Friday, April 17, 2009

Woman in the Mirror by Joyce Ellen Armond

TITLE: Woman in the Mirror
AUTHOR: Joyce Ellen Armond
PUBLISHER: Liquid Silver Books
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 56k)
GENRE: Historical gothic erotic romantic suspense
COST: $5.95

The relationship Robert Reavings had with his lover was a twisted one, especially after an unfortunate accident took her life. Now, he’s obsessed on giving her spirit, trapped in her mirror, a new corporeal form. When he advertises for a new assistant, Charlotte Grand poses as a boy in order to get the position. She is desperate to escape the clutches of her evil grandfather, and earning enough money to escape to America is her only hope. Except the ghost Lillian doesn’t like her, and Charlotte’s not even sure if she can survive in Robert’s home, let alone win his heart…

The one thing this short novel isn’t lacking is atmosphere. Dense, moody, and more than a little haunting – no pun intended – it dares the reader not to get lost in the world the author has created, and even more, the characters. This is solid gothic suspense, wrapped up in a taut, psychosexual package, and I devoured it from start to finish.

Robert is the hero – third son to an Earl with an interest in science rather than society. He doesn’t fit in, and takes that mantle to heart by pursuing a twisted relationship with the infamous Lillian Ragget, a woman with lovers galore. They have this constant need to hurt and one-up the other, but just when he’s about ready to call an end to it, Lillian meets an accidental death. Robert blames himself, and when he discovers her spirit hasn’t passed on but is instead trapped inside her full-length mirror, he takes it upon himself to free her of her new prison, thus proving her hero and besting her, once and for all. Even after her death – or maybe even especially – they have a dysfunctional relationship. He is thoroughly obsessed with this new plan, so much so that society calls him mad. Tortured and driven doesn’t even begin to cover it, and I have to admit, I fell for it, right from the start. There’s something horrifically broken about Robert, and the single-minded passion he has for this task is chillingly contagious. Part of that is because Lillian is most definitely an evil entity. She wasn’t a nice woman when she was alive, and death hasn’t changed that a bit.

In counterpoint to Robert is Charlotte Grand. Raised by a pirate uncle, she finds herself trapped in her grandfather’s house after her parents are killed. Her grandfather has this sick notion of marrying her off to his favorite toady, for the sheer purpose of having her for himself. She is tortured for weeks in his household before she finally escapes, and she takes on a new identity, posing as a boy, in a desperate bid to raise enough money to flee to America. When he hires her as his new assistant, Robert is taken in by her ploy, but she is attacked by Lillian upon arrival, setting her on a chain of events to find out just what is going on. It’s classical gothic romantic suspense, with a willful and resourceful heroine, a tortured hero, and an evil nemesis. Each character is fascinating in its own right.

Where the story stumbled for me was in its romance. About halfway through the story, Charlotte decides that her feelings for Robert have shifted from friendship into love. That’s all well and good, except it comes out of nowhere, dumbing Charlotte down slightly as she now reacts like a woman in love rather than the capable woman on the run she’d been before. The turnaround for Robert is even swifter, and thus, even less satisfying. While it makes this a romance in name, it doesn’t do so in feeling, because I’m never convinced that the emotions between the two – in regards to love – are real.

The danger and suspense, however, are very much so. This is what carries the story through from start to breathless end. I even really liked the characters for as long as they didn’t act like lovesick ninnies. It’s a creepy, fascinating ride.


9/10 – Dense and atmospheric, this hooked me from the very beginning


8/10 – Because he is just so, so, so messed up


6/10 – I didn’t believe the turnaround in emotions, but it’s nice to see someone so capable

Entertainment value

8/10 – For the suspense and horror aspects, rather than the romance I never quite believed

World building

9/10 – I mentioned the atmospheric, didn’t I?



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