Saturday, December 15, 2007

Master of Shadows - Final Review

First, I must post a disclaimer. Janet and I have been exchanging friendly emails since before I started reading her book. She was also kind enough to send me an autographed copy.

MASTER OF SHADOWS by Janet Lorimer begins like this:

Once upon a time, toward the end of the 20th century . . .

With a single sentence, Lorimer establishes the mood of the entire novel. And there, she starts a familiar story--Beauty meets the Beast and goes to live with him in his enchanted castle. Or, he COULD be a beast. Since he is always shrouded in a cowl, she doesn't know for certain.

In the story, Louvel hires Ariel to categorize the books in his extensive library. Ariel has a master's degree in Liberal Arts--a proper degree for a the daughter of a wealthy man--and she is delighted to have a chance to actually use it. Also, since her father's mysterious death, she rather desperately needs the money. While she is doing the job, Louvel insists that she stay in his mansion. There is no good road to and from the mansion, and staying elsewhere just is not practical. Louvel has very specific, odd and mysterious rules that he insists she follow. However, when her curiosity gets the better of her, Louvel begins to fear that she will uncover his secrets.

In fact, the story is bursting with secrets. Everyone has them; Ariel's father, Ariel's former fiance and her future father-in-law. And some of them are left to the reader to figure out.

At times, I wished that the timeframe of the story was clearer. All I know is it is "late in the 20th century". I'm thinking early 90s. Computers were available, but their use was not yet widespread. Ariel must write letters; she cannot send emails. The setting is also unclear, with references to "the city" and "the village". I believe the author did all this on purpose, to promote a sort of fairy-tale vagueness.

Late in the book, Louvel says this:

. . . "my secrets are dark ones that would devastate you. I cannot bear the thought of your love spoiled by the hate, the disgust, the horror you would taste if . . ."

After reading this, I expected nothing short of Louvel having a demonic nature. The truth turns out to be rather less dark.

In an earlier post, I said that this story reminded me of an old Kathleen Woodiwiss story. That comparison did not hold true. However, the comparison I made to Victoria Holt proved to be close to the mark. This novel is romantic suspense written like a fairy tale, although the prince is unlike like any hero I've ever read before. (No rippling abs here!) This fairy tale has a dark and entirely modern underside. The villains in the story operate very much in the shadows. And it has two mysteries, neatly woven together.

Lorimer is a seasoned writer, with years of experience writing children's fiction under her belt. And it shows. I loved the way she adapted her metaphors to the current setting. For example, if the characters were eating, she might compare something with a golden color to melted butter. Her verbs are all active ("a stab of guilt") and her dialog effortless to follow. The novel shows solid research, some which I fact-checked and found to be true.

I can call it a fairy tale, but I hesitate to call it a fantasy. It has moments that seem like magic, like when in Silas Marner by George Eliot, Silas finds his stolen gold. In this novel, Beauty discovers just who is the true Beast. I've always loved stories like this, where the mundane seems magical. If you enjoy reading delicious little romantic suspense novels that keep you up late at night, this novel would work for you.


Paula Guran said...

Hi Tia!

Thanks for the review and interview with Janet. I just wanted to defend MASTE OF SHADOWS as fantasy. Yes, it is a fairy tale -- and modern re-tellings of old stories (as well as many original fairy tales) are generally regarded as fantasy.

Tia Nevitt said...

I didn't really mean it as a critique. The quasi-magical resounds with me, which is why Silas Marner is one of my favorites, ever.

However, I was just warning my readers not to expect any magic-wielders or anything like that. There are things left mysteriously unexplained, such as some sort of mysterious abilities that Louvel has, but they never come across as overtly magical, in my opinion.