Desert Isle Keeper
Whispers In The Woods
The Silhouette Shadows line probably took more risks than any other line of romances, series or mainstream. While this did result in some bombs, it also led to some truly singular books being published, including this one. Whispers in the Woods is one of the most unusual romances I’ve ever read. This is a Beauty and the Beast tale in the literal sense, rather than a figurative retelling. The editor’s note in the original 1994 edition promised, “…you’ve never met a hero quite like this before.” Nearly a decade later that still holds true.
Raised by her scientist uncle, Paloma St. John discovered she had the ability to communicate telepathically with the animals he used in his cruel experiments. She escapes with two chimps and an orangutan, the only animals she can save, and flees to an abandoned estate in the woods of northwest Maine. There, she hopes they will be safe from her guardian.
Before long, she begins to sense another presence lurking in the woods outside the estate. The being is so palpable even the animals can feel it. She is stunned when it finally makes telepathic contact with her, in the form of a single terse order, “Leave.” With nowhere to go, she can’t obey, even if she wanted to. She tries to maintain contact with this being, who she instinctively senses is male. Despite his best efforts to warn her away, Paloma finds herself drawn to the tortured soul she can feel beneath his harsh demeanor and is increasingly determined to know who and what he is.
Whispers in the Woods is definitely “out there,” with elements that may give some readers pause. The story is told, appropriately enough, in an old-fashioned gothic style and is contemporary only in the vaguest sense. The chimps and especially the orangutan, Harry, are important characters and have more personality than some of the human ones. They help ensure this moody, atmospheric tale has its lighter moments. Most of all, it defies conventional notions of what a hero should be. The hero, whose name I hesitate to mention to avoid spoiling anything, is not the usual scarred or burned male, or one of the pretty monsters, along the lines of vampires or werewolves. This version of Beauty and the Beast doesn’t end with the hero transforming into something more physically appealing. While I wouldn’t dream of revealing what he is or how he came to be, he would be a challenge for many women to love, given how he is ultimately described physically and some of the behavior he exhibits. Readers who need to be convinced of a hero’s physical appeal would do well to steer clear of this one.
For all those reasons, Whispers in the Woods is a most memorable read and this hero remains one of my favorite tortured heroes. He is drawn with such empathy and compassion it is easy to feel for him the way the heroine comes to. He’s a moving character, all too aware how different he is, bound by impulses he can’t control, convinced he could never be loved by someone as beautiful as Paloma. His reaction when Paloma finally sees him for the first time (“I’ve never been more ashamed of what I am than at this moment.”) is heartbreaking. That is a line I’ve never forgotten.
In rereading this book for review, I didn’t quite love it as much as I did the first time, when every word held me, fascinated. Knowing everything in advance, it was easier to notice that maybe the heroine’s a little too perfect, the pace is a little slow in the early going, maybe things unfold a little too easily. None of that makes it any less of a keeper. The unique hero and interactions between he and the heroine are the most compelling aspects of the book, and they have lost none of their power.
Whispers in the Woods is one of those rare books that lets you believe in the power of love and how all things are possible. Paloma and her hero are two individuals who perhaps have more reasons not to be together than they do for it. Several of the elements we expect in romance novels, the lovemaking scene and the happy ending, have to be fulfilled in unconventional ways, befitting the characters unique relationship. In the end, they love each other, and that’s all that matters.
For readers with an open mind and/or a taste for the paranormal, Whispers in the Woods is worth seeking out while the reissue is still available, and worth tracking down a used copy when it’s not. It’s not a very long book and will only take a few hours to read, but will likely linger for much longer. It’s a short, simple story, but then, aren’t the best fairy tales?