Desert Isle Keeper
Silk and Shadows
Silk and Shadows is one of the books in Mary Jo Putney’s Silk trilogy. These books are set in London during the early Victorian era, a time that is not often used in a romance novel.
One reason I love Mary Jo Putney is that her heroes, Reggie in The Rake, Michael in Shattered Rainbows and Stephen in One Perfect Rose, have to struggle to overcome obstacles that test their character. War, alcoholism, illness, these are some of the problems that plague Mary Jo Putney’s heroes. In the best of her books the redeeming power of love helps the hero to have the courage to face the future and sometimes to change. Silk and Shadows is such a book.
As Silk and Shadows begins, “Prince” Peregrine, a mysterious foreigner from Kafiristan, arrives on the London social scene. At first glance Peregrine seems the alpha hero to end all alpha heroes. He is handsome, wealthy and so seductive that his mere concentration on a woman will exude enough sexuality to melt her resistance. Thanks to his friendship with Lord Ross Carlisle, an old friend whose life he saved twice, Peregrine is soon received everywhere.
Peregrine is a man with a mission and that mission is to destroy Charles Weldon the fiancé of Carlisle’s lame and unfashionable looking cousin Sara. The reasons for Peregrine’s hatred of Weldon are kept secret for much of the book, but trust me, they are good ones. Weldon is evil. Early on it is revealed that Weldon owns a string of brothels – one of which sells “virgins.” In this house the madam buys young girls to be raped.
Peregrine doesn’t just want revenge, however. He wants to systematically destroy Weldon’s life and eventually to kill him with his own hands. Peregrine begins by pretending to become friends with Weldon, who is unaware of Peregrine’s identity. Weldon foolishly encourages Sara to be friendly toward Peregrine, as he is wealthy and a potential business investor. In no time Peregrine has seduced Sara and compromised her, thereby publicly humiliating Weldon and stealing the heiress who was to become his wife.
Peregrine’s elaborate plans to exact vengeance necessitate concealing his actions from Sara but the plot does not fall into the Big Misunderstanding trap. For one thing, Sara realizes immediately that Peregrine planned to compromise her and she knows he hates Weldon. What she does not know is why Peregrine hates Weldon so, or the lengths that he will go to for revenge. After Sara and Peregrine marry and she discovers the extent of her husband’s plans, and that innocents might be hurt in the course of his revenge, her sense of honor comes even more strongly to the fore. For Peregrine to win her back, he must decide once and for all whether revenge or love ultimately guides him.
Sara is one of my favorite Putney heroines along with Catherine in Shattered Rainbows. She is a truly good person who lives her faith without preaching. Sara is also an incredibly sensual woman which is why her defiance of Peregrine, first in resisting his advances and later in the course of their marriage, is so moving.
The love scenes in Silk and Shadows are masterpieces in the ways that they reveal the hero and heroine’s characters. When Peregrine first attempts to seduce Sara, she is so carried away as to be helpless, and so, rather than giving in, she begs him to discontinue his advances. Toward the end of the book Sara, seeing the coming rift between them, makes love to her husband and weeps as she does so. It was an incredible scene, sensuous for all of the right reasons.
As always, Putney’s research is precisely what is needed to satisfy the story. Silk and Shadows includes a horrifying and convincing portrait of prostitution in Victorian London – complete with descriptions of the various types of houses. In a society where young girls were told to loathe sex (and where childbirth could mean death), huge numbers of men used prostitutes regularly. Respectable work was hard to come by and turning to prostitution was sometimes a woman’s only alternative to starvation. Regencies and regency historicals are filled with lighthearted portraits of this side of life. In Silk and Shadows Putney appropriately uses it as a setting for high drama and tragedy.
There is a brief secondary love story in Silk and Shadows involving Jenny, a young girl Peregrine rescues from the virgin brothel, and his lawyer, Benjamin Slade. The romance is not given a lot of time but one of the things I liked about it was the portrait of Jenny, a young girl who had been raped repeatedly and yet had a wonderful bravery and innocence about her. There is no implication in Silk and Shadows that Jenny is damaged goods. The sweetness of her love for the plain-looking lawyer is touching.
The conclusion of the external conflict between Peregrine and Weldon is suspenseful, dramatic and a fitting climax to the story. As for the love story, the recognition of the hero and heroine that each has grown personally, only adds to the reader’s delight in their final reconciliation. When you put down Silk and Shadows you will feel that you have learned a lesson both about love and the power of sheer goodness in the world.