Wolf at the Door
There is something terribly chilling and titillating about gothic novels, and that’s what made me pick up this male/male story. The combination of romance and horror is layered under the generally dark and dank background, and the first person narration pulls the reader deeper into the romance and intrigue– that’s why I was so excited to see this gothic novel pop up for review.
Nicholas Ashbee is poor. He and his mother, who has problems with alcohol, drugs, commitment, you name it, live in a trailer park with an interesting cast of characters. Determined to raise his place in the world, Nicholas goes to school to become a nurse, specifically a geriatric/hospice nurse. When he wins a prestigious internship at Blackwood manor, caring for the infirm Mrs. Lilith Blackwell, he thinks his future has been made. But the shadows at Blackwood hold secrets centuries old, as do its master and mistress. Nicholas must learn to navigate this new world and the mysteries it holds, or risk losing himself forever.
Starting with the story of his childhood, Nicholas outlines how he came to be who he is now, young and ambitious, looking not to make a mark on the world so much as to make enough money to never want for things again. He knew at a young age that he was far more interested in male company than female, but he refuses to let love, romance, or lust get in the way of his future. Narrated in first person, it is easy to identify with Nicholas and his choices, and to see why having a comfortable living is so important to him. As he moves through the story, there are a lot of common gothic literature moments, like addressing the audience and foreshadowing. Oh my goodness, does this book deliver on foreshadowing. A little too heavily, in my opinion, but it is part of the genre, so not completely unexpected.
Sebastian, our dark Master of Blackwood, husband to Lilith, is an intriguing figure. He’s cold and distant, like a good gothic hero-villain, but you also see those moments of passion that make these characters so thrill-worthy. When the reader finally hears his backstory (in the midst of the climactic ending, which, sadly, drags it out a bit), you can’t help but sympathize. And his relationship with Lilith is obviously full of conflicting, dark emotions.
Gothic novels show very well the dark side of romance – the obsessions, possessive violence, anger or even rage are fairly common. The juxtaposition between that and the relative (or, in some cases, the complete) naivete of the narrator escalate the danger and darkness that can happen. Not everything is sunshine and puppies, and this novel definitely emphasizes the darker emotions to good effect. That pulls the entire story away from a romance or love story, and into horror.
The relationship between Nicholas and Sebastian, while fascinating, comes across as more obsession than love – I was, quite frankly, surprised when Sebastian stated that he loved Nicholas. And Nicholas, while attracted to Sebastian, never really showed anything that I would think of as love. Sex and lust and, as I said before, obsession, but not love. And while I enjoyed the mirroring of Nicholas’ situation at both the beginning and the end of the novella as a successful literary device, I’m not convinced that the end was really a HEA ending. And, personally, that’s what I’m looking for in a romance novel – the HEA.
In the end, I’m not convinced this is 100% a romance. It is, however, a very good representative of gothic horror – it has the same feel as the darker moments of Jane Eyre, or The Mysteries of Udolpho. There are moments that could be romantic, but the nature of the gothic beast turns everything a bit on its head. And this is a good example of that beast.