Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-101290-4
Historical Romance, 2001
Taylor Chase undergoes the Avon scalpel and the result, Heart of Night is like what happens when you dress up a lion in ballet tutus and frills. Or when you declaw a mighty lioness. It’s a rather sad story about a story that tries so hard to be meek and humble when it is roaring to be much more.
Oh, and shame about the over-the-top serial killer plot.
I don’t know how to give out the synopsis of this story to readers who have never read Heart of Deception, as this story is sort of entwined with the other story. But I’ll try.
Let’s see – it takes place in Elizabethan England time, and our heroine is Claire Darren. When she follows her then-hubby-to-be to witness the latest fad (seeing asylum inmates getting whipped), she is sickened by what she sees. Nonetheless, she manages to come into contact with a handsome – if rather dirty – inmate who seems to know her name. Then her hubby-to-be drags her away, they both get involved in a boating accident in which hubby-to-be dies, and she believes that Mr Nutcase is now dead. Oh well, life goes on, but Claire feels increasingly more restricted by her life.
Meanwhile, Mr Nutcase is actually Adrian Thorne, a baron who is cast into the madhouse as a result of a double combo of suspected-daddy-murder thing and naughty-cousin-letting-Adrian-rot blues. Nonetheless, when Vivian Swift is incarcerated in the same nuthouse, he comes to her aid. This takes place somewhere in the middle of Heart of Deception, but is told again here. Viv gets rescued by hubby-to-be at that time, Rafe, and they also spring Adrian free out of gratitude.
Okay, if you are not confused enough, cut to present day. Adrian wants his inheritance back, so Viv and Rafe ropes in Claire to help Adrian make his appearence in society. Claire and Adrian are surprised to see each other even as cherubs in the sky start playing love songs for them.
But Adrian cannot marry, because (a) madness runs in his family and he will never want his kids to share the same fate as he, (b) he’s psychic, another family curse, where he can gain some premonitions from objects he touch, and (c) he may or may not have murdered his father in his fits of premonition-induced amnesia-tinged madness.
Now, if you still haven’t fallen into a confused stupor by now, I will also let you know that Adrian’s sister-in-law plots evil. Adrian’s evil ex-doctor turns nutcase and will put Freddy Kreuger and Jack the Ripper to shame as he unleashes a serial killing spree all over London, even as he tries to track Adrian down in some homoerotic attraction gone awry. And Claire’s male friend, an ally in Heart of Deception, turns psycho and tries to destroy Adrian when he realizes that Claire loves Adrian and not he.
Well, I did warn you that the plot of Heart of Night is over the top.
Anyway, no matter how over-the-top the whole thing is, the author does weave a pretty gripping story of violence and fear. The atmosphere is just right. Be warned, there is a high body count too, and the violence, which I suspect have been severely trimmed down by the Avon headmistress, is still enough to make me feel queasy here and there. I know there are some strange readers who will throw a fit if they happen to even remotely like a villain as it will offend their moralistic sensibilities, but the story here is riddled with so many ridiculous over the top psychos that it becomes a rather lurid and implausible tale.
Adrian and Claire make a sweet couple, his torture and misunderstood nature and all, but again, this relationship lacks the author’s usual oomph factor. Claire does come off as a well-fleshed character in that while she is more placid and conventional than Ms Chase’s usual heroines, she also displays enough human emotions to make her whole. Claire is no one-dimensional “I do, yes Daddy, yes hero, just pork me there and I will do anything you want!” historical romance ninny. But thing is, she understands Adrian. She trusts Adrian. She understands completely, yes ma’am, she understands.
Good grief. While the author creates a plausible emotional bond between these two characters, all this understanding and trust are channeling Mary Magdalene all over the house.
Heart of Night does entertain – it is a lurid tale of violence with a rather sweet romance enmeshed in the midst of the flesh-stripping gore and disembowelment, and it’s probably the closest thing to an R-rated Gothic horror romance ever. But there’s just something not right – this one feels constrained, restricted, with all those shimmering darkness and turbulent passions just waiting to be unleashed on the unsuspecting readers, if only that annoying Avon schoolmarm will just get her butt off that Pandora’s box that is Editing for the Masses.