Whew, here I am, having emerged from air after slogging my way through Elizabeth Hoyt’s Lord of Darkness, the latest in her Maiden Lane series. Though not a long novel, Lord of Darkness certainly feels it: I suspect that there might be some sort of time dilation powers hidden within its pages.
There’s a reason that category romance novels tend to fall in at just under two hundred or so pages, and that’s that it’s terribly difficult to sustain a plot that’s entirely predicated on the romantic back-and-forth between two people beyond that. Category authors work within some stringent word length constraints to be able to give us a story arc that’s believable, and to flesh out their main and secondary characters as well, and the more I read within the romance genre, the more I appreciate the skill involved in doing this well.
Though I’ve read a handful of shorter historical romances, Hoyt’s Lord of Darkness is my first foray into the heftier works in this genre, and I have to say that I’ve come away feeling a little dizzy and not entirely enlightened. In part I suspect that this is because I’ve come in mid-way through a series, and that the novel leans heavily on previous the preceding volumes. But my ambivalence has a lot to do with the fact that overall this is a sadly uneven book…which makes it feel much, much longer than it actually is.
The novel largely involves the development of the relationship between hero Godric, widower nobleman by day and ye olde time vigilante Ghost of St Giles by night, and Megs, with whom Godric entered into a marriage of convenience two years prior in order to stave off gossip about Megs’s pregnancy–to a man who had been recently killed. The two have lived entirely separate lives since then, each mourning their respective partners, and in Megs’s case, the loss of her baby. But now Megs is back in Godric’s life, and she’s determined to have a baby. Of course, doing so will involve consummating the marriage and coming to terms with the losses of their loved ones.
So much of a romance novel is about the relationship between the two main characters and the reader’s connection with them. Unfortunately, I never really connected with Godric’s character, nor with that of Megs, and by the end of the novel I felt like one of the many long-suffering guests forced to board at their home: I wanted nothing more than to escape their frustrating bickering and the infuriating repetition of their interactions. Obviously as the two are already married, we need something to keep them apart, which here is Godric’s love for his deceased wife and Megs’s love/guilt surrounding her lover. But the way that these issues are overcome feels abrupt and at odds with the set-up that they’re given: we go from chastity and mourning to endless (and not in a good way) sex scenes.
In addition to the romance between Godric and Megs, there’s all sorts of other stuff going on, much of it between characters who I imagine must have played significant roles in previous books, because there are plot threads here that seem to be ongoing–such as that of Artemis, a point of view character who slips in and out of the narrative for a reason I couldn’t fathom without having read the prior books in the series. The society scenes are hard to parse without this background knowledge, and the Ghost of St Giles business is a bit of a mess–the plot conceits to get both Godric and Megs in the same place and to eventually reveal Godric’s secret identity feel contrived; the Secret Garden allusion with Megs’s dead tree in the garden felt forced as well. Oddly enough, the high point of the novel has nothing to do with the main characters and their arcs, but is rather grumpy old Aunt Elvina and her pet pug Her Grace, both of whom snuffle and snort around and get up to all sorts of mischief.
With Lord of Darkness I found myself alternating between floundering through scenes where I felt like a gatecrasher at a party and between feeling as though I was forcing myself through a viscous vat of verbiage. Though I’m sure having read the previous books in this series would have helped me get a better handle on this one, I’m not sure I want to commit to reading four other books that might well suffer from the same issues as this one.
With thanks to Grand Central Publishing (via Netgalley) for the review copy
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Other books by Elizabeth Hoyt: