by Ellen Fisher, historical (1998)
Bantam, $5.50, ISBN 0-553-57922-3
Meet Edward Greyson. He's a plantation owner in Virginia. It's 1762 and he has been putting on that tortured hero mantle for eight years now. You see, his wife Diana died under suspicious circumstances and even Grey can't be sure that he wasn't the one who killed her. As a result, the bottle is his best friend at the moment. Then there's our heroine Jennifer Leigh Wilton. She's an orphan whose guardian, her uncle, has set her to work like Cinderella in his tavern. One evening, as Grey is in town to visit his friend, he stumbles upon Jennifer being beaten by her uncle. She pleads with him to take her with him and put her up as maybe a maid or something in his place. Since Grey's sister is nagging at him to take a wife, he decides on the spot to marry Jennifer. He intends to marry her and then forget that she exists because the world is supposed to revolve around him, you see, but you know how things are sometimes.
The Light In The Darkness is a debut effort by Ellen Fisher and it's a most impressive one. It's not because the plot is breathtakingly original, to be honest, because there are plenty of clichés here given the cartoon-like overblown treatment. It's a very impressive read because this is one story where I find that the raw emotions - the anguish, the misery, the melodramatic love, oh, the pathos of it all - pretty much leap off the pages and grab a hold of me. That is why I find this book very good - it's impossible to put down because what the characters are experiencing feel so real that I cannot help but to find myself emotionally invested in their story.
If you argue that Jennifer's transformation from downtrodden maid to a confident woman happens too quickly to be real, I believe I quite agree with you. But still, she is an intelligent heroine who believes that she is worth something, which makes her an excellent foil for Grey. She believes him and sees something in him that is worth loving, but at the same time she never lets him get away with it every time he crosses the line. Without a heroine like Jennifer to counter him, Grey would have been a typical obnoxious self-pitying whiny party for one. In this case, Jennifer forces him to re-examine himself and sometimes forces him out of his mire of self-pity. As a result, their relationship may be a tumultuous one but I never get this impression that Jennifer is a martyr. Grey is a bastard most of the time, but Jennifer doesn't bend over and take his nonsense in the name of true love, so it is most satisfying to see him come around later on.
If there is a weakness in this story, I'd say that it's the melodramatic treatment of the mystery of Diana's death. The villain could very well be animated in technicolor given how much of a cartoon character this fellow is.
I suspect that the overwhelming melodrama and all that pathos will make or break this book, depending on how much drama you can take in your stories. But for me, I often feel as if I'm drowning in the characters' whirlpool of emotions as I turn the pages of this book. The Light In The Darkness is a most enjoyable read because of all this raw passion pouring off the pages. The fact that the heroine is refreshingly intelligent, confident in her self-worth, and doesn't let the hero get away with most of his crap also makes this book an enjoyable read, of course.
Therefore, as a debut effort, The Light In The Darkness is a very good one, given that the author grabs me by the throat from the first page and puts me through this emotional roller-coaster ride that leaves me drained but utterly satisfied by the end of the day. This one easily finds its way to my keeper shelf.
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