Tainted by Temptation
As soon as I saw the word “gothic” used to describe this book, I knew I would have to read it. While it does have its good points, including a creepy atmosphere, the book also has its eyerolling moments, as well as a distressing tendency to plod along, making it only a slightly above average read.
The setup of the novel will be familiar to gothic readers everywhere. The hero has a cloud over his name and lives in isolation until the governess heroine shows up to teach his daughter. In a slight twist on the familiar, the governess herself has plenty of scandal attached to her name as well. Readers don’t get the details until later in the novel, but we know from the beginning that Velvet Campbell depends upon this employment to rescue her from the poverty in which she found herself after losing her job and reputation in London some time earlier.
The story begins as Velvet arrives at the remote estate conveniently located in Cornwall, a region whose creepiness has been hammered into generations of gothic readers. Seriously, if you’re a heroine and you’re going to Cornwall, you better pack a good nightgown for that running away from the manor in the middle of the night scene. Upon arriving at Lucian Pendar’s estate, Velvet is met with hostile servants, a difficult pupil, and a distant, enigmatic employer whom she learns is widely rumored to have killed his wife. As Velvet settles into her duties, she also finds herself alternately intimidated by and attracted to Lucian. Gothic fans will recognize the slow buildup of both romantic and suspense tension that follows.
The book does have its good points. Velvet reminded me of every brisk, no-nonsense heroine I enjoyed from my mother and grandmother’s books from 30 or 40 years ago. She’s strong but also feminine and, while very traditional in some ways, I could admire her more than the wide-eyed stammering doormats that readers encounter in old (and, sadly, sometimes not so old) romances. In addition to her relationship with Lucian, Velvet also builds a good rapport with Iris, her charge. Iris can be a brat, but given some of the dangerous events directed at Iris, not to mention her father spending time wrapped up in his own torment, one can easily understand why a child in that house would have problems.
However, despite having strengths, the book also has its issues. The first eyeroll moment for me came upon reading the heroine’s name. The author just had to name her Velvet? Heck, even the hero was incredulous over the woman’s name! The plot and the dark atmosphere of the novel drew me in strongly enough to make me keep reading in spite of the heroine’s name, but I would be remiss if I did not point out that the ridiculous name kept pulling me out of the story rather than adding to the atmosphere. The heroine does explain it at one point, but her version of why a vicar would name his daughter Velvet didn’t exactly ring true for me.
And then there’s the sagging middle. The author does a good job of drawing readers into her world, and things definitely pick up toward the end of the book. However, the middle dragged and dragged. I’m used to reading gothic romances with fairly slow-moving plots, but even if the plot action is low key, the buildup of emotional tension is not. And in this case, I felt things falling into a routine with Velvet and Lucian, and the buildup of emotional tension just wasn’t adept enough to keep me turning those pages. Part of this may have been the hero. While Velvet and Iris came alive for me, Lucian never quite made it. He’s certainly dark and brooding, and he does have his good moments. However, at times he also just seems to be a cardboard cutout of the Tortured Alpha Male.
Tainted by Temptation certainly has its share of good ideas worked into the story. With a bit more polish (and perhaps better character names), this author could be someone to watch for gothic-tinged romance. However, this novel falls shy of the mark.