Sunday, June 13, 2010
A husband, a family, a comfortable life: Theodora Lestrange lives in terror of it all. With a modest inheritance and the three gowns that comprise her entire wardrobe, Theodora leaves Edinburgh - and a disappointed suitor - far behind. She is bound for Roumania, where tales of vampires are still whispered, to visit an old friend and write the book that will bring her true independence. She arrives at a magnificent, decaying castle in the Carpathians replete with eccentric inhabitants: the ailing dowager; the troubled steward; her own fearful friend, Cosmina. But all are outstripped in dark glamour by the castle's master, Count Andrei Dragulescu. Bewildering and bewitching in equal measure, the brooding nobleman ignites Theodora's imagination and awakens passions in her that she can neither deny nor conceal. His allure is superlative, his dominion over the superstitious town, absolute - Theodora may simply be one more person under his sway. Before her sojourn is ended - or her novel completed - Theodora will have encountered things as strange and terrible as they are seductive. For obsession can prove fatal...and she is in danger of falling prey to more than desire.
As a Deanna Raybourn fan, I've enjoyed her Lady Julia Gray historical mystery novels, but this novel, which is a departure from Lady Julia, was not my cup of tea. I just could not get into it. The Gothic overtones were much too obvious and forced, I don't need to be beaten over the head with it - I get it! It's a gothic novel! The darkly handsome and brooding Count Dragulescu - is he really a vampire, or is it his father, the late Count, who is killing innocent serving girls? Do werewolves roam the hills on full moons and does madness run in the Dragulescu family? What evil lurks in the dark and forbidding medieval castle with it's looming Devil's staircase that climbs up to it's castle doors?
Frankly, I just thought a lot of it was silly. On audio, the narrator, Charlotte Perry did a so-so job with the differing voices. Theodora wasn't bad, if only she had kept up the Scottish accent, it seemed to come and go. And for a Scot, if would have been nice if Theodora knew how to properly pronounce the city of Edinburgh (it should be pronounced eddinburra, not eddinburr) In fact, there were several instances of mispronounced words, I've heard worse in audiobooks, but it was distracting and sometimes jarring here and I kept wanting to correct her! Adding to my disatisfaction with the narrator, her voice and accent for the Count was unbearable - it ruined him for me as a leading man and I disliked him throughout the entire book. I kept trying to overlook it, but it was impossible to ignore. I'm sure if I had read it in print, I would have felt differently towards him, but there was too much about him not to like, aside from his accent.
Theodora, a young Scottish Victorian novelist visits her friend Cosmina who is getting married in her native Transylvania to the darkly handsome Count. As soon as she arrives, she finds out that there is to be no wedding, the Count is not going to marry her after all - he never intended to. Instead, he seems to set his sights on Theodora who is no match for his seductions. She gives in easily. All too often raising her lips to his in supplication. And what is his story anyway - is he good or evil? What is he really? Is his dead father a strigoi? An undead? There is a lurid scene in which all the inhabitants of the castle (or the ones we know about) go to the family crypt to finish off the late Count who was hated by all for he was evil and cruel to the peasants and the people around his castle. They go to cut out his heart and burn it with Count Andrei leading the way for we learn he is a dhampir, born to defeat and kill the strigoi. Yet, Andrei cannot do it, though he succeeds in impaling a stake into his father's chest instead - eww. We never do find out if the father was a vampire or not - one of a few loose ends in the book. How come no one seems to worry about this?
Eventually, Theodora's lacklustre publisher, Charles who wants to be her husband, shows up unexpectedly all the way from Scotland, and brings some energy to what had been a tedious and slow moving story. By the time he shows up, Theodora is ready to give herself up to the Andrei's seductions and I was almost glad Charles showed up as chaperon (though it doesn't do much good). Ironic, since he is supposed to be a stuffy and boring suitor in Theodora's eyes, yet he made the plotline more interesting and added a much needed diversion, though he was by no means, the life of the party (and for a Scot, the narrator didn't even give him a Scottish brogue - for shame!) I became so tired of all these lugubrious Transylvania-ites talking matter of factly about werewolves and hanging basil at their windows. At least Charles was normal! At one point, I felt Cosmina was attracted to the publisher, but nothing comes of it (she has her own set of problems) One of my major gripes about this book is the unsatisfactory outcome in much of the sideline stories. We get to know many of the side characters, yet there is no closure with them - Cosmina is up in the air, whatever happened to Florian? Is the Count really a vampire, has he been been killed for good? Whatever happened to Charles once they return to Scotland? This was so unlike her other novels in which all the loose ends are neatly accounted for.
I'm going to stick with Raybourn's Lady Julia novels - I think Ms. Raybourn gave this the old college try, but should steer clear from paranormals in the future - "Resist!" I say! "Resist the dark side!" If you want to write about dark and brooding heroes, make them human and more like Nicholas Brisbane if you please!