The Dancing Floor, by Barbara Michaels

>> Thursday, March 25, 2004

I'm fast running out of Barbara Michaels books that I haven't reread in the last year or so. The latest was the last "real" Barbara Michaels the author wrote (I don't count Other Worlds, I'm afraid), The Dancing Floor.

For years, Heather Tradescant had dreamed of the journey she and her father would take to England--a pilgrimage to the great gardens of history.Now that her father is dead, Heather is determined to fulfill his dreams. Unfortunately, her request to see the fabled 17th-century garden of Troytan House is denied by the owner. Though unwelcome, she braves the walls of briars and reaches the Victorian manor house beyond. She senses a strange mission of evil lurking, tainting the manor's peaceful beauty. Only then does Heather begin to wonder whether it is only stories of long-vanished witchcraft that haunt Troytan House or whether there is some more modern horror, hearer at hand, and far, far more dangerous.
I enjoyed it immensely. Michaels later books have a very different flavour from her early "ghost" stories. I adore both. A B+.

This is not a book for action junkies, very definitely NOT a page-turner. The pace is leisurely, and often long stretches go by where nothing really exciting happens, but it happens to be a style I enjoy very much, at least when done by this author.

It has a bit of a gothic feeling, though less than other titles, and it's narrated in first person by the heroine, Heather, which adds to the gothic tones. This POV succeeds very well because Heather is a lovely character, and one interesting to read, with a witty, sarcastic voice. I suppose she might come across as a bit too brash and blunt to some people, but I cheered every time she spoke her mind and refused to put up with any shit or refused to be condescended to and to be treated like a "little woman". Something else I enjoyed about her was how she was very self-aware, and good-naturedly accepted when she was being ridiculous. Added to that, an enjoyable sense of humour, and this makes for a really good narrator. Oh, and I also loved how she'd eat with great gusto, even though she knew she was a little overweight. Good for her!

The very interesting cast of secondary characters was quite well done. I actually thought the characterization of Bobbie, a child who was really monstrously bad-behaved, was remarkable. There are kids who are sweet and kids who are just that... monsters, but authors tend to portray children as inherently good, while here, Michaels doesn't do that at all. Bobbie is written in all his horrible glory, and yet he never comes across as a caricature, but as a real person.

The only kind-of exception to this was Heather's love interest, who I thought was a little underwritten. This meant, of course, that the romance wasn't so good. Being a Michaels fan, I knew from the start who this love interest would be, so I took note of the little details which showed an attraction. Still, it was all a bit too subtle, even for Michaels.

More tangentially, I was interested in the way romance novels were portrayed here. After some of the Jacqueline Kirby books, where romance novels were pretty ridiculed (Die for Love and Naked Once More come to mind), here the attitude has changed. Heather reads romance (she actually shares a Regency with the other women in the house), and at one point, when Jordan asks her where she got a certain obscure knowledge, well, it was from a romance novel. That was a nice touch, I thought.

Oh, and a last note: I always enjoy the nuggets of specialized info Michaels offers the reader as part of the story (it never sounds like she's just quoting from a reference book). This time, there was some fascinating stuff about old English gardens and about witches, both the 17th century witch trials and the modern wicca. This made for very good setting and atmosphere.


Christine,  9 March 2015 at 15:43  

Rosario, thanks for reminding me about this book. I own it in hardcover (Michaels was a must buy for me as soon as her books came out) and it has sat neglected for years, with my other, many, non ebooks. When I saw you mention your re-read I hopped on Amazon and amazingly some of Michaels titles (which stay around $7.99 each in kindle format) were on sale for $3.99 each. I stocked up and had a great re-read marathon. I hope to eventually re-buy all the Michaels and Peters in ebook.

I'm not sure why this wasn't more of a "re-reader" for me because I really enjoyed it every time I read it. Perhaps I had thought of it as one of her "tier two" books that I enjoyed, but aren't among my top favorites. I think I may have enjoyed it even more this time around because I hadn't worn it out.

I love all the things about Michaels that you seem to: the heroines with a bit of a bite and little patience for fools, her "non-PC" writing that allows her to make a horrible 12/13 year old just a bad kid and her ability to interest me in things I didn't know I would care about (17th century gardening among others).

I agree about the romance, this one is second only to "Houses Of Stone" in its "subtlety" let's call it. As modern as she is in some ways, I do find it sweet and a little old fashioned (in the best way) that there is a confession of love when the characters have barely even kissed. Sometimes they even haven't.

I also found the Pendle Witches interesting as you don't read much about them. The Salem Witch trials here in MA get a lot of coverage in books and TV so it was interesting to see the sad similarity in circumstances (older, poorer, "unpleasant" woman starts trouble with someone higher up the social scale and things just deteriorate from there). Also Wicca has a decent sized following here, particularly in Salem (for obvious reasons) so it was nice to see her take on that as well.

This is classic Michaels (and the setup I love best) where a bunch of people are set up in house together, with some goal or goals and interact, solving some mysteries and having a little romance along the way.

Rosario 12 March 2015 at 06:47  

I've brought most of my Michaels books over to England over the years, but I find it really hard to read print these days, so I will be keeping an eye out for kindle sales!

This is a tier 2 one for me, so like you say, it's more interesting when I reread it (others, like Ammie Come Home, The Walker in Shadows and House of Many Shadows I know almost by heart by now!).

The Pendle Witches background was really interesting to me, especially because I live just by Lancashire and driven through the relevant areas.

I think I might be rereading more and more of her books soon. I was wavering between this one and Vanish With the Rose before, so I think the latter might be next!

Christine,  12 March 2015 at 15:07  

Rosario, I was laughing when I read this because I just re-read House Of Many Shadows and Ammie Come Home (bought in my big kindle splurge). They are two of my favorites too- definitely "tier 1" Michaels. I also just re-read Vanish With The Rose, probably because the hero is possibly my favorite of all the Michaels books, or in the top five at least. I know over the top Alpha heroes are the thing in a lot of romance books, and I certainly enjoy them as well, but there is something great about a smart, witty, kind, good-natured guy who doesn't have to have the biggest muscles in the room, that works for me every time. Time at the Nicholson/Davis house seems pretty great as well.

Rosario 13 March 2015 at 09:24  

It's almost freaky how similar our tastes are on this! :)

Details about Vanish With The Rose are very vague in my memory (all I remember is that the heroine's brother is missing and she blags her way into a job from which she thinks she can investigate his disappearance... and even that might not be accurate!). So clearly, perfect time to reread it!

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