Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Veiled Passions by Tracy MacNish

Dear Ms. MacNish:

Veiled Passions is the first book of yours I’ve read, and perhaps because of that, this is a very difficult review for me to write.   I wanted so much to like this book, because it has a number of elements I look for in Romance:   settings other than Regency England (this book is set in 1777 Venice and England), a seemingly hefty word count, a heroine who actually comes from a loving, intact family.   But for a number of reasons, some of which I still haven’t identified, I just did not connect emotionally to Veiled Passions or find myself engaged in the main couple’s rocky journey to love.

On the surface, Kieran Mullen has just about everything going for her:   beauty, a close, loving family, a wealthy, honorable, and protective brother who also happens to be a duke, and bright marriage prospects.   But she bears the scars of a three-year-old trauma that halted her emotional development and turned her into a veritable recluse.   Her family is baffled and concerned, tolerating her eccentricities and allowing her freedom from meeting societal expectations.   And when, at a party in Venice, she faces a specter of that horrific night, Kieran wishes for a more permanent freedom, which is denied her by a handsome Italian stranger who saves her life and recognizes a kindred spirit of sorts in Kieran, a woman who, like himself, has used up all her optimistic expectations and now lives in a kind of emotionally vacant limbo.

Like Kieran, Matteo de Gama is emotionally paralyzed, although his affliction has developed over a lifetime of emotional abandonment by numerous people who should have loved him.   Matteo is an artist and a musician, although he tends to see himself more as a gambler and a libertine.   When he rescues Kieran from the canals, where she falls in the midst of a struggle with a mysterious man, Matteo’s life becomes intertwined with hers.   Although he knows nothing of her secret, he discerns that she is in need of justice, and he offers her the possibility of exacting retribution on someone who wronged her.   Intrigued and unsettled, Kieran refuses his assistance, but, along with her grateful brother, Rogan, is still moved to help Matteo when he later faces false charges of treason delivered by the husband of a previous lover.   And when he is exiled from Venice, Matteo takes Rogan up on an offer to accompany his family to England, where he takes charge of renovating an estate owned by Rogan and his nervously pregnant wife, Emeline.

Once the journey to England begins, Matteo and Kieran find themselves mutually intrigued and attracted.   Kieran decides she wants Matteo’s help in crafting her revenge, and Matteo wants to solve the mystery of the woman he calls cuore solitario.   “She was an intrigue and art and altogether bittersweet,” to Matteo, who is very familiar with the mixed blessings of an artistic sensibility and a beautiful face.   And despite Rogan’s persuasive insistence that Matteo not pursue his sister, the attraction between them grows, their mutual loneliness and need to be loved stronger than any family admonition.

Thinking for days about Veiled Passions, I’m still not certain why this book didn’t click for me.   In part I think it was the language, which had an overwrought quality that undercut rather than enhanced the emotional drama for me.   For example, Rogan doesn’t simply get angry; he gives “a wild Irish display of barely controlled violence.”   Matteo’s eyes aren’t merely brown; they “looked sorrowful, sincere, and deep.”   Matteo’s interfering former mistress doesn’t just anger Kieran with a look; her eyes were “two emerald green orbs that pierced her soul.”   Kieran’s “lips parted and trembled like dewy pink silk” and Matteo’s kiss “caused a million little smokeless fires to burn in her veins.”   When I read that last description, I spent way too much time trying to figure out why the fires had to be smokeless.

Then there are instances of rhetorical awkwardness, cliché, or anachronism, as when Rogan gives Kieran “a bear hug” or Kieran finds herself “killing time” with her “secret stash of brandy.” Kieran’s English suitor Samuel Ellsworth insists that he does not need to rush marriage, already having “an heir and a spare” from his first wife, but he gets in trouble later for trying to “consul” Kieran.   Throughout the novel I found myself underlining numerous instances of language that irked me, which signaled my emotional disengagement from the story.

And as for the story, it honestly felt to me like little actually happened during the course of this long novel.   There is a flurry of activity at the beginning of the novel when Matteo rescues Kieran and they all end up traveling to England together.   Matteo’s troublesome ex-mistress makes trouble for the prospective couple.   There is the story of Kieran’s trauma, which reveals itself slowly and with numerous scenes that hint of its nature and participants.   There is the secondary plot of Kieran’s plan for revenge, and then there is Emeline’s pregnancy, which concerns everyone because she has a history of miscarriage.   And there are a number of scenes in which Kieran and Matteo spar with each other over the price Kieran should pay for Matteo’s help, as well as the mutual taunting the two engage in as they try to negotiate their attraction without sacrificing their pride.   So I know intellectually that things were happening, but I found myself bored for most of the book.   After the 200 page mark I started making margin notes like “enough already” and “get on with it,” as I yearned with all the passion I didn’t feel reading that Kieran and Matteo’s relationship would move forward.   The dance they continued to do was understandable given their extreme prickliness as characters, but it frustrated me to no end as a reader, because they seemed to repeat the same exchange over and over, in slightly different form – suggest attraction but don’t commit yourself, say too much and then deny your feelings, advance too far and then retreat for weeks at a time, leave the other certain you feel nothing, rinse yourself of frustration and guilt and then repeat.   And because of this repetition, the secondary revenge plot sometimes seemed more like a means to keep the sexual and emotional tension high rather than a necessary element of the novel.

As I said earlier, Veiled Passions had many qualities I appreciate in historical Romance. Kieran, for example, is not a mousy little debutante.   No, she is a young woman who possesses quite a bit of pride and vanity, and whose reaction to the emotional trauma she suffered reflects her youthful self-centeredness.   She is intelligent and strong-willed and self-aware enough to know she is a frustration to her family but unable to exorcise her shame and humiliation.   And the nature of her trauma is interesting, as well, not totally what I expected, and not the norm in Romance.   While I am starting to tire of traumatized heroines, Kieran’s victimization but a bit different in its nature and in the toll it took on her, so I was not as turned off as I expected to be when I started reading the book and anticipated a different revelation from her.   I also appreciated that she had a loving family, and even though I felt her African guard and friend was a bit stereotyped at times, I liked that she could sustain healthy non-romantic relationships and trust those she knew were loyal to her.

In terms of Matteo, he remained more of an enigma to me, a man who has many artistic talents – he is practically inseparable from the cello he plays so lyrically – who is educated beyond his birth and sensitive beyond his capacity to trust others, but who never became real to me in the way I needed him to be.   Part of the problem, I think, is that he keeps going on about how unworthy of love he is, when it is so blindingly clear that he is more emotionally generous than Kieran and readier to put himself in a vulnerable place by helping her.   So there was not as much tension in his character as his alleged inner conflict would suggest.   He spends a lot of time ruminating about Kieran, wondering that “[s]he was a painting in motion,” like “a princess whose feet have never trod upon anything but rose petals,” and generally struggling with his attraction to her.   But I never felt the dimension that Matteo was supposed to possess, and I never felt the passion between him and Kieran despite all the descriptive attention paid to their mental lusting.   It was as if the shields they each placed toward each other reflected their remoteness to me, as well, because I did not really feel them growing closer and more open emotionally as the novel progressed.   So by the time they physically consummated their relationship it struck me as abrupt and slightly disappointing in its brevity and circumstance.   By the time the pride receded and real emotions flowed, I had thoroughly disengaged, so it felt like too little too late, and despite the number of pages that had passed, too rapid.

I suspect there are many readers who will disagree with me about Veiled Passions, because I sense my response was primarily about chemistry as opposed to unforgivable issues of craftsmanship.   Despite the problems I found with some of the prose, the writing wasn’t egregious, and neither the characters nor the plot seemed haphazardly constructed.   And although my experience of Veiled Passions was below average, I think my grade should register as a straight C.

~ Janet

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

12 Comments

  1. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 13, 2008 @ 10:36:47

    What’s with using a man’s name for the heroine?

    ReplyReply

  2. Robin/Janet
    Nov 13, 2008 @ 12:34:37

    IIRC, Lynne, her parents expected a boy because she kicked so much in the womb, and when she was born, they decided to give her the name anyway because they were so used to referring to her as Kieran already. It was a family name, too, I think.

    ReplyReply

  3. DS
    Nov 13, 2008 @ 14:52:00

    This sounds like a book I would totally have loved– but the prose cited makes me squirm (not just a little, A LOT.)

    Then I went to the author’s page and there were some dark hints about her own past influencing her writing that made me want to creep quietly away– so I did.

    ReplyReply

  4. Laura
    Nov 13, 2008 @ 15:28:56

    Thanks for addressing the issue of the heroine’s name, Lynne and Robin/Janet, because I had a similar question. In fact, given that her name is more commonly a boy’s name and that the cover sort of looks (especially at 7 a.m., before the first cup of coffee has had its intended effect) like it has 2 men on it, I was wondering if there was something about this book/review I was missing.

    ReplyReply

  5. Robin
    Nov 13, 2008 @ 16:40:26

    DS: I haven’t checked out her website, but now I’m afraid to, lol. I bought her first book, I think, and it started out with a strong sense of danger for the heroine (abusive family, etc.), which made me put it down and forget to pick it back up. Veiled Passions, as I said, was at least a variation on that model, but it wasn’t enough to buoy the book against some of the prose/pacing issues and whatever it was that kept me from connecting.

    Laura: I didn’t see the cover like you did until I started looking at it closely. Now I can see how you thought that, Laura, especially in the way the woman’s jawline looks. I didn’t immediately recognize Kieran as a male name, but then I have one of those boy-to-girl names, too, and it’s even spelled in the traditional boy way (Robin as opposed to Robyn), so I didn’t really question it, lol.

    ReplyReply

  6. orannia
    Nov 13, 2008 @ 17:05:05

    Thank you Robin/Janet. I have to admit, after reading your review I’m torn. At the beginning I was thinking ‘this book sounds interesting’…then I got to the prose excerpts and everything went flat. Hmmmmm. Maybe I should read an excerpt and see how I feel…

    Laura – the cover caught me off guard too :)

    ReplyReply

  7. Robin
    Nov 13, 2008 @ 17:13:35

    orannia: I can tell you that MacNish is *very* fond of descriptive language and especially seems to like the three-adjective combination. Some readers may love that style, but it wasn’t my favorite, and combined with the periodic awkwardness and questionable word choices, I was not swept away by the writing. But since each reader responds differently to prose, I would definitely recommend checking out an excerpt of the book to see if you want to try it. A lot of my issues with VP were stylistic rather than related to competency or craft, so I’m sure there are readers who would vigorously dispute my reactions to the book.

    ReplyReply

  8. Amy
    Nov 13, 2008 @ 19:07:00

    Dear Ladies –

    I bought this book becuase it was a Romantic Times Top Pick, and I could not disagree with your review more. I felt the book was beutifully written and I could not put it down.

    After reading your comments, I visited the authors website and I am unsure as to where you had seen “a dark past”… From her website, I found that she is interestingly not dark, yet witty and had a great sense of humor (see About Tracy).

    I also do not understand the comments regarding the heroine’s name “issue” as well as the cover. I believe that the author does not actually pick out the covers – am I mistaken??

    Finally, I was a little thrown off by the critism regarding the prose. For what it is worth, you can take a phrase out of context and make it sound silly from any book.

    To everyone reading this review/comments I do hope you pick up a copy and actually READ it – THEN decide for your self.

    P.S. Love the site!!

    ReplyReply

  9. Robin
    Nov 13, 2008 @ 22:53:42

    Amy: I’m glad someone who loved VP finally spoke up! And your comment reminds me that this book is part of a series, which I should have mentioned in my review. As someone who didn’t read the other books connected to it, though, I feel this novel stands alone.

    ReplyReply

  10. Tracy MacNish
    Nov 14, 2008 @ 10:54:36

    Robin/Janet,

    Thank you for the time you took in reviewing my book. You obviously didn’t connect well with it, but it’s clear you put a lot of thought into your review.

    I’m disappointed you didn’t enjoy the story – not because of the criticism, but because storytelling is what I love to do, and it’s hard to find I’ve fallen short with a reader. I will definitely take what I can from your thoughtful remarks to improve future books.

    Reading the comments here, I’m a bit perplexed about what DS is referring to – but hey, any “creeping” she did is on her. Feel free to creep, sidle, or slink away as needed (or you could just click the X in the upper right hand corner). My website, http://www.tracymacnish.com, is welcoming and friendly, as am I.

    My best regards,
    Tracy MacNish

    ReplyReply

  11. Robin
    Nov 14, 2008 @ 14:42:15

    I appreciate your gracious comment, Ms. MacNish, and offer congratulations on the recognition from RT.

    I cannot speak for DS, but I thought she might be referring to the last question here. Notice that I had to go look after her comment, lol. I’m so weak.

    ReplyReply

  12. DS
    Nov 14, 2008 @ 15:03:15

    Yes, thank you Robin, that was it.

    ReplyReply

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: