The Dark Lady
The Dark Lady is one of those books that intrigued me from the moment I saw the synopsis – drug-addicted heroine, dark and gothic-sounding plot – I really looked forward to this debut. And then I read it. It caught my attention at first, but ultimately ended up a major disappointment.
As the book opens, Lord Ian Blake has returned from India, obviously in pain and deeply burdened. The opening of the book has an almost gothic tinge to it as Ian approaches Carridan Hall in search of his beloved Eva, Lady Carin. With just a few short paragraphs, the author has shown us that Ian is miserable and guilty over the fact that his friend Hamilton was killed in India, that he seeks to make amends somehow to Hamilton’s widow, and that he loves her. The mood is set, and in the beginning, the writing in this book is strong and compelling.
Upon reaching Carridan, Ian learns that not only has Eva lost her husband, but that her son has died as well, and Eva herself is an inmate in an asylum. Ian goes to see her, and finds himself horrified at the conditions in which she is kept. Unkempt and heavily sedated with laudanum, Eva is far from the vivacious creature of Ian’s memory. Ian immediately decides to rescue her from the asylum, and manages to spirit her away. And it is around this time that things start to fall apart.
On the positive side, The Dark Lady is densely written and the author does a wonderful job both of creating a mood and of packing a lot of information into her story. Even though the opening chapters are fairly short, readers quickly get a feel for the history that the characters have together. We see Ian as the orphaned child,newly arrived at Carridan to live with his guardian, and we see his childhood friends Hamilton and Eva, as well as Hamilton’s sneaky and disliked younger brother Thomas. The depth of feeling there is convincingly portrayed, so Ian’s decision to immediately remove Eva from the obviously corrupt asylum feels completely believable.
However, from there the story falters. The conflict could have been quite a compelling one. Eva mourns her family and after suffering through abuse and drug addiction, she has very visibly lost her bearings in the world. Though he masks his wounds a bit better, Ian battles his own demons. And then there’s the fact that these two haven’t seen each other in a few years and during that time, they have changed more than a little bit. Seeing these two suffering souls get to know one another again, heal and find love together could have made for a beautiful, compelling story. Unfortunately, a lack of subtlety and some ridiculous plot twists send this one careening off the rails.
Most of the story happens in 1865, but we do get occasional flashbacks into Ian’s past and the life of Hamilton, Eva’s deceased husband. While they help establish Ian and Eva’s history in the beginning, as the book progresses, they start to detract from the story because Hamilton starts looking like a caricature of the ugly colonialist and the author doesn’t use a lot of subtlety in that portrayal. It doesn’t help that we have plenty of other eeeevil villains in the main story as well. The heavyhanded writing of the bad guys (and gals) in this book induces eyeroll after eyeroll. After all, we have Hamilton’s brother, who originally placed Eva in the madhouse, we have the director of the asylum, all but cackling with glee over her patients’ plights, and her various henchmen.
Not only does the good vs. evil portion of the story lack depth, but the author does not manage the tension of her story well. There are loose ends never tied up, sometimes the overwrought language makes one snicker rather than adding to the dark mood of the story, and worst of all, the ending of this book cannot be described as anything other than lazy. I won’t spoil it for those who actually want to read this novel, but I will say that the author ends things by throwing in an unbelievable and completely unnecessary deus ex machina
I started this book very much wanting to like it, but after wading through page after page of melodrama, I just couldn’t do it. It’s hard to read about Ian and Eva and not feel for them on some level, but their romance never truly caught fire for me, so the love story just got lost in the mess of the plotting. The idea of this story has promise, but the execution just doesn’t deliver.