Debut author Cindy Miles pens an engaging romance between a living person and a ghost, and I would have recommended it more if Spirited Away didn’t remind me so much of another writer’s style.
Dreadmoor Castle has always fascinated forensic archaeologist Andi Monroe because of the mystery surrounding its original owner; the lord known as Dragonhawk vanished one day in 1292 along with fifteen of his knights. So when a storm uprooted an old oak tree on its grounds and exposed a cache of bones and weapons, she is thrilled to receive the offer to excavate them. The catch is that the present day Lord Dreadmoor wants only one person to work the dig; he values his privacy and doesn’t want a crew swarming his home. That’s not a big thing with her; she agrees to his condition and to his invitation to stay at the castle.
The steward greets Andi upon her arrival, but curiously, Lord Dreadmoor doesn’t meet with her until the next day and only after she persists in seeing him. He turns out to be a gorgeous but very gruff man and although he repeatedly tells her that he’s very busy, she persuades him to talk to her about the castle’s mystery.
Tristan de Barre has good reason to avoid spending time with Andi. Not only is he the current lord of the castle, but he’s the original lord as well. That day in 1292, he woke up imprisoned in his own dungeon, his knights chained nearby. Their captor was Tristan’s foster father, who blamed them for failing to save his son’s life. Tristan protested they tried to save the boy’s life, but Erik didn’t care. Before Erik cold-bloodedly killed Tristan, he told him he laid a curse on them to walk the castle for eternity, and for 700 years, the ghosts of Tristan and his knights have done that.
However, another ghost, who is neither Tristan nor one of his knights, approaches Andi, whispering to her “save them and beware”. Though fearful of the spirit, she follows it one night to the dungeon where she finds something on the dirt floor, something that turns out to be chain mail.
Tristan is a fun Medieval male. Blustery and gruff, you know he’s as soft as a marshmallow inside. He doesn’t want to get close to anyone because they eventually die, leaving him alone again to face his endless existence. But Andi fascinates and enchants him and although he tries to fight his attraction, he falls hard and fast for her.
Andi is fearless, determined, and bright. Ms. Miles describes her character as appealing in so many ways that it almost seems overdone, but winds up being seamless and natural. Andi’s character is one of my favorite romantic fantasies: an average woman with average looks and above average brains attracting the ardent interest of a hunk. She’s rather too generous-hearted though; Tristan avoids shaking her hand or allows her to fall if she stumbles because he doesn’t want to reveal that he’s a ghost, and she forgives and forgets every instance of his rudeness.
It is clever how Tristan manages, despite being a ghost, to make money over the centuries to retain his home and to be financially comfortable. He even has a way to talk on the phone. However, there are some inconsistencies – I scratched my head wondering how a person’s hand or a thing can pass through his body yet he can sit in a chair.
When Tristan and Andi discover their feelings for one another, the book takes on a deliciously aching, bittersweet tone. But how can they express their love? Through passionate declarations, scorching gazes, and traces of caresses that satisfied this reader enough to melt into a happy puddle and that I thought were just as romantic and sexy as an actual love scene.
But aside from these great almost-love scenes, there’s one thing quite noticeable about the story. Miles’s execution closely echoes other romance author: Lynn Kurland. In fact, except for the ghost element, this book seems like a retread of Kurland’s The More I See You. Maybe I wouldn’t have noticed had I never read Kurland before, but since Kurland has published quite a number of books since her 1996 debut, there’s a good chance that a reader will pick up this book and wonder why it closely emulates a Kurland novel.
So, in the end, while Spirited Away is a very pleasant book, it is noticeably unoriginal and as a result, very predictable. I really liked Miles’s writing, but I hope in her next book that she expresses more of her own voice.