Friday, November 22, 2013
Review: Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson
Title: Blackmoore: A Proper Romance
Author: Julianne Donaldson
Rating: 4.5 Stars
All Kate has ever wanted is to visit Blackmoore, the stunning mansion by the sea where her best friends, Sylvia and Henry, spend their summers. Filled with secret passages, a quaint village nearby, and rumors of smugglers, Blackmoore is every bit the adventure that bookworm Kate desires. Thus, when she is finally invited to visit, she expects her trip to be everything she imagined - and more. Sadly, reality is rarely ever as wonderful and Kate, hoping Blackmoore will be an escape from the cage she finds herself trapped in at home, realizes that her cage has followed her, molding around her once again in Blackmoore, only with a slightly different shape. Proud, stubborn Kate who has refused to marry, planning to travel to India instead, soon finds herself - and her heart - at mercy in Blackmoore which will, undoubtedly, change her life.
With a title like Blackmoore: A Proper Romance, the love story in this novel is, naturally, of central focus. Kate and Henry have known each other since childhood and, as the years have gone by, their friendly affection has deepened considerably. With Henry set-up to marry the elegant and beautiful Juliet St. Claire, however, and with Kate's burden of family scandal, their match is anything but acceptable. Although I truly enjoyed this forbidden aspect to their romance arc - the constant obviousness of feeling on both sides but the tension built-up through constant denial - the true beauty in their relationship stems from their deep friendship.
What I love most about the romance between Kate and Henry is that it relies on a foundation of deep respect. Although Henry desires for Kate to stay close to him, at least to remain as a friend, he understands her ambitions of traveling, seeking a life of adventure, and escaping the gilded cage she has grown up in. Unlike most arrogant heroes, Henry never uses his money or power to coerce Kate into sacrificing her dreams for his. Donaldson manages to create an addicting, steamy romance in which the relationship dynamics are respectful of boundaries, understanding of happiness, and selfless in their love. It's a lovely arc to read, primarily because of these qualities. Just the friendship between these two will have you sighing blissfully, even when romance is far out of the picture, which in my eyes speaks far more to the strength of the bond these two characters share than anything else.
Nevertheless, while I admit candidly that the romantic tension in this novel reached out into my chest and twisted my heart rather painfully, what made this novel such a gem was the complex growth Kate experiences. As a woman in the 1900s, with societal expectations of marriage, it is difficult enough to forge a path veering off the typical course. As a woman with few prospects, a despicable upbringing, and a truly scandalous family, it is practically impossible. Kate resorts to extreme decisions to escape the cage she finds herself in as she desperately tries to convince her mother to let her travel to India with her spinster Aunt Charlotte. Kate's predicament truly hits home as we see her attempt to fulfill ridiculous bargains, despite the fact that she is well-educated, reasonable, and clever. As Kate struggles to find what she wants - from both herself and her future - the possibilities seem both endless and limiting. Kate undergoes many subtle epiphanies throughout her growth arc, from the realization that her expectations have never lived up to reality to the fact that much of what she thought was true is, in fact, incorrect. Yet, there is in inner layer to the cage that traps Kate and while she struggles to let loose the outer shells of society, family, and duty, the inner-most layer that she has self-imposed is the hardest to break out of.
While Blackmoore is an excellent novel, through-and-through, a reasonable amount of flaws stood out to me throughout the narrative. Most glaring is the fact that Kate's mother is incredibly vapid and cruel, a married woman who flirts with younger men constantly and encourages her daughters to secure marriages by compromising their virtues. Although I do not doubt the existence of such a mother, I found it difficult to believe that she was quite as evil as she was painted to be. If we had been offered a peek into her past or at least insight into her other personas, perhaps I would have felt more comfortable with her stark black-and-white portrayal but, alas, I was not. Additionally, I feel as if Donaldson ends this novel - almost - a little too soon. It is such a quick and convenient ending, avoiding the messiness of the situation Kate finds herself in. Moreover, it glosses over the immense growth arc Henry experiences, which I found to be fascinating. I would have loved for greater insight into the next chapter in Henry and Kate's life - just a glimpse, that's all.
Needless to say, I loved Blackmoore despite its flaws. Donaldson's prose paints a stunning gothic mansion as the setting of this romantic tale, alive with complex relationships, intriguing guests, and hidden secrets. It's no Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, but it isn't meant to be. No, Blackmoore is the type of novel for which a few uninterrupted hours need to be scheduled. It demands to be read in a single-sitting, eating up time with its page-count and stress with its tension levels. While Donaldson's debut still doesn't appeal to me - it seems far too tame in comparison to the dark quality of this piece - I will certainly be looking out for any and all of her future works. Any author for whom I'd ignore piles of homework for on a busy weekday night is automatically worth it.