Fear of Falling
Two years after Harlequin Intrigue launched its Gothic romance promotion Eclipse, Blaze gets in the game with its own Gothic line “It Was a Dark and Sexy Night…” Cindi Myers’s Fear of Falling kicks things off, and while I appreciated several things about it, it ultimately fell a little short.
On the plus side, it certainly has two intriguing main characters. Natalie Brighton is a former acrobat with the renowned Cirque du Paris. The daughter of a circus performer, she grew up in that rather insular world, groomed by her mother to become a star. But in the aftermath of a serious fall, she decided to leave the circus behind. After going to vocational school, she obtains a job as business manager for John Sartain, an eccentric artist whose erotic paintings have proven both scandalous and lucrative.
At his castle in the mountains of Colorado, she finds that Sartain lives up to his reputation. Demanding and unpredictable, he’s also very sexy. Before long, he tempts her into indulging the passions she never had the courage to before. But it soon becomes clear that someone is trying to discredit him as an artist and make him look crazy. Natalie doesn’t want to believe it, but soon finds herself the target of strange and threatening occurrences.
It’s definitely a good premise for a gothic, as Myers uses all the familiar tropes (and I mean that in the best possible way). I loved Natalie’s unique background, and Sartain’s artwork was an interesting concept that the author managed to convey well through words. The story is very well-written and smoothly told. Given how many series books I’ve read lately that felt like they were thrown together in about three minutes, it was welcome to read one as solidly constructed as this. I was never bored. There really isn’t an off moment (a very rare commodity for a Blaze, I’ve found) or anything I disliked about it.
But while I was fully prepared to love the book after its juicy setup, it just never happened. The problem is that though she has all the right ingredients, what Myers doesn’t deliver is enough of the right mood and tone. She says all the right things, with the descriptions of Sartain’s castle and paintings and the trips to his dungeon, but I never really felt that deliciously dark atmosphere of a good gothic. Instead of ominous and gloomy, the story was pleasant. Nice. Innocuous. Not exactly the kinds of things a gothic should be. As a result, it came across as a little bland and nondescript. It didn’t help that, in those early chapters, the pace is somewhat on the slow side.
After a while, the growing suspense plot does begin to add a sense of menace the story previously lacked. The moments in which Natalie is threatened are suitably eerie – they are just rather few and far between. The mystery is fairly obvious; other than the hero and heroine there are only two major characters in the book and deducing who’s responsible isn’t a huge challenge. But then, most Gothics aren’t really brainteasers, so I didn’t hold that against it.
As for the characters, both are interesting, but could have been developed with greater depth. Natalie is strong and sympathetic, no mere simpering damsel in distress, and I enjoyed all the passages dealing with her past, which was fascinating. But she never fully came to life as a three-dimensional person. Despite plenty of sections told from his point of view, Sartain felt rather vague and unformed. Like many gothic heroes, a key truth about him is kept from the reader for a long while, but instead of seeming mysterious, he just came across as kind of blank (and the “truth” wasn’t even that interesting). The sexual tension takes a while to build, with the early moments feeling a little forced, but when the sex scenes arrive, they’re suitably (and almost surprisingly) hot, more so than in many Blazes.
I wavered on the grade for this one for quite a while. Last month I gave a marginal recommendation to another Blaze, Julie Kistler’s Scandal, which had far more flaws than this book. But it also had a certain energy and engaging quality that this one didn’t, which ultimately made it more enjoyable in spite of its weaknesses. Fear of Falling is a perfectly nice book and I don’t think anyone who buys it will necessarily be wasting their money. It’s just a little too soft and bland for me to recommend they do so.