The world of gaslight romance fiction is not very large, and is usually populated by readers who also enjoy steampunk, that wonderful blend of alternate history, science fiction and fantasy. I have lamented before in this blog that finding adult authors of steampunk or gaslight (as opposed to the many excellent young adult authors in these genres) is sometimes difficult, but earlier this year with her debut offering, Kristen Callihan set the romance world aflame with her unusual, emotional romance, Firelight.
Happily this year, we have the long awaited sequel, Moonglow, coming out on July 31st, and was fortunate enough to get access to an Advanced Reader Copy via NetGalley to give you a hint at how great it is.
Kristen Callihan uses a master’s touch to paint a vivid picture of 1880s London with a gaslight twist. The supernatural, both good and evil, abound in this world, with vivid characters and plot twists causing readers to gasp at the unexpected. The aptly named Darkest London series reminds me of the gothic romances popularized in the 19th century, filled with shadows and a possibly doomed love. The difference in these books is that its the women doing the saving (and not just an emotional rescue of the hero), so we have a delightful update for the 21st century sensibility.
Firelight tells the story of Miranda Ellis, a willowy redhead reduced from a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle to stealing for her father. Her mother dead and her two older sisters married, one in a love match and the other sold to the highest bidder to a man three times her age, Miranda is lonely and so tired of the life she is forced to lead. She carries the guilt of contributing to her family’s financial ruin by having been responsible for burning down the warehouse that housed most of her father’s imported goods, and this fact is what allowed her father to blackmail her into a life of theft. Despite feeling like she is in her own private hell, she is nevertheless incensed when her father announces that she will marry the infamous Lord Archer, a reclusive noble who is renowned for having some type of deformity necessitating his wearing a solid black mask.
Benjamin Archer is still paying for a mistake he made years ago, but the only thing that made him feel remotely alive was meeting a feisty nineteen-year-old girl in an alley when he was on his way to kill her father three years ago. He has searched for a cure all this time, in order to claim her as a whole man, but cannot deny his need any longer. If he can just have Miranda near him as his wife, his life would be infinitely less painful.
And, oh, how hard they fall for each other. Archer can be silver tongued devil when he is ready to finally be honest with Miranda, and it’s no wonder the revelation of his feelings result in her being even more in love with him.
“I lied. I lied when I said your beauty does not affect me. I look at you, and I’m breathless, dizzy from it. I want to kneel at your feet and worship you. While the baser part of me wants to fling up your skirts and stick my cock in you until we forget our names…But none of that matters,” he said, trembling before her, “because every day that I am with you, I am more convinced that God made you just for me. For in ninety years on this earth, no one has made me feel the way you do, as if every day is an adventure.”
Who wouldn’t do everything they could to save this man from his past mistakes? And there are major forces lining up against them. An entire secret club of men are afraid at Archer’s return to England, a killer is framing him for one gruesome murder after another, Miranda’s brother-in-law is the police inspector investigating the case, Archer has a past lover bent on Miranda’s death and Archer’s return to her, and the son of one of his enemies, Ian Mckinnon, is more than a little fascinated by Miranda and is clear in his pursuit of her.
This is a beautiful, dark romance between two people who have kept secrets for so long that they are almost incapable of opening up to one another. The first time I read it, I was actually frustrated by the focus on the revelation of what Archer hides behind his mask (and the fact that it comes toward the end of the book) as well as how long it took for the two of them to be physically intimate with one another.
The latter frustration is easily a result of the amazing sexual tension Kristen Callihan builds between our hero and heroine and I imagine is more of a compliment to her writing ability, however! Once I understood the more gothic nature of the series, this frustration dissolved and I was instead impressed by the incredibly fresh approach to gaslight romance that the author employs.
Because of the rich plethora of secondary characters, I was happy when Callihan released Ember, a prequel novella focusing on Miranda’s interim life between meeting Archer in the alley by her house and his reemergence into her life. At a mere $.99 for a chunky 100 pages, this novella should be a must-read by anyone who has enjoyed Firelight, particularly due to the fact that it fills in many holes for us.
In it we have the fleshed out story of Miranda’s meeting with her East End friend Billy Finger who teaches her how to steal more effectively as well as the alluded-to story of her failed romance with her ex-fiancee. I definitely would not recommend reading this work prior to Firelight; it is undoubtedly a prequel that gains more impact with a reading after the first book in the series.
The second book in the series, Moonglow, focuses on Miranda’s sister Daisy, a lush blonde finally free of her cruel older husband and ready to emerge from the mandatory year of mourning proscribed by Victorian society. On her way to a racy demimonde party, her handsome date pulls her into an alleyway for some pre-party friskiness but to her astonishment they are attacked by a werewolf, a fact that registers prior to losing consciousness.
Lord Ian Mckinnon is having some, er, performance issues. The red-headed whores he usually employs for sexual release aren’t doing it for him anymore and the results are downright embarrassing. A lone wolf who has rejected his birthright of alpha of his father’s pack, he goes for a run in London and is attracted by the sent of blood and a rogue were. He discovers Daisy beneath a heap of other bodies and brings her home with him to treat her wounds and discover more about the attack.
Daisy knows all about Lord Ian Mckinnon from her sister Miranda and her brother-in-law, Benjamin Archer, so naturally she’s wary of the man who attempted to drive a wedge between them. She can’t help being attracted to his incredibly handsome face and hard, muscled body, but it’s the streak of loneliness and wit that really draws her in. Daisy is hesitant to give into his pursuit, not only because she has her husband’s cruel punishments tied to the carnal nature of women still in her mind, but also because she has no desire to be a substitute for her unattainable sister.
To Ian’s astonishment, he realizes quickly that he is not interested in Miranda anymore in the slightest, and it is Daisy’s golden hair and lush curves which have awakened his dormant sexual desire. That his inner wolf is both excited and calmed by her presence also convinces him that she is meant for him. But Ian carries over a century of personal baggage. His wife and son of many years ago, both dead now in rejection of Ian’s werewolf nature, haunt him still. But he still makes the decision to fight all his history and claim Daisy for his own.
“I am afraid, aye? Bloody afraid of history repeating itself.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and held on tightly. “But I want you more. Do you understand? I feel free when I am with you. Happy. You are the gift I never saw coming.”
This book’s pacing is very similar to Firelight, with the same dark, gothic overtones which focus on the external conflicts with the development of the romance taking place within that framework. And there is no lack of conflict. Ian has the complicated relationship with his pack to negotiate, a rogue werewolf to subdue, the involvement of other supernatural creatures bent on using the situation to their advantage, Daisy discovers that her sister Miranda isn’t the only one with supernatural powers, Ian is being framed for the werewolf murders since he’s been the first one on the scene of the deaths, Daisy is targeted as Ian’s weakness, and on top of it all, Daisy’s health is heavily compromised. Yikes!
I did feel like I had a few areas that went unaddressed for me. I would have liked more details about Daisy’ husband’s cruelty – was it just the one time or were there other incidents? She had a strong inner voice she was fighting regarding her sexual nature and it seemed like understanding her abuse would give more insight to her character. Also, Daisy alludes to the fact that she had been intimate with a few men prior to her marriage. Miranda was not a virgin coming to Archer (it was her fiancee she slept with), while I get the impression that Daisy had more of a couple of flings. Was she in love with these two men? Is this supposed to indicate a more carnal quality in her makeup? Why wasn’t she worried about getting pregnant? It just seemed like a missing piece to me that would have helped my understanding of her.
However, those were only minor blips on the radar. As with Firelight, the intimacy and big mystery reveal/supernatural resolution to the situation occurs quickly at the end of the book and the reader is left turning the pages quickly and letting her family know it’s take out for dinner tonight. Ian and Daisy are fabulous characters who are easy to love, and it’s clear that the next book, one focusing on older sister Poppy and her now estranged husband, Inspector Winston Lane (titled Winterglaze and due out in 2013) will be just as riveting, probably focusing on the Society for Supernaturals Poppy belongs to. I can’t wait to get more delicious gaslight romance from this source. Thank you, Kristen Callihan!