May 2008, European Historical Romance (1830s [Victorian] England and Scotland)
Signet Eclipse, $6.99, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 045122387X
Though the story is interesting, I struggled to get into the setting of Allison Chase's newest. For me, it was one of those books that I started, put down, picked up again, read a few pages, picked up something else to read, and then finally forced myself to finish. I discovered that even though the plot wasn’t half bad, it wasn’t good enough to make me forget the problems I had with the setting and the initial circumstances that brought the couple together.
Nora Thorngoode is the daughter of “new” wealth and socially inept, yet eager to advance parents. She is also a budding artist to boot and her love of art and her beauty are enough to bring her to the attention of an Italian master, who offers to display her work. However, her artistic debut brings scandal from which no Victorian miss could ever recover in reality. Scandal makes marriage a necessity and, unfortunately, the pickings are slim. The only choice remotely feasible is a man whose name is linked to rumors of debt and possible murder.
Grayson Lowell is the brother of an earl whose mismanagement depleted the estate and practically bankrupted the family. Upon discovering the losses, accusations were cast and his bother died under mysterious circumstances. Grayson not only lives with the public scandal and his own guilt, but also with mysterious whispers, shadows, and images that make him question his sanity. However, it’s up to him to save his nephew’s inheritance and to do so he must have a wealthy bride, even if she, too, is scandal ridden.
Though initial meetings between the couple are spirited and spiteful, Grayson is drawn to Nora’s beauty and spirit and she is drawn to his dark moods. Together they learn that society’s rumors are often far from the truth and to escape, they travel to the family estate in Cornwall where both must confront their demons.
What I enjoyed about this book was the otherworldliness provided by spirits who come to the couple’s aid. They added suspense and offered something different to the reading experience. However, one of the things that made it impossible for me to get truly lost within the book was the setting. I could not make myself believe that any woman of the 1830s could socially survive the scandal in which Nora is entangled. The behavior and dialogue of the characters was also too contemporary, and her family, even for new wealth, seemed too American - which they were not. Character inconsistencies posed another problem. Nora is portrayed as a survivor of scandal and one who throws caution to the wind to enjoy her passion – art. One minute she is portrayed as daring and ready to confront Grayson and his problems, yet in the next instant she is sweet and innocent and hedging any confrontation. The same goes for Grayson, who goes from distant, to sweet lover, and then to angry, dark, and brooding. To put it simply, the characters were all over the place from chapter to chapter.
While I had issues with Dark Obsession, I’m not ready to give up on Allison Chase. I feel that she is an interesting storyteller and I’m willing to give her another try. While the plot of this particular story is interesting, the setting, period, wallpaper history, and character inconsistencies made it a struggle to get through.
-- Heather Brooks
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