and Colin find themselves having to contend with an ancient mystery, a spooky atmosphere, the people they are becoming, and eventually, with Colin’s past.

There is a lot that I found to like about Shadows of the Night, most notably its unusual characters. Colin gradually becomes more than the selfish man he appears to be at first, and Fern more than the prototypical Victorian “angel of the house” that she seems to aspire to be in the beginning of the novel. Both of them begin as people defined by society’s expectations, but by the end of the book, they have arrived at a different place.

I especially liked the way both Fern and Colin initially wanted the superficial trappings of marriage but eventually came to realize, through the confusion and vulnerability that their arguments and sexual encounters engendered in them, that even if they didn’t know what a real marriage was, and even if they had to grope in relative blindness to discover that, it was what they truly wanted.

There were layers to Colin and Fern that they gradually peeled back from one another, and it is this peeling process that made them interesting to read about. That, and the fact that neither character starts out possessing many of the qualities one expects to see in a romance hero or heroine based on readings of other books in the genre. Instead, they begin as two imperfect people formed by their time and place and social class. It is in the process of discovering the other that each of them also discovers who they themselves really are.

Perhaps because I enjoyed this process of psychological discovery so much, I was a bit frustrated when the action moved to Wrexmere and the house’s ominous atmosphere and old mysteries began to loom large in the novel. You do an excellent job of creating a spine-tingling ambience but I felt that its very power overshadowed the more subtle interactions between Fern and Colin.

There were times when the dialogue seemed a little stiff, particularly when Fern and Colin’s thoughts turned inward and they explained their motives to one another. I also found it hard to be equally invested in the mystery that went back centuries as I was in Fern and Colin’s unfolding relationship. For this reason, the first third of the book felt strongest to me. But the latter two-thirds still held my attention, and overall I quite enjoyed the book.

For its unusual characters and the sensitivity with which it explores them, as well as its hot love scenes, I recommend Shadows of the Night. I feel that it is a cut above most historical romances, and it earns a B from me.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased in mass market . No ebook format I could find.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

18 Comments

  1. Sarah Frantz
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 15:15:35

    Janine, is this a D/s romance? You hint at it, but is that what it ends up being, a la Kinsale’s Shadowheart? Because if so, I need to read it for the paper I’m trying desperately to write right now. If not, well then, I might read it anyway, but I don’t have to run to the bookstore today.

  2. Meriam
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 15:42:11

    This sounds great. I’m kind of hoping, as Sarah, that there is some element of D/S (‘cos I get bored of all the male dominance and Shadowheart was very good at turning that around) and I like Joyce as a writer, so – I hope she goes there.

    If not, I’m still buying this one. I love the Victorian period, and I love how Joyce actually attempts to place her characters within their rightful time and place.

  3. Phoebe
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 16:20:12

    I did find is as an Ebook at Books on Board, Mobipocket only though. I have to add, I’d really gotten away from historicals over the last few years, and really been focusing on primarily urban fantasy. Thanks to you all, I’ve been expanding again and my TBR pile has grown substantially with all the fantastic recommendations. Good thing I’m a quick reader. ha!

  4. Janine
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 17:10:06

    Sarah, yes, there are D/s elements to the love scenes. Pain is definitely a turn on to the hero, and that helps the heroine feel that she has some power of her own. I think these elements aren’t quite as pronounced as in Shadowheart, but they are there.

  5. Janine
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 17:13:03

    Meriam and Pheobe, I hope you enjoy it.

  6. Bonnie L.
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 19:10:59

    Thanks, Janine.

  7. Janine
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 23:58:59

    You’re welcome.

  8. Aoife
    Mar 06, 2008 @ 08:53:03

    I just finished this, and have mixed feelings. To begin with, romances with D/s themes usually don’t work for me. In general, I prefer D/s in romantica or erotica, and even then, only if it really is an integral part of revealing the characters, rather than tacked on to be trendy or artifically edgy. Although I liked how Joyce used the D/s elements as a means of revealing her characters and deepening their relationship, it still, somehow, didn’t ring true for me.

    In my view, the biggest problem with this book was something that has become a pattern in all of the Joyce books I’ve read. She chooses interesting settings, and intriguing characters. She starts off very, very well. And then, partway through the book, something happens to derail my interest. In this case, it was the Gothic subplot that developed after the move to Wrexmere. It never really seemed organic to the plot, and I did a lot of skimming through the last half of the book.

    One other thing that I noticed about Shadows of the Night that I also noticed about her other books is that no matter how carefully written her characters are, I never really like them. It’s hard to explain what I mean, especially as I am not a reader who wants to be BFF with the characters in the book I’m reading. For example, in For My lady’s Heart, Melanthe is not a particularly likeable person, but I loved her. She felt real and fully realized. Joyce’s characters always feel like intellectual constructs to me, and I’m not quite sure why. I always feel as though I should like her books a very great deal more than I actually do, and I wish I could pin down why that is.

  9. vanessa jaye
    Mar 06, 2008 @ 17:37:24

    This is why one should never say never. I took a pass on the Dom F/Sub M set up in Joey Hill’s book, but this set up intrigues me. Thanks for the review. I bought this book today.

  10. Janine
    Mar 06, 2008 @ 18:15:05

    In my view, the biggest problem with this book was something that has become a pattern in all of the Joyce books I've read. She chooses interesting settings, and intriguing characters. She starts off very, very well. And then, partway through the book, something happens to derail my interest. In this case, it was the Gothic subplot that developed after the move to Wrexmere. It never really seemed organic to the plot, and I did a lot of skimming through the last half of the book.

    I did feel that the gothic subplot at Wrexmere wasn’t what I was expecting based on the first third of the book, but while it was less interesting than the interactions of Fern and Colin in Brighton and on the road, I still found it interesting enough. I sometimes like it when books go in unexpected directions, so a big change in tone doesn’t necessarily keep me from enjoying a book.

    A bigger concern for me was that I would have liked for the relationship between Colin and Fern to remain center stage, and I did feel that it was a bit overshadowed by the mysteries of Wrexmere. I also would have liked for things between Fern and Colin to develop a bit more slowly. But overall, I still enjoyed the book more than many other historicals that I pick up and attempt to read. I like that the book was unconventional, and its D/s aspects actually worked better for me than those in some other books I’ve read.

    One other thing that I noticed about Shadows of the Night that I also noticed about her other books is that no matter how carefully written her characters are, I never really like them. It's hard to explain what I mean, especially as I am not a reader who wants to be BFF with the characters in the book I'm reading. For example, in For My lady's Heart, Melanthe is not a particularly likeable person, but I loved her. She felt real and fully realized. Joyce's characters always feel like intellectual constructs to me, and I'm not quite sure why. I always feel as though I should like her books a very great deal more than I actually do, and I wish I could pin down why that is.

    It sounds to me like you are talking about the difference between finding a character sympathetic or likable according to conventional standards and connecting with that character emotionally. Melanthe in FMLH is not what most readers think of as a sympathetic character, and yet I too did sympathize with her deeply, because Kinsale made me feel the intensity of her emotions.

    For me Joyce’s books don’t have that same kind of intensity but it can be argued I think, that (for me a least) almost no one matches the emotional punch that Kinsale’s books pack. I do like Joyce’s characters as well but for me it is a more distant kind of liking, most of the time.

    Have you read her previous book, The Voices of the Night? I felt a stronger emotional connection to Maggie and Charles in that book than I have to the heroes and heroines in Joyce’s other books.

  11. Janine
    Mar 06, 2008 @ 18:28:30

    Vanessa Jaye, I hope you enjoy the book.

  12. Aoife
    Mar 06, 2008 @ 18:40:26

    Voices of the Night was my favorite of her books, but in that case the “derailing” occurred because the heroine who feels compelled to martyr herself is a plot development that very seldom rings true to me. I’ve read books where the heroine-as-martyr didn’t make me want to heave the book at the wall, and VotN wasn’t a wallbanger, but it did seriously compromise my enjoyment.

    A bigger concern for me was that I would have liked for the relationship between Colin and Fern to remain center stage, and I did feel that it was a bit overshadowed by the mysteries of Wrexmere.

    Yes, exactly. All that momentum was built up, and then, as far as I was concerned, it trickled away. It’s almost as though Joyce couldn’t figure out how to integrate the two aspects of the plot seamlessly. That’s what I meant by the Gothic element not feeling organic.

    For me Joyce's books don't have that same kind of intensity but it can be argued I think, that (for me a least) almost no one matches the emotional punch that Kinsale's books pack. I do like Joyce's characters as well but for me it is a more distant kind of liking, most of the time.

    “Distant” is precisely the word. There is only one Kinsale, but I would submit that my very favorite authors, the numerous writers that I find truly memorable, make the same kind of emotional connection with me, the reader, as most of Kinsale’s characters. For some reason, with Joyce’s books, the emotional resonance is just not there, even though her writing is often original, and her characters interesting.

  13. Janine
    Mar 06, 2008 @ 19:08:03

    VOTN is my favorite as well. For most of the book, I would not have described the heroine as a martyr, though she did have one weak moment of near-martyrdom toward the end. I loved the first half of the book, and liked most of the second half, though I felt the last 40 pages were rushed and left too many unanswered questions.

    All that momentum was built up, and then, as far as I was concerned, it trickled away. It’s almost as though Joyce couldn’t figure out how to integrate the two aspects of the plot seamlessly. That’s what I meant by the Gothic element not feeling organic.

    For me, the momentum didn’t trickle away, but it did move to the background of the story, when I would have preferred that it remain in the foreground. I didn’t have the feeling that I was seeing “seams” though. But keep in mind that I often like books that do 180 degree U-turns, even when other readers don’t always. I like to be surprised.

    Also, unlike you, I was not tempted to skim at any point. My interest was held throughout. But the first third was riveting, and the latter two thirds less so (at least, until close to the ending, when Fern discovers Colin’s secret).

    “Distant” is precisely the word. There is only one Kinsale, but I would submit that my very favorite authors, the numerous writers that I find truly memorable, make the same kind of emotional connection with me, the reader, as most of Kinsale’s characters. For some reason, with Joyce’s books, the emotional resonance is just not there, even though her writing is often original, and her characters interesting.

    I did feel some emotional resonance here, especially in the first third of the book, and even more so in Voices of the Night (especially its first half). I think it’s a matter of degree.

    Yes, I too have other writers whose books impact me more strongly emotionally but almost no one can reach into my chest and wring out my heart the way Kinsale does. I try not to compare most authors to her because doing so would raise my expectations to a level that almost no one could meet.

  14. Lydia Joyce
    Mar 09, 2008 @ 18:12:54

    If you like the character interactions and aren’t fond of the subplots, it’d be great if you’d write to Signet that the relationships, rather than the mysteries and subplots, are what is most attractive about my writing. That way, they will know how readers feel.

  15. Janine
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 13:25:50

    Thanks. That’s always a good idea, I think, for readers to write to publishers and tell them what they want. But speaking only for myself, I think whether or not I want a mystery or a subplot depends on how interesting the relationship is. In Fern and Colin’s case, their interactions with one another fascinated me, so I wanted more of that.

  16. Lydia Joyce
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 14:59:27

    I hope I didn’t come across as snipy or anything up there–I didn’t mean it that way! :-) My publisher and I are constantly negotiating between us how much external/subplot I have to have, so to speak. Right now when I say that most of my readers don’t read my books for the mystery, it’s just me talking! (I do really love my publisher. Visions of who Lydia Joyce is and should be just differ a bit.) The book I’m just finishing has a more integral plotty-ness, like MUSIC, so it wasn’t an issue there, though!

  17. Janine
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 17:22:38

    No, you didn’t come across as snippy. And I look forward to your next book.

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