When Twilight Comes
When Twilight Comes is the first in a new gothic trilogy called Mists of Fernhaven, about a haunted hotel in the mountains of Washington state. It’s a tantalizing, if flawed, start for what could be a very cool series.
Jenna Dante and her four-year-old daughter Lexi are on the run from her vicious ex-husband Lorenzo. A shady figure with ties to organized crime, he had kidnapped Lexi, forcing Jenna to steal her daughter back in the middle of the night and abruptly leave Seattle. What Jenna didn’t know when she was forced to take Lorenzo’s SUV was that there was a bag of money in the back seat that he was supposed to deliver to his boss. Now she has more than one dangerous party searching for her.
While passing through the Cascade Mountains, Jenna drives off the road and has to take refuge in an isolated hotel. In 1936, the Fernhaven Hotel burned down on its opening night, killing 57 people inside. Now it’s been rebuilt and is set to reopen in three weeks. No one realizes that the spirits of those who died there continue to roam the halls. Harry Ballantine was a jewel thief who conned his way into the hotel that fateful night, only to meet his end in Room 318. Something draws him to Jenna, and it isn’t long before both she and her daughter can see him. But she may need more than a ghostly protector with so many dangerous people closing in on her.
The ghostly mansion and the relationship between Jenna and Harry are the most intriguing parts of the book. Unfortunately, they’re also the least developed and receive the least attention. Daniels is unique among series authors, since she tells her stories from the perspective of multiple characters beyond just the hero and heroine. In this case, the story goes beyond Harry and Jenna to show Lorenzo, his boss, a police detective on the case, and a few others involved in the complicated situation. The narrative cuts between all the different characters, and I would estimate that only about a third focuses on Harry and Jenna.
As a pure action/suspense story, it’s effective. Moving between the different subplots like this gives the story a real sense of momentum. Something is always happening, and it always feels like the story is building and progressing. The pace is fast and the excitement is high, making for an often entertaining read. The climactic scenes where everything comes together in particular are very tense and suspenseful.
But as a gothic, a ghost story and a romance, it falls short. Neither the main characters nor their relationship are developed much. The reader doesn’t learn nearly enough, if anything, about Harry’s existence as a ghost. The hotel is fascinating, the author generates a suitable gothic mood around the place and that’s where I wanted to spend my time. While the other segments were entertaining enough, they don’t allow the best parts of the book to get the attention they deserve. Just when something good would happen at the hotel, the author would shift the focus to numerous scenes involving the other characters. After a while, I started groaning every time the story moved away from the hotel to one of the subplots.
Jenna is plucky, but shows some egregious lapses in judgment. She’s the usual foolishly self-sacrificing romance heroine who’s cavalier about money. She refused to accept any child support from her ex despite the judge’s urging. When she discovers the bag of money, she immediately decides she has to return it to Lorenzo, hoping that will keep him from hurting her and Lexi. This was ridiculous. He was so nasty he obviously wasn’t going to go any easier on her if he got the money back, something she should have known. The sensible thing would have been to keep the money and run.
Then there’s the ending. I won’t reveal it, but I will say this: when it comes to ghost romances, authors have several options available to resolve the love story. Daniels chooses one I know many readers dislike. I don’t have any strong feelings about this kind of ending in general, but in this case it was pretty unsatisfying.
When Twilight Comes displays a great deal of promise that goes unfulfilled. Readers looking for an action-packed tale may find it satisfying, while those seeking a juicy gothic may have to wait for next month’s entry. Hopefully it will make better use of such a great setting, instead of letting the plot overshadow it.