Pandora's Box

His Dark Desires

Jennifer St. Giles
2005, American Historical Romance (1870s New Orleans)
Pocket, $6.99, 336 pages, Amazon ASIN 0743486269
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

His Dark Desires is set in Reconstruction Era New Orleans. Heroine Juliet Boucheron is still dealing with the after-effects of the war. Her husband disappeared with thousands of dollars in Confederate gold, and as a result, she and her son have been shunned by all of their friends. They also have little closure in their lives, since they do not know for sure whether their husband and father is alive or dead. In the meantime, they have had to take in boarders in order to make and meet and pay the taxes on their ancestral home, where she lives with her son, her sisters, and a handful of servants.

When the book begins, Juliet has just received a message telling her that she is in very great danger. Strange accidents start happening, and several of her family members are affected. An acting troupe currently boarding in the home may be to blame, but Juliet isn't really sure. Meanwhile, an attractive writer from a wealthy shipping family, Stephen Trevelyan, takes up residence as well. Although Juliet intends to keep him at an arms length, she can't really deny her attraction to him. At the same time, though, she wonders whether she can trust anyone at all.

Stephen takes Juliet's family in hand and helps her investigate the strange happenings. He seems to relate well to her hard-to-reach young son, and Juliet's feelings for him only become stronger. They will need to work together to avert the danger that surrounds them, and Juliet will need to find some closure with her past before she can be happy with Stephen.

Blythe:   I chose His Dark Desires because it came with a high recommendation from Sandy Coleman, who'd also read and enjoyed St. Giles' first book. I'm glad she mentioned it to me, because I found it entertaining and different. The setting (Reconstruction Era New Orleans) is not a common one, and it's written in first person POV. It also has gothic undertones. In short, I'd say it is really different from the typical romance offerings these days. What did you think?

Linda:   LOL, when I first looked at HDD I wondered what I did to make you mad! I loathe anything to do with the Civil War - post, during or pre - and I also don't care for first person POV. But, as so often happens a good author makes me enjoy something I didn't think I would. I really enjoyed this book and especially liked heroine-narrator Juliet Boucheron a lot.

Blythe:   What is it about the Civil War (and aftermath) that turns you off so completely?

Linda:   Well, I read one book by Eugenia Price, Bright Captivity, set in the pre-Civil War south (1812) where the heroine was begging the slaves not to leave the plantation with the British - she actually expected these people to give up their freedom to stay and wait on her!! How can you root for someone like that. Beyond that, the whole period is just so grim and after shedding buckets of tears over Gone With The Wind I have shied away from anything set around the war ever since.

Blythe:   I used to be a huge Eugenia Price fan. I read all her Savannah books in high school and loved them, and I have a signed copy of the first one that I bought when I visited Savannah. I read Bright Captivity, but it must have just struck me in a different way. That series isn't as good as the Savannah quartet anyway.

I can understand what you mean in some ways, because I avoid Native American romances for similar reasons (I always think that even when the couple gets together, there is bound to be trouble ahead in the form of smallpox, forced migration, etc). I see post-war South books a little differently though; I tend to think of the period as complicated rather than grim. One of my favorite series ever, Rosalyn West's Men of Pride County series, is set in Kentucky immediately following the war, and I love how she explores the complexities of the time and place. It's a period brimming with ready-made, realistic conflict. So anyway, what made this book work for you in spite of the setting?

Linda:   I think it was the character of Juliet and her family that immediately drew me into the story. I loved the honest portrayal of her troubled teenage son and the sacrifices they had to make to survive the war. They were Southerners whose home was taken over by the Union Army and they were forced to billet officers. Also, Juliet's husband is rumored to have stolen Southern gold and betrayed his friends. Juliet lost all of her friends and social position because of her husband's disappearance and betrayal. Juliet managed all of the social upheaval and threats of poverty and starvation with an admirable strength, but perhaps went overboard trying to keep the truth of their situation from her son and sisters.

In fact, the only flaw in the book for me is one that is inherent in first person narratives: we just never really got to know the hero Stephen Trevelyan very well. He remained a very nice, but rather bland cipher for much of the book for me. I liked him, but just never felt I got to know him as well as I would have liked. Perhaps if I had read the first book in this series, I would have felt differently; but, I am enthused enough about St. Giles' writing style, and light touches of humor even in grim surroundings that I will look for the first book in the series.

Blythe:   I liked Juliet too, although I was a little confused about the way she treated her sisters like children, not letting them know what was going on. I guess I am still a little foggy on their ages, but to me it seemed like they were certainly old enough to be included in decision making and informed of danger, threats, etc.

I too could have used a little more insight into Stephen and his family, but maybe that isn't as much an issue for people who have read the first book.

Linda:   I think the youngest was 17, which wasn't a child in that era. I think she raised them through such difficult times that she had just formed the habit of protecting them and failed to see they had grown up. I was touched when she discovered Ginette's love letters and realized that she had been so preoccupied with survival and the loss of her husband that she hadn't noticed what was going on in the lives of those around her. Ginette is the middle sister and becomes increasingly ill as the book progresses. She is depressed but tries to hold up her end of the work needed to sustain the family. Ginette is utterly hopeless; she believes the family will lose their home and doesn't feel she'll ever marry or have a family of her own. For me, Ginette's portrayal was realistic in the context of the aftermath of the war. Not everyone is going to be able to keep going with as much fortitude as Juliet.

Blythe:   I thought Juliet's whole family was pretty interesting, and I like the suspense sub-plot involving her first husband. I thought the husband's secret was obvious, but did manage to be fooled by the villain; I'd been expecting someone completely different.

Linda:   I was suspicious of the villain from the beginning, but also had a couple of others in mind - all in all I thought the mystery was well done and didn't interfere with the romance story. I really liked St. Giles writing style - certainly no purple prose here. There were humorous touches i.e. when Juliet mistook Stephen for a burgler and whacked him on the head with her frying pan. His insistence on knowing what type of pan had felled him, just struck me funny. I am glad that the Trevelyan clan is a large one and wouldn't mind seeing a romance with Juliet's youngest sister Mignon either. Did the touches of French language threaded through the conversations bother you at all? Sometimes they seemed like an affectation to me, but didn't jar me enough to pull me out of the book.

Blythe:   See, I thought the prose was a bit purple, or at least a bit flowery. Though I liked Juliet and Stephen, there were times when they were talking to each other that I couldn't help laughing. I know no one's husband really talks like a romance hero, but I kept picturing mine talking like Stephen and laughing at the very idea. "All of life pales to the beauty of being in your arms"...stuff like that I just could not buy. The French did seem like a bit of an affectation at times, but I guess I'm just not really sure if it happened or not. Did people like to say "Oui," and then continue on in English? Hell if I know.

Unlike you, though, I really like first person POV. I am usually more likely to give a book a try if it's written this way. I always liked Joan Wolf's books, and then there's Gabaldon, who is in a class by herself.

Linda:   LOL, I have put books back on the store shelf because they were written in first person - it is just not my favorite form. But, it worked here for me but did leave me wanting to know more about Stephen. The "flowery speech" effected me a bit differently - that was part of what I thought was St. Giles subtle sense of humor. I took the "speeches" as banter between Juliet and Stephen. Especially when they first meet and spar back and forth with "Shakespearean-speak". This couple is so intelligent and likable and the story so well drawn that it easily overcame any problems I might have had with the setting or POV.

Blythe:   I'm glad you liked it - especially since I knew you were really dubious going in. But I didn't think their little speeches were supposed to be tongue in cheek or banter-y; they read pretty deadpan serious to me, which is why they seemed over the top. For me it ranked in hit B range; I found it to be flawed in some ways. The aforementioned sappiness was a problem, and at times, Stephen's did seem to be too much of a mystery. But I basically liked the story, and I loved the setting. I guess most of all I appreciated that it was something different. I really like European Historicals, but lately it seems like that's about all that's out there. It's been harder and harder to even find an American Historical to include as a favorite for the annual reader poll. I'm glad you liked it - especially since I knew you were really dubious going in.

Linda:   I do like American historicals, Laura Lee Guhrke and Stef Ann Holm have written several books I really enjoyed; as well as Miranda Jarrett's New England-set series. Like you I shy away from Indian stories as I just can't suspend my disbelief enough to find a happy ending for any of these couples.

Blythe:   I keep hoping that the subgenre will revive. When I first started reading romance, they were much more plentiful. There were good westerns then too, and those are harder to find as well. All the good authors seem to have headed for greener pastures. I hope St. Giles will stick it out and not be tempted away to European Historicals. I like them, but enough already!

Linda:   Yes, I find myself reading more contemporaries lately although I really like the Regency period, there is an axiom about 'too much of a good thing'. But, I think the publishing business is cyclical and authors have to write where the money is; but it is sad to see great western writers like Lorraine Heath going to European Historicals in order to stay published. I have enjoyed them, but her westerns were really special in a sub genre that is dominated by the likes of Cassie Edwards and Bobbie Smith and their noble Indian or half breed savages.

Blythe:   Heath is exactly who I was thinking of. I really thought westerns were what she did best. And I could go on for hours about bad westerns, because I have tried dozens hoping to find the next Heath. Let's hope this "nothing but Regencies" phase plays out soon. What's up for next month?

Linda:   Next month we are going to celebrate the Christmas season by reading Regency Christmas Courtship. I love holiday anthologies and have expectations of schmaltz, humor, sentiment and love from them.

Blythe:   The Signet Christmas Anthology is always a must-read for me, so I am very excited about this one. Sometimes we skip December because it's such a busy month. I have four kids AND I work retail, and I know you are doing a lot of craft shows right now. But both of us were perfectly willing to carve out the time for the Regency anthology. <g>

Linda:   Yes, I just need my requisite amount of sentimental stories during the holiday period and Signet's Regencies have proved satisfying in the past. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and I will see you in December. Happy Reading!

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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