Though His Dark Desires takes place in the midst of a sultry New Orleans summer, it represents something quite the opposite for romance readers: a welcome breath of fresh air.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a bonafide Regency girl from w-a-a-a-y back. But somewhere along the way, a steady diet of All-Regency-All-The-Time, interspersed with an occasional dip into Victoriana, numbs the palate of even someone like me – so much so, in fact, that these days only the best writers working in the Regency (and we all know who I’m talking about) can overcome my, to use a true Regency word, ennui.
Enter Jennifer St. Giles. A few months ago, a romance-reading friend of mine (with excellent taste, I might add) pressed upon me The Mistress of Trevelyan, a rip-roaring Gothic tale of a governess (yes, a governess!) and a mysterious, widowed, and, of course, devilishly attractive Master of the House whose wife just might have died under equally mysterious circumstances. When the sequel featuring the brother of the previous book’s hero popped up on the list of books available for review, I jumped on it.
Set in 1874 in war-devestated New Orleans, His Dark Desires is a vigorously written, intelligent, and gripping tale set in a fascinating city in an equally fascinating time. And, believe it or not, though this book features fewer Gothic overtones and more classic romance elements than its predecessor, there’s not a Regency miss anywhere in sight.
Widow Juliet Boucheron struggles to keep herself, her young son, and her sisters together by taking on boarders in their formerly stately home just outside New Orleans. With at least one skanky predatory type attempting to coerce her into selling the home she dearly loves, Juliet is understandably more than a bit disconcerted when the investigator she’s hired to look into the rumors that her husband might still be alive sends her a telegram telling her to “trust no one.”
Equally disconcerting is Juliet’s attractive new boarder, one Stephen Trevelyan. Quite understandably, Juliet wonders why the richly dressed young man claiming to be in New Orleans on business for his family’s successful trading company might choose to stay in Juliet’s somewhat rundown home instead of a first class hotel. But with rumors (and the vultures) circling, her sister’s mysterious illness, and nighttime attacks that just might be ghostly in nature, Juliet simply doesn’t have the time or inclination to think too much about the appealing young man – and her attraction to him.
Juliet is a complex heroine who is likable right from the start. Determined, capable, and with her sights fixed firmly on protecting her family, Juliet is the kind of stalwart, no-nonsense heroine I adore. Stephen, on the other hand, is one of those gently teasing and flirtatious young men the reader knows is actually far more complex – and capable – than he initially appears. In the author’s skilled hands, both Juliet and Stephen are original, intriguing, appealing characters who are as complex and layered as any reader might wish.
To put it simply, any historical romance reader with a palate in need of cleansing will likely find His Dark Desires to be as invigorating as I did. I loved the time and setting, both of which are brought vividly to life by the author. I loved both Juliet and Stephen. I loved the Gothic elements that bring a whiff of the paranormal to an already rich tale. But, most of important of all, I loved the freshness of this book – a freshness that even this diehard Regency reader found especially welcome.
In an era of overwhelming sameness when it comes to historical romance, His Dark Desires easily stands out from the crowd. If you love historical romance and haven’t yet tried Jennifer St. Giles, you’ve got a treat in store. She writes smart. She writes sexy. She writes differently. And, wonder of wonders, she doesn’t write Regency.
-- Sandy Coleman
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