Dark Desires, by Eve Silver

>> Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Eve Silver's Dark Desires (excerpt) is yet another of the books from Zebra's debut authors program, released with a very attractive price and very nice covers, according to the images I've seen. So far, I've only tried one other book from this program, What a Woman Needs, by Caroline Linden, and that one was excellent, so I had great hopes.

Dark Streets

On the streets of Whitechapel, a man steps from the fog-shrouded shadows, looking for company. The women are always happy to take his coin—just before they take his knife…

Dark Secrets

Darcie Finch has come to the East London brothel as a last, desperate choice. Instead, the madam turns Darcie out into the harsh night with new hope—to seek employment from one who owes her a favor, Dr. Damien Cole—as well as a last warning: Have a care. Steer clear of his work and his secrets. He is a man to fear…

Dark Desires

The Cole residence is a strange place, indeed. Servants disappear. Unsavory characters call at odd hours of the night. And Darcie has seen the handsome doctor leave his laboratory splattered with blood. Now, Damien has offered her the chance of a lifetime, using her skills as an artist to work beside him. Long hours together soon ignite an unexpected—and irresistible—passion. But the closer Darcie gets to Damien and his secrets, the more she wonders if he is a dedicated, charming healer…or a cold-blooded killer…
I've gone on and on about this already, but I love gothics. A well done eerie and spooky atmosphere is, in itself, a draw for me, and Dark Desires offered a Jack the Ripper inspired plot, too, so I was well disposed to enjoy it. Unfortunately, while it starts out strong, it's somewhat of a downward slope from there. A C+.

In the gothic fashion, the book is narrated wholly from the POV of our heroine, Darcie Finch. After a nice, middle-class childhood, bad luck struck Darcie's family and they lost everything. As the book opens, she's been living on the streets of Whitechapel for a while and has become increasingly desperate. Down to her very last bit of strength, she takes the step of going to Mrs. Feather's house, a brothel which happens to be ran by Darcie's own sister, come down in life after being abandoned by a lover.

Taking pity on her, the hardened Mrs. Feather decides to call in a favour and tells Darcie to go ask for a position at Dr. Damien Cole's household. And as she leaves, who should happen to nearly ran Darcie over with his coach but Dr. Cole himself? On hearing Mrs. Feather's request, Damien takes Darcie on as a maid, and she soon progresses to be his assistant, when he finds out she has a talent for drawing.

But even after she leaves the back-breaking work of a maid behind, life isn't easy for Darcie. For one thing, she begins to develop some strong feelings for Dr. Cole. For another, a savage killer has been killing prostitutes in Whitechapel, and Darcie is witness to certain things in Dr. Cole's house that make her fear the man she's so attracted to might be somehow involved.

Well, I did get the eerie, spooky atmosphere, but it wasn't enough to compensate for what I felt were the flaws in this story.

As I said, it does begin on a high note. The whole setup of the story and the early interactions between Darcie and Damien were deliciously gothic and very enjoyable.

In the first third or so of the story, the classic gothic formula holds up, and Darcie never comes across as TSTL. Even when she witnesses extremely suspicious events, events that put some very solid doubts in her head as to what Damien might be up to, it makes sense that she would stay there and wouldn't confront him about it.

She sees herself as a servant in the house, even when she trades her mop for a pencil, and when it comes to servants here, we're not talking "beloved retainer who nags the hero to get married" or anything like that. Damien is a kind employer, but his staff still lives, not in fear, but knowing they're just employees,and that if they screw up enough, they will lose their positions. So Darcie has a fear of having to leave this refuge she's found, especially after her experiences living on the streets, and she does her best to ignore the strange goings on she happens on.

She feels an unwanted fascination for Damien, though, even as she fears him. And slowly, a degree of familiarity starts to develop between them, starting with a sexual bond, and this was just great. So far, so good.

At one point, though, and I really cannot pinpoint where it was, or what happened to change how the book affected me, it was as if the magic lifted. I began to see the author's hand, and that's like the kiss of death to me.

I don't know if I can explain it. For instance, the Suspicious Events that had worked so well earlier began to feel ridiculously contrived. Instead of seeing things that might possibly happen and be naturally misinterpreted, I saw the author doing her best to manipulate events for maximum effect, however illogical those manipulations would be (think Darcie's suspected resurrectionists).

Darcie's actions, too, began not to make that much sense, other than as a way to push the plot where the author wanted it to go. Another for instance: when the other maid is attacked, and Darcie never says anything to Damien. At the beginning of the book, I might have accepted it, but once her relationship with Damien has changed enough, I don't understand why she would keep quiet.

And speaking of her relationship with Damien, strangely enough, the way it turned hot didn't work for me. I'm one of those people who actively want to see the hero's POV in romance. One of the reasons I'm leery of old romance novels is because you never got to see inside the hero's mind back then (all right, most of the times). In gothics, however, that's the price you've got to pay to have a truly dark and mysterious hero, so ok, I'm usually fine with it. Here, however, the very romancey tone and steaminess of the sex scenes didn't marry well with the old fashioned gothic tone that the author had been setting up. While Damien would have been just fine as a regular gothic hero, as the hero of a book such as the one Dark Desires turned out to be, I just didn't get enough of a feel for who he was.

And really, this was a surprise for me. I've often wished when reading gothics for "exactly this book I'm reading, only with hot sex", but now I don't know if it's such a great idea.

So there I was, reading a book that had started out well, but had soon began to fizzle and fizzle... until I got to the ending, when it sank like a stone. The resolution to the suspense subplot was NOT good. Actually, the entire suspense subplot was clumsily constructed, because Silver introduced the villain in such a way that he stood out as a sore thumb, especially because it's a character who we meet and who then plays absolutely no other role in the story.

Still, for all this I've said, I'd be willing to try Eve Silver again. She shows quite a bit of promise and, from what I saw in the first parts of the book, she can do well!


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