Sea of Secrets
I really like gothic romances, but they’re so dependent on the narrator. If the heroine doesn’t work – if I’m not happy when she is, and despair when she does – then the book has basically failed. In that and most other senses, I’m happy to say that Sea of Secrets is a success. But I do have other issues with it.
Oriel Pembroke’s brother has just died in the Crimea, and with him goes her last buffer between her and her evil father. The day after he dies, her father summons her to his office and tells her he has not only disinherited her – he has disowned her, and she will be alone. Coming from a father who has always hated, despised, and abused her, Oriel takes the news with calm and even a bit of excitement – she is now free.
Two days before her father officially kicks her out, Oriel discovers that she actually has family aside from her father, and pays an impromptu visit to the Duchess of Ellsworth, her deceased mother’s stepsister. The duchess, hearing Oriel plans to seek her own way and become a governess, promptly asks Oriel to come for a visit to Ellsworth. Oriel has her doubts – the duchess has recently been at the center of a scandal, having married her husband’s younger brother less than a month after being widowed – but the duchess seems kind, her female cousins are warm, and there are two additional male cousins to be curious about.
At Ellsworth, Oriel is charmed by Lord Claude, the duchess’ husband, and discovers a companionable spirit in Charles, Lord Claude’s son. But it is the duchess’ son, Herron, the new Duke of Ellsworth, who captures her imagination, attention, and heart. At night, Herron walks the roofs; by day, he shuns the family, seeing in his uncle his father’s murderer, and in his mother a treacherous conspirator. Oriel doesn’t know where to turn, especially when she begins to suspect that Herron has lost his mind.
I will say this: On the romance side of things, I wasn’t always sure what would happen, and that’s fantastic in a gothic. Nothing kills a story faster than being sure that the blind is too obvious to be anything but a blind. I was super glad that Oriel got her HEA – for a while I wasn’t sure it was going to happen (and with the guy I wanted), but when the HEA popped up, I heaved a sigh of relief.
It wasn’t whole-hearted however, because I’m not 100% convinced of Oriel’s feelings. Generally, I’d peg Oriel as an above-average heroine – one who is true to her time and not extreme in characteristics – but there is nothing that really stands out to me.
What brought the book down to a minus is the villain, who could not have been more obvious than if his name had been completely replaced with Villain throughout the book. And here’s where I’m not sure where the author was going. On the one hand, Ms. DeWees clearly demonstrates the ability to cover her tracks, and keep her readers guessing. But on the other hand, the cloudiness surrounding the villain’s – well, villainy, is pretty half-hearted. Nor is he compelling enough for a full reveal of motives and character, and when they are revealed, it was a let-down. (Really? That’s why? You’ve got to be kidding me.)
Overall there’s enough to make this a quick, moderately satisfying read, and the eBook is certainly a fairly good bet (especially with a few coupons). Judging by the author’s short but varied backlist, I’d be interested to see what else she comes up with.