Shadow and Silk, by Ann Maxwell (aka Elizabeth Lowell)

>> Thursday, April 13, 2006

book cover

Elizabeth Lowell wrote some very interesting-sounding romantic suspense titles as Ann Maxwell. Among them, is Shadow and Silk, a story which starts in Tibet, of all places!

With her stormy marriage at last behind her, Professor Dani Warren has found contentment as an expert in the study and preservation of antique textiles. Yet from the moment she touches an ancient piece of silk in Lhasa's Thieves Market, nothing in her safe, secure existenec will ever be the same..

An ex-mercenary employed by a shadowy oganization, Shane Crowe has fought battles both in the wilds of Asia and within his own soul. Seeking a more peaceful life, he has taken a vow of celibacy. But his spiritual and physical worlds clash when his latest assignment brings him to the Far East and to the lovely, fiercely independent woman who can lead him to Tibet's most sacred treasure.

Until the priceless silk is stolen and Dani and Shane become reluctant partners on a journey that takes them from the exotic mountains of Tibet to the shimmering beaches of Aruba, from Washington's corridors of power to the fog-shrouded islands of Vancouver...where one woman will be swept beyond the limits of desire—and one man must confront the deepest yearnings of his heart...
I quite liked S&S. In fact, it reminded me a bit of my favourite Lowell, Tell Me No Lies. It had interesting characters, an intriguing suspense element and a nice (if a bit underdeveloped) romance. A B.

In S&S Lowell introduces Risk Limited, a seeming precursor to that other organization, Rarities Unlimited, which she wrote about in Moving Target, Running Scared and Die in Plain Sight. While Rarities had Dana and Niall, Risk Limited has a similarly intriguing and well-rounded couple at its helm: former high-ranking diplomat Cassandra Redpath and her lover, Gillie, a British former military man.

But while these two are a strong presence in the book, they are not the hero and heroine. That place belongs to two characters that were just as intriguing, the textiles scholar Danielle Warren and Shane Crowe, a man whose history includes a stint with the CIA, a period as a hermit, in which he considered becoming a Buddhist monk, and work for a UN charity digging up and disarming live land mines. It's interesting: S&S's from 1997, so it's not very old, but it's a whole other world. I don't think any author today would have a hero having spent years working with the muhajedeen in Afghanistan, against the Soviets. How things change!

Anyway, Dani and Shane meet in Tibet, when she's approached by a Chinese dealer trying to sell her a priceless old textile. Shane, whose mission for Risk Limited is to recover this same fabric, the Budda's robe, stolen from the monastery of the Azure sect, saves Dani's life when it becomes clear that it was all a setup. Forced to make a split-second decision between saving Dani and recovering the fabric, Shane chooses the former, and then helps her get out of the country.

Back in Washington DC, Dani's approached by Risk Limited for help in recovering the fabric. Seems it was stolen by the Harmony, a shadowy secret organization grouping some of the most dangerous criminal associations in the world, and they mean to use it as a gift to draw in a reluctant Japanese yakuza boss and make themselves even more powerful.

Shane would prefer to keep Dani out of danger, but his bosses overrule him and insist on allowing Dani to choose whether she wants to risk it or not. Dani, feeling she owes both Shane and his organization for her rescue (and feeling she owes it to the world to keep a treasure such as the fabric from disappearing), decides she wants to, so she and Shane thus begin a mission that will take them to Aruba, Seattle and the islands off Vancouver.

On the whole, I really enjoyed the story, even though every element I enjoyed had its flaws. For instance, I really, really liked Shane and Dani and their relationship. Each were interesting in their own right, and Lowell created a wonderfully steamy sexual tension between them. However, I would have liked this even better if I'd had more of it. They just didn't have enough time together, and though I liked the idea of Shane's chastity vow (seeing him wish it was over already was fun), it did mean that the payoff for all that lovely sexual tension took a bit too long.

Same thing with the suspense subplot. I liked it, but... I enjoyed all the stuff about the ancient textiles, but I just don't think Lowell really succeeded in impressing in me why it was so necessary to recover the robe, why it would be so disastrous if they failed to do so. And this created a distinct lack of urgency. It seemed to me it was more important to destroy the Harmony, but they seemed to regard this as more of a secondary aim.

Katya Pilenkova and Ilya Kostanin were more interesting villains that I'm used to from Lowell. I did think we spent a bit too much time with the Harmony (especially considering I was wishing for more time with Shane and Dani), but unlike in her newer books (like Running Scared, for instance, where it was the main thing I disliked), these villains are at least interesting people.

The writing style was one I mostly liked, though there were certain things there (too) that I wasn't too crazy about. I do like how Lowell writes banter between her protagonists, but she makes the mistake of having them constantly congratulate each other on how witty, quick and brilliant their comments are, rather than let them stand alone and allow us readers to judge whether they are, in fact, so witty and brilliant.

On the whole, though, the positives much exceeded the negatives, and I really enjoyed myself reading this.


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