Silk and Secrets
Linda Madl’s Silk and Secrets is a flawed but fun Victorian romance with a very old-fashioned feel to it and strong Gothic overtones.
True to the Gothic tradition, this is a book about a young woman visiting a strange house. Alyssa Lockhart is an impulsive 19-year-old American heiress who, after one particularly outrageous prank, is packed off by her embarrassed family to visit the Trevells, distant relations in Cornwall. The visit is ill-timed: Alistair Trevell, Lord Penridge, recently died of food poisoning, and the family is still in mourning. In spite of this, Alyssa is warmly welcomed by the widowed Lady Penridge, and somewhat less warmly by the new lord, the dark and compelling Harris Trevell.
It soon becomes clear that all is not well at Penridge House. Rumors abound that the previous Lord Penridge was poisoned by Harris. More immediately, Alyssa must deal with the spiteful attentions of ten-year-old Meggie Trevell, who will stop at nothing to make Alyssa go away.
True to its Gothic antecedents, this book is told entirely in Alyssa’s point of view, although she is not the narrator. We never get a glimpse inside Harris’ head, which succeeds in making him a complete man of mystery. Alyssa is an engaging heroine who, refreshingly, really acts like a 19-year-old. She is intelligent and brave, but also disarmingly insecure and incurably curious. She snoops about Penridge in a truly unladylike manner, but since she’s portrayed as a very young woman it’s easy to forgive her. Her relationship with the handsome and enigmatic Harris, nine years her elder and her acting guardian, bears all the earmarks of a sizzling adolescent crush. One of the things I enjoyed about this novel is the depiction of how Alyssa matures, and how her infatuation with Harris changes and becomes more of a relationship between equals.
The book has its problems, however. The mystery takes up most of the book, leaving the romance in the shade. This is too bad, since it takes but a moment’s thought to figure out whodunit, and why, and how. The hero must be an enigma for plot reasons, but some of his actions are frustratingly hard to understand; we never really get to know him. And though I liked Alyssa, I must admit that she suffers from at least two very severe TSTL moments, both occurring at the end of the book, giving me the impression that the author was trying to drum up tension at the expense of the heroine’s intelligence.
Silk and Secrets isn’t perfect, and if you like your historicals to be emotionally vibrant dramas it’s probably not the best bet for you. But if you enjoy all those old Gothic stories about a mysterious man, an innocent woman, and a house, you should find Silk and Secrets to be a perfect, cozy read.