Beneath the Raven's Moon
As I began reading Emily LaForge’s debut novel I kept pausing to figure out what was so different about the experience. When I figured out what was original in the writing style I started to go with the flow and enjoy the experience – up to a point. I could appreciate the original choice in the combination of edgy, chick-lit writing with a gothic setting, but found the plot and character development suffered because of the choice.
Beneath the Raven’s Moon, like The Nanny Diaries and other chick-lit fiction, is written in the first person in the present tense. It attempts (sometimes successfully) some of the same kinds of humor personified by those books. What makes it different from those trendsetters, is the fact that it is also a gothic novel. And yes, all the gothic staples are here.
Catherine Carmichael is living in London, has a successful, working career as a pianist, and occasionally suffers from panic attacks. The attacks are connected to nameless and forgotten terrors in her past, but up until recently she has lived with them. When she receives a summons to Ravenswood, the family home in upstate New York, to hear the terms of her uncle’s will, she only hesitates for a moment. Something is drawing her back and she’s determined to figure out the mystery in her own past.
Catherine’s uncle, Malcolm Blount, was a world famous author of books that rivaled those by Edgar Allen Poe. And according to Catherine’s mother, Anne, he was just as twisted and tortured as some of the characters he wrote about. Since taking Catherine away from Ravenswood years before, Anne has refused to speak of the man or the events that led to their departure. So being named in Malcolm’s will is more than a bit surprising.
Once Catherine arrives at the family manor, she’s met by more surprises. Also named in the will are Malcolm’s illegitimate son, Billy, movie star Everett Steele, and Malcolm’s longtime agent Madeleine Treadwell. The surprises keep coming. The will is read – each of Malcolm’s potential heirs receives a puzzle. Whomever solves it will inherit the estate, and all must remain at Ravenswood until the game is over. Anyone leaving forfeits his/her portion of the inheritance.
If this is all sounding a bit complicated, it is. Ghosts and murder? Yep, that fits a gothic novel. A heroine unsure of whom to trust, yet falling in love anyway? You’ll find it here. What isn’t here is any real character development, and the romantic relationship that does develop suffers for that fact. We barely know who Catherine is before she’s thrown into a houseful of strangers.
The writing style choice begins to make a difference. Because it’s told not only in the first person but also in the present tense, the reader is experiencing everything as immediately as Catherine does. The author throws so much at her, there’s barely time for her to process the events. Where does that leave readers? Fumbling to catch up and feeling like they’ve barely scratched the surface of who any of these people are. None of the emotions described by Catherine come across as deeply felt, and that’s a problem in a romance. I had some fun with the author’s attempt to reinvigorate this old sub-genre, just not enough to really recommend it.