This book is so gothic in tone that I had to break out my handy-dandy thesaurus for this review. In fact, I even consulted my Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, just to make sure I was doing it justice! This novel evoked a lot of strong feelings in me while reading, some good and some not, but from the first it reminded me of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Of course, Austen is poking fun at the gothic novel, but Featherstone has done an exceptional job of recreating the passion and supernatural elements of the gothic novel from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I loved her gloomy atmosphere and sensual lovers. Unfortunately, Featherstone’s female characters were the ones to evoke the negative feelings to which I referred above.
The novel begins with passages from the heroine’s own novel, which she adds to throughout the book, and the sensuous selections she pens about her hero, Death, set the tone for the rest of the novel. Isabella Fairmont is in her early twenties and poor, the daughter of a noblewoman who abandoned her reputation for passion with many different men. Because of her fallen mother, Isabella must be the epitome of decorum, and she limits her passion to the pages she writes in her novel. She’s enjoying the London season at the house of her cousin Lady Lucy Ashton, whose father is sponsoring the two young women during the season. Where Isabella is chary with her money and her affections, Lucy is passionate and impulsive. Isabella has a worthy suitor, but when she catches the eye of Jude Sheldon, the Earl of Black, he provides her with plenty of material upon which to base her passionate writings.
The supernatural elements of the novel begin innocuously enough. Lucy is obsessed with the occult and convinces Isabella to attend a séance with her. Isabella is frightened of the dark and the possibility of seeing spirits, as she believes that she’s seen Death himself on several occasions. During the séance, Isabella sees a dark man in the corner and, believing he’s Death, faints. Fortunately for her, it is in fact the brooding Earl of Black. The occult takes center stage throughout the novel, mainly because of the three male characters, Black, the Duke of Sussex, and the Marquis of Alynwick. They are the Brethren Guardians, tasked with protecting three ancient artifacts, two of which have been stolen recently. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that someone closely involved with the missing artifacts suspects the truth about the Brethren Guardians’ interests in Isabella and Lucy, creating a sense of looming danger throughout the novel.
I absolutely loved the gothic elements of this novel! I think Ms. Featherstone did an amazing job of recreating the lush sensuality and lurid nature of a gothic novel. It’s complete with supernatural elements, a graveyard séance, a malevolent villain named Orpheus, a Masonic Temple, and ancient Templars. Both the text of the novel Isabella is writing and the one we are reading have overwrought language and pending doom throughout. And we have a brooding and misunderstood hero in the Earl of Black, perfect for the gothic atmosphere. The gothic nature of the novel was a huge selling point for me.
Unfortunately, the female characters were not. I really couldn’t stand Lady Lucy Aston, which doesn’t bode well for my reading the second novel in this series, since it’s clear that she and the Duke of Sussex are slated to be the hero and heroine in Pride and Passion. My husband likes to say that I don’t suffer fools lightly, and this explains much about my feelings toward Lucy. She’s also a brat, and both Isabella and the Earl of Black call her on her spoiled behavior but to no avail. She becomes obsessed with the occult, leads Isabella into dangerous situations, and constantly harps on the importance of passion, knowing that Isabella lived in poverty for most of her life as a result of her mother’s indulging in that same passion. Lucy’s insistence on acting like a ninny and her self-centered behavior towards Isabella made me want to kick Lucy in her pantelettes.
Isabella was the more clear-headed of the two and infinitely more likeable. You certainly sympathize with her, as she has many reasons for making the decisions she does about the men in her life. Unfortunately, she comes across as wishy-washy at times, unable to resist the Earl of Black’s advances yet wanting to avoid becoming a fallen woman. This isn’t helped by the Earl’s seduction attempts (which are many and a bit overwrought, in true gothic fashion). He doesn’t make his intentions clear at all, so I can understand her confusion, but her almighty lust seems to overtake her whenever around him. She also seems melancholy for almost the entire novel and experiences fainting spells and overpowering headaches. I actually didn’t find this nearly as annoying as Lucy’s behavior, mainly because that’s in keeping with a gothic novel, but I didn’t particularly enjoy reading about it, either.
Overall I have mixed feelings about the novel. I’d love to beat the stuffing out of Lucy with a copy of Wuthering Heights, which precludes my reading the next novel in the series, but the gothic elements of Seduction & Scandal were outstanding, which makes me want to read more of Ms. Featherstone’s writing. Either way, I’m definitely going to be looking for books from her backlist, because she’s clearly a talented writer.
I received this novel for review from the publisher through NetGalley.