A Song at Twilight
I truly wanted to rate this book higher, but I just couldn’t. While A Song at Twilight has a really charming love story, it is bogged down by a surplus of details and description that steal attention from our lovers. During scenes between Robin and Sophie, I felt moved, but sadly, those scenes became too few and far between and I found myself skimming long-winded paragraphs, searching for the romance.
This Late Victorian piece takes place between the years of 1890 and 1896. When Robin Pendarvis meets Sophie Tresilian, she is only seventeen. Still, even with her young age, and being in her family home for a holiday party, he cannot help but be drawn to her. After a brief meeting, the pair go their separate ways. Robin has come to Cornwall to wake over his uncle’s estate and Sophie is leaving to attend music school. When they are reunited two years later, the affection between them grows. In spite of their obvious affection for one another, Robin maintains that Sophie should not get any ideas of marriage between them, although he is secretive as to the reason.
At a party, the reason for Robin’s inability to commit comes crashing through, in the form of his unfaithful, estranged wife. Due to the unavoidable circumstances, Robin feels he must return to his marriage, although he holds no affection for his wife, and do his duty as a father and husband. Left heartbroken, Sophie sets out to use her talent to become a professional singer.
Finally back in the present, being 1896, we see the pair meet again and attempt to overcome the years of hurt feelings and obstacles standing between them. This portion was my favorite part of the book and, in all honesty, the only part I really enjoyed. Robin and Sophie’s reunion is so emotionally wrought. They have both been victims of their past and overcoming the obstacles between them will be no easy task. I was actually brought near to tears at some of their interactions. I felt like I had finally reached the payoff after the very long, slow beginning to this book and the countless pages of backstory.
The tale jumps around within the given time period in a way I didn’t really enjoy. There were so many forays into the past that I grew frustrated waiting on the presented story to reappear. Although it was somewhat interesting to get such a complete history of Robin and Sophie, I found myself wanting to quote Monty Python and yell, “Get on with it!”
Around the halfway point, this book becomes more of a murder mystery than a romance. While I admired Sherwood’s storyline and found it interesting, it simply wasn’t what I wanted from this book. I found the second half so lacking in romance that it was difficult to continue reading. Had I gone into this book wanting a murder mystery, or an account of the Late Victorian period, I wouldn’t have felt as disappointed.
There is one area in which I really must commend Sherwood. Her historical details are impeccable and her thorough research shows on every page. Given that she has a doctorate degree in English literature, with a specialization in the Victorian era, this should be no surprise. She obviously knows her stuff and the plot hinges believably on situations created by the history of the time period. For example, one of the greatest issues between the lovers is Robin’s challenge in seeking a divorce from his first wife. At the time of this story, divorce was not just expensive, but granted only in very specific situations and carried a great stigma, as Sherwood explains in her author’s note. However, the author’s knowledge of the period comes through in such a way that it actually becomes one of the book’s major flaws as well. Although I always appreciate a well-research writer, there can be a tendency to include too many details in order to work in all of that knowledge. A Song at Twilight suffers significantly from this problem. Everything is described ad nauseum. There was not a meal in this book that was not explicitly described, course by course. Nor a dress that was not detailed in full. The same could be said of the settings as well. I found myself skimming chunks of pure description that added nothing to the story, except atmosphere. I think that people who love to gobble up historical details will be drawn in by the depth of description presented, but it lost me.
A Song at Twilight offers a unique addition that I haven’t seen in many books. That is, it includes copious amounts of music. There are descriptions of Sophie singing, actual song lyrics, and references to various operas. Since Sophie is a musician, this felt appropriate for the piece. Sherwood makes a point to tie various musical pieces into the scenes here and there to add interest.
I will say, I really enjoyed Robin as a character. I love a tortured hero and Robin could nearly qualify as one. He feels bound by his past poor decisions and undeserving of Sophie. I liked his fretting and self censure quite a bit. I also liked that, in spite of the historical setting, Sophie wasn’t a virgin heroine. It was really nice to have a lead female who was confident and independent in her own right, and could have taken lovers, without having to be a widow.
Had this book been more concentrated on the romance, I think I could’ve really enjoyed it. Sherwood seems to have a talent for writing emotional scenes; I just don’t think that was really her focus with A Song at Twilight. There is someone out there that will probably love this book. They will thrive on the intricate Victorian setting, eat up the mystery, and take the romance as just a nice addition to this historical fiction. However, if you are like me, and read romance for the actual romance, you may find yourself disappointed.