The Vivid, the Gothic, the Spiderporcine: Thief of Shadows

Winter Makepeace: what a name. I would object on the grounds of generic overexuberance (let's not forget that his sisters go by the similarly abstemious names Temperance and Silence, and one of them ran off with a semi-reformed ne'er-do-well named Lazarus), if I hadn't just come across three separate, apparently devout ancestors named "Love" (each after her grandmother) in my genealogical explorations.  Three Loves amidst a sea of Margarets.  That's my kind of naming.

In this fourth in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, the ascetic Winter Makepeace, overseer of a foundling's home in down-at-the-heels St. Giles, is by night the Thief of Shadows, a super-hero avant la lettre called the Ghost of St. Giles, who wanders the streets defending the disenfranchised and forgotten.  Quite early in the novel he finds himself at the tender mercies of Lady Isabel Beckinhall, who is working very hard to convince the world of how scintillating her surface is, and how very little lies beneath it.  The romance that unfolds after she rescues the Ghost from a rampaging mob, all without ever removing his mask is nice enough - the lovers are likable, and the skepticism about the rapaciousness of an aristocratic economy is welcome in a historical romance - but nothing feels particularly wrenching or revelatory. Isabel in particular never really gets off the ground for me as a character: although she's kind and realistically self-questioning, her various characteristics don't ultimately congeal into a coherent personality.  Winter's does to a greater extent, because he is the more unusual persona, but the problems which lend conflict to the romance (having to do with his self-denying tendency to devote himself fully to any task he takes up, whether it be superheroic scurrying about on rooftops, running a children's home, or caring for a family) are all too easily solved when love (sweet clarifying love) helpfully reshuffles his priorities.  I wish that unusual characters like Winter would maintain their distinctiveness (in his case, his chilly austerity) when and after they fall in love, rather than thawing into a rather generic heroic suaveness and confidence.  My favorite scenes with both Winter and Isabel were those in which they were uncertain: it's their prickliness that drew me in, not how polished and dashing they could be.

The gothic genre (to which this book only lightly belongs) has developed a reputation for drawing its personalities in broad, bravura strokes, but I'm not sure a really skillful evocation of the genre should  should mean half-hearted characterization as much as it means dynamic environmental tension.  These characters were psychologized (and likable) but they weren't vivid.  And in the gothic mode, everything should be vivid.

Stray notes:

  • The editor in me feels honor-bound to point out that there are some infelicities (as they say) in the writing here: sporadic and awkward archaisms, unnecessary interjections of "telling," etc.  It's fairly rare, but I'd like to have seen these ironed out.  Know that this also isn't a piece of decorous realism: if you are seeking a painstaking evocation of historical social mores, go elsewhere.  Hoyt's more interested in building a warm affection between her characters (which she does deftly in all of her novels that I've read), and they routinely find themselves in situations that defy the period's standards of social decency. 
  • Speaking of which, there's one scene of rather explicit banter about how hard Winter and Isabel like their mattresses - all par for the course, except that they are having this conversation over the head of Isabel's young ward, who finally asks why they are speaking of riding their mattresses when they should be sleeping in them.  Honestly, now, I thought, thinning my lips schoolmarmishly: there's a time and a place, people. Innuendo is decreasingly sexy as you add children to its audience. Am I approaching withered old stick status, or is this icky?
  • For a time, it seemed like the plot was settling into a too-familiar, "Will she guess his secret identity?  Will she be torn between attraction to two men who are in fact the same person? What does it mean to be jealous of yourself?" territory, but Hoyt blessedly avoids getting too tangled in this (because her heroine isn't an idiot).  It's possible that in this section, I may have found myself repeatedly humming the "Spiderpig" theme. I admit nothing. 
  • A whole crowd of hurrahs (and some spoilers, for the wary) for a novel which contains both an unashamedly untouched hero and a portrayal of infertility that doesn't end with love as the magical cure. More like this, please.

Thief of Shadows (2012)
Elizabeth Hoyt 

[Note: This was my first experiment with reviewing a book from NetGalley, and I'm torn about how to negotiate the ethics (and legalities) of indicating the source of books I've received from publishers/authors rather than from libraries/purchase. I'd like just to be able to tag them as galleys, but tags in my blog template are only searchable, not always visible. In future, I'll mark these books as "Galley," "ARC," or "Publisher-provided" in the ratings section of a post, and do my utmost to ensure that the free nature of the text doesn't affect my the nature or tone of my reviews.]

Saturday, Septemeber 15, 2012

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