His Dark Kiss
His Dark Kiss is a gothic tale that gets the atmosphere right. But with easily recognizable scenes reminiscent of Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, it’s hard not to. However, there is more to a good book than atmosphere.
Emma Parish is an illegitimate poor relation living with her two nasty aunts since her mother died. The aunts give her the choice of either being sold to a nasty, lascivious local farmer or being sent to the wilds of Wales to be governess to six-year-old Nicholas, the son of the man rumored to have thrown his pregnant wife – Emma’s cousin – down the stairs to her death. Well, Emma does what any good gothic heroine would do – she chooses the crumbling, gloomy castle with the possibly murderous employer, appropriately (though incorrectly) titled Lord Craven.
Soon after Emma arrives, she learns that there have been twelve governesses in the past four years and that the last two died on the job. She is given repeated and dire warnings from the servants (many of whom are scarred and/or missing body parts) to stay away from the round tower: “There’s Death in the Round Tower.” It is rumored that the dead former governesses lie there, and Lord Craven disappears into it for hours at a time while Emma views corpses being brought in. As time goes by, Emma also feels that someone is following her. She hears her name eerily and spookily called in darkened rooms. And then there is that maniacal laughter echoing through the castle…
Emma wins over her young charge very quickly and easily, which surprised me a bit, especially given the hard, brutal nature of some of the boy’s previous governesses. But not much page space is actually given to Emma’s time with Nicky. A good deal of it is taken up with an excess of “lust-think.” Emma gets quite tingly around Lord Craven, while he stares intently at her. He is a drop-dead gorgeous man and Emma thinks many lusty thoughts every time she meets him. Every single time she meets him. Here are some of her thoughts the morning after her arrival, while breakfasting with him and her charge, when she gets “her first clear view” of her employer:
She had the oddest urge to reach out, to run her fingers through the shining strands of his hair … He was masculine perfection … She felt breathless … She liked the way he stared at her, his gaze warming her, touching her, making her body tingle in a foreign and wicked way … the sandalwood scent of him teasing her, making her long to draw nearer still and inhale until she had enjoyed him to the fullest … She was acutely aware of a fluttering sensation low in her belly … It made her feel hot and restless, and she fought the urge to press her thighs tightly together beneath her skirts … The way his clothes caressed his lithe frame … She had seen the man exactly twice. This … attraction was surely a temporary madness…
All this before a single bite of food is consumed. This scenario is oft repeated and only gets worse after they have touched, kissed, made love. It is very heavy-handed and got downright silly and then boring, long before the book ended.
And, while the gothic atmosphere was well done, it occasionally suffered from the same heavy-handedness – a few too many ominous warnings, half-told truths, a blatantly obvious villain. Campy fun is fine, but too much campy fun is too much.
As all gothic novels are about the heroine’s journey, His Dark Kiss is told entirely from Emma’s point of view. This makes the hero more mysterious, and is supposed to prolong the “is he a murderous beast or isn’t he” conundrum, though of course we know he isn’t. And while I usually prefer to have the hero’s point of view as well as the heroine’s in a romance, Silver did a good job of giving us enough glimpses of Lord Craven so that we could figure out what he was up to, though it took Emma far too long to work it out.
If you’re pining for those old Victoria Holt gothics, His Dark Kiss could be a nostalgic read for you. While I turned the pages quickly enough and enjoyed the atmosphere, ultimately it wasn’t enough for me.