Mar 5 2008
Dear Ms. Joyce,
When 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.
This book can be purchased in mass market . No ebook format I could find.