Okay, what you have here are lions, a curse, a remote castle in the Italian Alps, a hero who won’t let you look at him, and a spunky heroine who I occasionally wanted to deck. And it all happens sometime in the past, but exactly when I couldn’t even begin to tell you.
Let me say that I like gothic stuff and have ever since a librarian turned the 10-year old me on to Victoria Holt. And give me a good supernatural monster – vampires, and werewolves, and shape-shifters, oh my! – and I’m happy to follow the intrepid (but stupid) heroine as she sets out alone to explore a mysterious midnight noise armed with only a candle. So, when I picked up this book, I was ready and primed for a few chills. But, sadly, what I got from Lair of the Lion was a few fits of the giggles, but, regretfully, darn few chills.
Determined to help her wrongfully imprisoned brother, Isabella Vernaducci undertakes the perilous journey to the remote mountain refuge of the powerful – and, of course, mysterious – Don DeMarco. Arriving at night (after surviving numerous “accidents” along the way) she is told by a mysterious servant that “The Master” will not see her until morning. Until that time, she must be locked in her room for her own safety. Drugged by said servant in order to allow her to sleep through the night, Isabella is disturbed by the mysterious growls of the mysterious lions who roam the mysterious castle grounds. It’s all very mysterious, don’t you think?
By the time Isabella finally meets “The Master” the next day, the spunky and innocent young heroine charms the man (who stands in the shadows) into offering his assistance only if Isabella will marry him. I hate it when that happens.
Turns out that the Don is a victim of some kind of curse that makes him appear as a lion to anyone who looks at him. (I think that’s it, anyway.) But since Isabella is clearly “The One” also foretold in the curse, she sees the Don as a handsome, if scarred, man. Surely she is the one to break the curse and bring sunshine and happiness to the castle and all its residents by loving and marrying the Don. But, of course, before the curse can be broken, both Isabella and the Don will have to battle the mysterious force who likes things just as they are.
I know Christine Feehan has a lot of fans (I’d only read one short story prior to this, which I did like), so other readers may be more tolerant than I am of the muddled happenings here. And, I’ll be honest, I was never quite sure exactly what was going on about half the time. I guess curses can be a confusing business.
The dialogue, which sometimes seems pretty true to the past and at other times a mixture of 21st century slang and Italian 101, was also a problem. For example, Isabella tells the Don: “I’ve already had the lecture on being more discreet when I’m falling to my death, so if you don’t mind, I’ll pass on another one.” And every time Isabella refers to her brother it’s always in Italian, like this: “Mio fratello is a good man.” Other words always in Italian include thank you, brother, sister, mother, castle, blah, blah, blah. If Feehan were so determined to keep the setting firmly in the reader’s mind by the constant insertion of Italian words, it would also have made a lot of sense to clue us in as to when her story takes place. Maybe if I knew more about Italian history I could have figured it out, but as it is, I’m clueless.
As far as Isabella and the Don are concerned, it really seemed that the two merely served as the figureheads to whom all this stuff happens – peril, mayhem, threats from bad guys, evil forces, and, oh yeah, those constantly marauding lions. Clearly, characterization was not a priority.
Maybe if Feehan employed a lighter hand, this book might have worked better. After all, if your plot is full of holes and you let us know that your plot is full of holes and all we’re doing is having a good time, I’m as ready as the next reader to go with it. But add a lightweight plot to a very, very, very, very, very, very serious tone, and you’ve got a book that just doesn’t really work very well on any level.
Readers looking for a satisfying gothic romance won’t find it in Lair of the Lion. Although I’ve not read her Carpathian series, a glance at the grades many of them received would indicate they are a better bet than either of her two Gothic Romances (the other being The Scarletti Curse). Even if you’ve simply got to have a Gothic fix, take my advice and find it elsewhere.
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So happy to hear you enjoyed it too!