Lessons After Dark
The paranormal romances I like best are those that make magicians and supernatural beings not larger-than-life and above the rest of society, but instead show the struggle of creating a society that consists of both magical and mundane beings. Lessons After Dark is such a story set in an alternative Victorian England, and it is, indeed, very charming!
At the beginning of the novel, the widowed Mrs. Olivia Brightmore arrives at Englefield, a newly founded school for magically gifted youngsters, to take up a position as a teacher. So far the only other teachers are Mr. Grenville and Mrs. Grenville, the school’s owners, and Dr. Gareth St. John, a former army surgeon recovering from severe injuries received in Egypt, and there are only five students.
Olivia has a shady past: A former con-artist, she used to work as a spiritualist medium before managing to find a teacher for magic to help develop her real magical talent. She is next to penniless, and the teaching position for her means financial security and a way out of the not-quite-respectable existence she used to live.
After leaving the army, and suffering from what is obviously post-traumatic stress disorder, Gareth is equally grateful to his old schoolmate Grenville for offering him both a job and a purpose. Both Gareth and Olivia are deeply dismayed when he recognizes her as the former medium (he attended one of her seances), and when at the same time a powerful erotic attraction flares up. She just can’t afford to lose this position, and he is disgusted both at her and at Grenville’s relaxed attitude to her former life, and worried about what she will teach to the students.
The first half of the novel is told at a rather leisurely pace, with lots of world-building. The world-building is excellent in that all characters take their surroundings as a matter of fact: Thus, there are no lengthy descriptive passages, but instead snippets of information inserted here and there, making the reader keen for more. Gareth and Olivia’s, the Grenvilles’, the students’, even some of the villagers’ and servants’ characters and relationships are developed. While the narrative did appear a bit meandering at times, I at least did not mind because I found myself fascinated by the way the attraction between hero and heroine rose step by small step. If you like novels that depend on anticipation instead of action (in the first half of the book, at least), you’ll love this one.
In holding on to his distrust of Olivia for longer than strictly necessary, Gareth comes across as a bit of a jerk at times. But the novels makes clear where he comes from, and that his suspicions are partly based on experience. In addition, seeing how he uses the apparent need to supervise her teachings to cover his attraction to her is just funny. Close to the end, the way that both Olivia and Gareth deal with her past marks an important step in their relationship and is described in a deeply moving scene.
The sex scenes deserve special mention. They are, plainly put, wonderful. They are not cookie-cutter immaculate, nor do they follow some manual of what a perfect sexual experience should be like. Instead, they are short, passionate, to the point, awkward at times, and emotionally truer and thus more delicious than almost anything I have read this year.
The novel is the second installment of a series. I haven’t read No Proper Lady yet (I intend to!), and I don’t think you need to have done so to enjoy Lessons After Dark. While there are some spoilers as regards the plot of the first book in the second, comparatively little is revealed about goes on inside the heads and the relationship of those protagonists of No Proper Lady that appear, making them fascinatingly enigmatic.
In spite of slightly uneven pacing, Lessons After Dark is a highly enjoyable romance. I already have No Proper Lady on my ebook reader, and plan on getting any further installments in the series. Isabel Cooper is an author to watch!