Shades of Twilight, by Linda Howard

>> Thursday, June 02, 2005

Incredibly enough, Shades of Twilight, by Linda Howard is a book I've reread quite a few times.

Roanna Davenport was raised a wealthy orphan on her grandmother's magnificent Alabama estate, Davencourt, where she had a passion for horses, a genius for trouble, and a deep love for her cousin, Webb. But everyone expected Webb to marry their ravishing cousin, Jessie. When he did, Roanna's desire became no more than the stuff of dreams -- until the night Jessie was found bludgeoned to death.

After the shocking murder of his wife, Webb left for Arizona, abandoning the legacy that he had once believed was all he wanted. But then an all-grown-up Roanna walked into a dingy bar in Nogales to bring him home; the mischievous sprite he had known ten years earlier was no more. Gone, too, was her fire. In its place was ice that melted at his touch. Webb is drawn back to Davencourt, to Roanna, and to the killer that once destroyed his life and waits only for the chance to finish the job....
This has always been a guilty pleasure for me, but man, on this reread, what struck me the most was that it takes AGES for the "pleasure" part to kick in! The first part of the book is a big fat F as far as I'm concerned. It pushes every single one of my ick buttons. Things improve after the first 120 or so pages, and I really did like the actual romance, but I can't give this more than a C+.

Even more than the incest thing everyone seems to find disgusting in this book (IMO, it is icky, but so cartoonish that I couldn't really work up any strong feelings about it), what bothered me the most was the Jessie - Webb relationship. God, talk about disgusting. There are scenes which made me sick, like the one when Webb is 14 and Jessie 13, and Webb delights in imposing his dominance over the sexually manipulative female, while grandma looks over in approval at how her boy has the instints of a man, and a dominant man at that.

The fact that Webb would willingly get into a relationship like the one he had with Jessie made it impossible for me to care for him at all. Howard seems to delight in blaming Jessie for everything, but I'm sorry, a guy who treats his wife as an unruly child, as Webb did, and goes into a marriage knowing that it would be a perpetual struggle for dominance, deserves whatever he gets.

But then, once the story moves to the present day events (after that 120 page mark I mentioned), things get much, much better. There's still stuff that bothered me (way too much skanky villain sex which added nothing to the story but some cheap titillation, the fact that every evil woman is portrayed as sexually promiscuous, a stupid suspense subplot), but the romance was surprisingly good, especially given how Webb had been portrayed before.

It's not usually my cup of tea, but the combination of tenderness and protectiveness and raw lust that characterized Webb's feelings for Roanna was very satisfying to read. The continuous internal lusting worked well, creating loads of sexual tension, and he was really sweet to Roanna, not only making sure she was all right physically, but making sure she knew he valued her intelligence and business sense, too.

I don't know why Roanna's fragility and passiveness didn't bother me. I suppose it was just that it wasn't a sign of weakness or stupidity, but a defense mechanism. And I liked how this worked to make Webb uncertain of Roanna, in spite of his knowledge of her love for him.

I think I'm going to be marking the stupid scenes in my copy of the book, so next time I reread this, I can just skip them.


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