Inheritance of Shadows
“I laughed until I cried,” is perhaps not a phrase that one would expect to find in the review of a gothic romance. However, in the case of Inheritance of Shadows, it was the book’s one real saving grace. If I hadn’t entertained myself trying to guess sci-fi/fantasy references and giggling over (perhaps unintentionally) hilarious scenes, I think this novel would have driven me mad.
The book is set in a small New England college town. Aurora Mathis has returned for the first time since her father’s suicide in order to attend a convention and, hopefully, learn more about her father’s legacy. Aurora’s father, Charles Mathis, wrote a series of fantasy novels which apparently garnered him both a cult following and all manner of controversy before his death when Aurora was a very small child. While in town, Aurora stays as a guest of honor in the home of an older professor who was her father’s friend and mentor. From him, she learns more about her father’s works, his death, and even her own early life in Connecticut before her mother moved back out to the Midwest and remarried. Aurora’s stepfather was a very conservative, fundamentalist minister who strongly disapproved of Charles Mathis, so Aurora grew up knowing very little about the world outside her family and church, and almost nothing about her father.
Aurora’s time in Connecticut grows more complicated when she discovers her old boyfriend, Corwin Warrender, is also present. As it turns out, her father’s former mentor is working with him to have him write a definitive biography of Charles Mathis. From the point that Corwin is introduced, much of the story focuses on tensions with Aurora over him writing about her father, as well as the unresolved issues from their breakup. Added into the mix are all kinds of colorful and vaguely ominous events surrounding the convention itself. Aurora is not quite sure what to think of her father and his legacy, and it’s pretty obvious from the beginning of the book that all is not as it seems at the quietly weird little college.
Much about this book strained credulity. For starters, we are supposed to accept that Aurora’s father wrote fantasy books that were both a huge sensation and yet somewhat scandalous. However, the excerpts provided from the books really showed neither of these qualities, nor did the descriptions given by characters speaking of them. The descriptions of the fans, conventions, fanfic, etc… did remind me of other fantasy or sci-fi fandoms out there, but because the world of Mathis’ books never really came to life, neither did the world of the convention. Since it’s one of the key pieces in this book’s puzzle, that’s a big problem.
And then there are the characters. Our possible heroes are Corwin, Aurora’s old flame, and James, the professor’s kindhearted assistant. I guessed fairly early on who would end up as hero, but there is some ambiguity in the story, and I suspect that not every reader will guess the outcome right away. James is quite endearing, and actually has more of a character than some of the others in this book, while Corwin just seems like a standard issue kind of guy. He’s handsome and all, but a bit bland. The heroine makes it obvious that she holds him in contempt for some past wrong and this attitude dominates scenes where he appears. Since her disdain does not lend him character in and of itself, Corwin ends up feeling a little more like a prop than a character.
With Aurora, we have a little more to work with. After all, being the daughter of a noted writer who then gets raised by mother and stepfather in what sounds like an oppressive cult, is not the usual backstory. Supposedly our heroine is trying to assert her independence and get in touch with her heritage a bit, too. However, we don’t really see much of that. Instead we end up with a character who is both TSTL and a bit of a mess. The writing with regard to the heroine tends toward the dull and repetitive. She’s constantly “appalled” over various things in the story, some of which are actually pretty mundane. In fact, she spends so much time being rather appalled by people and circumstances that I felt keenly the author’s failure to cast her wearing a set of pearls, all the better for clutching.
For a heroine so longing for independence, Aurora shows a great lack of common sense or intellectual curiosity. For example, I could accept that she was raised in a bubble. However, by the time of the story, Aurora has been out of her family’s grip long enough to have done some research of her own into her father, his works, and his legacy. While the novel makes mention of her discovering her father’s books in college, she seems to have spent the rest of her time wringing her hands instead of talking to people or even hopping on Google. In addition, at one of the climactic scenes in the novel in which the heroine is fleeing for her life, she is having great difficulty moving in her high heels but doesn’t want to take them off because she sees frost on the ground. That’s right, folks. Our heroine would rather face death than expose her feet to the damp and chilly ground. Obviously, she survives until the end of the book, but it certainly wasn’t because of her keen intellect.
When a book has problems with plot, setting, and characterization,there’s just not a whole lot left. With all of these issues, Inheritance of Shadows ended up being a huge mess of a book. I love gothics, but this is one that I just cannot recommend.