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Darkwater Mass Market Paperback – November 12, 1981
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There's a Dicksonian cast of characters: Heroine Francesca Davenport (Fanny), her besotted and mad cousin George, two Chinese orphans, Amelia, the pampered heiress, Edgar, the 'generous' uncle who calls the shots, an aged and calculating aunt in a wheelchair, the fox-like Hamish Barlow and the handsome yet mysterious Adam Marsh who's at the center of it all.
Critics are partially correct, it is true Dorothy Eden novels are formulaic, all with somewhat similar themes. They are older novels, written in the 60s and 70s when there were no Shades of Gray bodice-ripping romances and thankfully, this author never needed it to keep readers enthralled. In my humble opinion, there is no comparison to the writing style and character development of Dorothy Eden. Each book I've finished has made me want to start it all over again. Kindle has made it possible to revisit grand titles that were once lost to us. I am grateful.
I really enjoyed this little book. Granted, my hopes were low. I'd looked through the reviews of DARKWATER and many of them were saying that DARKWATER was dull and flat, with a raging Mary Sue of a heroine who wouldn't STFU.
To my surprise, I found myself with a rather delightful Gothic romance written in the vein of such popular favorites as Victoria Holt or Patricia Maxwell (AKA, Jennifer Blake). Better yet, I got to buddy read it with one of my new Goodreads friends, Elena.
Fanny is the ward of some awful relations. Her uncle, Edgar, is an enabler to his cold and greedy wife, Louisa, and air-headed, vain daughter, Amelia. Much to the rage and annoyance of Louisa and Amelia, Fanny is far prettier than Amelia, the heiress, and is constantly turning heads despite being poor. When Edgar finds out he has two new wards to take care of, he's the only one who seems indifferent, even pleased. Louisa is annoyed and Amelia, disenchanted. Fanny is the only member of the family who truly harbors a soft spot for the young children, and despite having planned to use their pick-up as a chance to escape, voluntarily stays on in order to care for and nanny them.
I just want to pause here, and say that I often hate seeing children in fiction because they're either way too precocious and cutesy, or else used as plot points without much in the way of characterization. These children, Nolly (Olivia) and Marcus were incredibly well-written and actually acted like children (i.e. at times sweet, at other times, bratty). They added a lot of comic relief but they also stood on their own as characters. I also thought that Fanny's family was well done. Amelia was far from being the b*tchy, jealous rival... she had moments of thoughtless kindness, and even Louisa had some humanizing emotions. I felt like that made their dynamic so much more interesting.
Oh, and then there's George. Fanny's creepy, "no maybe means yes" cousin. Ew, George. Ew.
The love interest, Adam Marsh, appears mysteriously (such is the way of the gothic romance) and leaves just as mysteriously. When he returns, he seems more interested in Amelia than Fanny (much to Fanny's devastating) and he strings Fanny along while cavorting with Amelia, which I really disliked him for. Obviously there is an explanation towards the end, but I so did not buy that.
Call me slow, but I didn't guess the perpetrator(s) until the very end. I wasn't trying to figure it out, though. I was reading DARKWATER in between reading Stephen King's IT, and this cozy mystery was the perfect balm for sleepless nights inspired by psychotic, murder-happy clowns. I just sat back and let the story carry me away, and found myself pleasantly surprised by the journey.
If you enjoy Gothic novels, this is a great addition to the collection. I want to read more Eden now!
3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars
Everyone except the heroine Fanny (orphaned young and raised by her aunt and uncle at Darkwater) seems appropriately suspicious. There's superficially genial Uncle Edgar, whose rather unpleasant personality is too close to the surface not to show itself frequently when he's crossed. His too ambitious wife, Aunt Louisa, who wants only the best for herself and her daughter Amelia. Amelia, spoiled and jealous of Fanny's beauty and wanting to be the girl everyone notices and admires. Lady Arabella, Louisa's mother, who loves to tell children scary stories and wants only the best for grandson George (Amelia's brother). George, a veteran of the Crimean War, who comes back broken emotionally, fixated on Fanny and with a very short fuse.
We also have two young orphans, recently integrated into the household after the death of their father (brother to Uncle Edgar) and mother in China. And then there's Adam Marsh, man of mystery, who meets Fanny when she goes to pick up the orphans in London upon their arrival from China, and then, unexpectedly, moves to an estate near Darkwater on the moors. Will he be the love interest for Fanny? Or is he not to be trusted either? And why is he paying so much attention to Amelia?
There's the death of one character, the disappearance of another, the escape of a convict, lots of questionable behavior by several of the characters, the mystery of the "white bird" enhanced to a scary level by Lady Arabella in her retelling of the tale to the new orphans, intrigue about jewels, money and inheritances. And some low-key romance. What more could a Gothic romance have?
This is relatively old, having been written in 1963, so you'll have to put up with some outdated prejudices and ideas, but it's a Victorian Gothic and all that fits the times of the setting.