Gentle from the Night, by Meagan McKinney

>> Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I've been hearing about Meagan McKinney's Gentle from the Night for a long time. It's been mentioned as a homage to the old gothics, but with a much higher level of sensuality, so I thought it sounded interesting.

A young governess, Alexandra Benjamin, encounters a darkly seductive master, his simple-minded, mute brother, and a whispering ghost at ominous Cairncross Castle.

Left penniless after her father's death, Alexandra Benjamin strikes an unusual bargain with John Damien Newell, the darkly seductive master of Cairncross Castle. Hired to teach his troubled younger brother, Samuel, to speak, she soon discovers the castle harbors many terrible secrets. Secrets that lead Alexandra through a labyrinth of twisted lies and ancient mysteries, to where the answers lie waiting in the innermost chambers of the heart.
I wanted to like this book, I really did, especially because I did like certain aspects, but ultimately, I had too many problems with the hero and found the plot a bit frustrating. A C+.

At least those who recommended it got the "hot gothic" angle right. That was probably the best thing about the book. Cairncross Castle is a character in itself here, and the heavy, oppressive atmosphere is very well done, and Alexandra and Damien's courtship really is steamy.

Also good was the heroine's background. Alexandra's father was Jewish, so she finds herself in a position just outside of society. Once the story starts in earnest, at Cairncross, this fact isn't a problem anymore, other than in her mind, but it had been a real issue before that.

She's a pretty good heroine, really. She's not at all TSTL, wondering around for no good reason, and she does have the good sense of being at least a little scared of her new boss, especially once she gets to know him better.

And now we come to my main problem with GFTN: Damien. Damien reminds me of certain Anne Stuart heroes, the darkest of her darkest heroes, men who really are walking on the line between good and evil and have actually dipped their toes on the dark side of that line. That can make for a fascinating character, but it can also create a character who crosses the line for the reader, and Damien did, for me. He was one scary man, and I kept wanting Alexandra to run away, to shake her for her insistence on her responsibility to save him.

Something else I didn't care for was the whole "paranormal.... or is it?" back and forth. It became frustrating after a while, and I never did completely "get" it, the whys and hows. I kept wanting Damien and Alexandra to actually do something, but they, especially Damien, mostly reacted to what happened and didn't do much. As I said, frustrating!


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