Friday, October 25, 2013

Sea of Secrets

 When I was a kid in the late 1960s early 1970s, my mother read about a gazillion Gothic Romances by authors like Madeleine Brent, Dorothy Eden, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt. Before I could read, I referred to them as 'girl running away from house' books, because they all seemed to have a similar cover image, a young woman in a flowing dress or nightgown running from a sinister dark house or castle. Up until a few years ago, I hadn't read any of the books myself but after discovering that one of the Lovecraft Circle, Frank Belknap Long had authored seven Gothic Romances, I read those and followed up with several by the authors my mom had read. My favorite of mom's favorites was Victoria Holt.
   The other day I was wondering if anyone had written anything like that recently and started browsing Amazon. Came across a book called Sea of Secrets by Amanda Dewees. The cover had the prerequisites. Girl in flowing dress. Check. Spooky castle. Check.
   I used the 'Look Inside' feature to read the first few pages of the book. Dewees had me after about five paragraphs. The heroine's voice was so witty and engaging that I knew this was a character I was going to like. She was obviously intelligent, fond of irony and a bit of a wise-ass. A good start.
   The plot moves quickly. After the death of her beloved brother, Oriel Pembroke is disowned by her cruel father without a dime. With no clear way to support herself she approaches a wealthy relative she doesn't know well, hoping she can help Oriel find a situation. Instead, the former Duchess of Ellsworth basically adopts her, taking her home to the Duchess's lavish seaside home. At first, Oreil can't believe her own good fortune, but this being a Gothic, things quickly take a dark turn.
   It seems the Duchess has created a scandal by marrying her late husband's brother without waiting what polite Victorian society considers a proper amount of time. Not only that, but her son Herron, a troubled and brooding lad, thinks his mother hasn't shown sufficient respect to his father's memory with her quick marriage to his uncle. (If, like me, you're picking up parallels to Shakespeare's Hamlet, you're not wrong.)
   In any good Gothic Romance you need two possible romantic interests. One nice guy and one brooding guy. Check. However if you think you know where this book plot is going, you're probably wrong. Amanda Dewees is too good a writer to just regurgitate old Gothic plots. This is a thinking person's Gothic Romance. She doesn't scrimp on the tropes though. Ghosts, storms, crashing seas, family secrets, mystery and rumors of murder. And maybe more than rumors. The period detail is great, and applied as you need it.
   Anyway, in case you couldn't tell, I really enjoyed Sea of Secrets. A specimen of an old genre with a fresh voice, some good writing, and some nice twists. And yes, I recommended it to my mother.

For more about Amanda Dewees and her books, check out her website here:

http://www.amandadewees.com/

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