Sunday, January 17, 2010

Review: Awaiting the Moon, Donna Lea Simpson

Title: Awaiting the Moon
Author: Donna Lea Simpson
Publication Info: Berkley, 2006
Genre: Gothic romance
Grade: C

Ok. I just finished Awaiting the Moon, and my gut reaction is: Huh? I was very excited when I found this book at the UBS; after all, what's not to love about a historical romance with a hint of werewolves? So many of my favorite things combined. And it turns out, that's part of the problem--there's just too much going on in the book. A warning--massive SPOILERS ahead.

The premise of the book is that Elizabeth Stanwycke, an English woman, has arrived at the castle of the count of Wolfram, to tutor the niece of the house on the proper comportment and manners of an English woman of breeding. Elizabeth's in need of a job far away from her old home because she had an affair with her old employer's brother, who promised to marry her, but instead revealed the affair and left her with a tattered reputation, no home, and no means of support. A friend, Frau Liebner, happens to be in need of someone just like Elizabeth to tutor her great niece in Germany, and so Elizabeth and Frau Liebner (ne Wolfram) head to Castle Wolfram. Note to writers looking to set novels, especially ones with gothic elements to them, in German-speaking lands--STOP NAMING CASTLES AND FAMILIES AFTER WOLVES! If it's not Castle Wolfram, it's Castle Wolfenbach, or Castle Wolfheim, etc. How about a normal German name? Something without Wolf in it?

Anyway, there are strange goings on in Castle Wolfram. It's a gothic. Need I say more? Mysterious tragedy, nighttime wanderings, half-heard arguments, blondes wandering nude in the snow (I'm not making this up), murmurs of werewolves, secret drugging and/or opiate addiction, mute servants who know all but reveal nothing. You might be thinking, more or less standard gothic fare (except for the nudity, I suppose). The central mystery seems to be whether or not there are actual werewolves in the forests around Castle Wolfram. And there's also the matter of the mysterious blonde woman. And someone in the castle is spreading dangerous and destructive rumors about the other members of the Wolfram family. And on and on and on. Since I don't want to reveal everything, let me just say that there is not a single inhabitant of Wolfram castle without a secret of some sort. Not a single one.

But wait, there's more. As our various mysteries build and are eventually revealed (and really, isn't the world spooky enough without random secret keeping for what seem to be, at least some of them, somewhat flimsy reasons?), our intrepid Elizabeth and Count Nikolas are unable to keep their hands off each other, engaging in not-so-secret nighttime adventures (which everyone in the castle seems to know about within days, and take with no comments--huh?). Which is one of my biggest problems with the book--I mean, Elizabeth lost her home, position, and reputation for sleeping with a guy in England. Why in the world is she doing the same here? So technically they don't quite sleep with each other, just doing everything but, but pregnancy shouldn't be her only concern here. She's totally aware of the dangers of losing her reputation. After all, it happened before. And, I found it entirely unbelievable that Frau Liebner and Count Nikolas weren't more concerned about her past. It's one thing for them not to know, but another entirely, for that period, for them to know and keep her as tutor of a young girl. Plus, he's her employer. Part of me still just finds their relationship icky. I would have expected someone with Elizabeth's past not to take such a risk again, not even for Twue Wove. At least not without some stronger guarantee of how she'll be protected from any consequences.

Not to mention that Elizabeth is ridiculously assertive. To the point where I was thinking: she's an employee in the house! Why is she telling everyone how to better run their lives? Why don't they tell her to shut up? She'll think about how she's not supposed to be assertive, and how she should keep her nose out of everyone's business, and then do it anyway. It's not that people can't mean to do one thing and then do another; it's just that in her position in the household, I found it ridiculous that she got away with it.

Also, the big reveal about Nikolas? Totally threw me for a loop. Gothic is all about atmosphere and silly coincidences, not actual supernatural stuff. Given the big build up and eventual rational (ish) cause of one of the other Big Secrets, I found the revelation about Nikolas one secret too many.

I had such high hopes for the book, but then found myself getting more and more frustrated with it, especially the second half. I really liked seeing a setting outside of England, and I liked the snowy winter atmosphere that hangs over the book. But too many secrets, and too many decisions where I thought, Why would you do that? Don't you directly know, from you own personal experience, that the consequences are dire? Maybe as I mull it over, my opinion will change, but as it stands--Grade: C

Disclaimer: Bought the book myself.

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