From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:
I admit to being more than a bit of a Catherine Morland when it comes to historical suspense novels. While Austen’s gothic fiction addicted heroine in Northanger Abbey reads The Mysteries of Udolpho she is compelled to discover what lies behind the mysterious black veil. I got that same rush of adrenaline when I opened the first page of Parting the Veil, a debut novel by Paulette Kennedy. What secrets will the story reveal? What happens when the veil is parted?
Two Sisters in Search of a Fresh Start
In 1899 New Orleans, Eliza Sullivan unexpectantly inherits a fortune from her aunt and sets off for England with her younger sister Lydia leaving behind a tarnished and grievous past. Her legacy comes with a hitch, however. She must marry within three months, or the valuable Hampshire estate will revert to the Crown. As the two sisters work toward reviving their aunt’s run-down estate, they hear rumors from the servants and the locals about their mysterious neighbor, Malcolm Winfield, Lord of Havenwood, and the crumbling estate that he resides in.
The Handsome Rogue Next Door
Of all the eligible men in the neighborhood that she could marry, Eliza is immediately drawn to the bad boy next door. Malcolm is handsome and alluring and dangerous, just the kind of man that got her in trouble in Louisiana.
“Isn’t it common for a woman of your age to be searching for a husband?” “That’s the usual story, isn’t it?” Eliza rolled onto her side, propping herself on one elbow to regard Malcolm. “I’d always imagined myself as a bluestocking, traveling the world and taking lovers at a whim. I am irascible and decadent. A bit whiny, too. Hardly the qualities most men favor in a wife.” “You certainly are forthright.” He cocked an eyebrow at her. (54)
When he reveals that his family estate is on the brink of foreclosure, she sees an opportunity to fix the problem and the man by marrying him. They elope, she claims her inheritance, and turns it over to her husband the next day.
A Creepy, Crumbling Mansion Full of Secrets
When Eliza moves into Havenwood Manor it is a stately home that has seen much better days. The south wing is in total ruin from a devasting fire that took the life of Malcom’s father and older brother Gabriel three years ago. However, Malcolm tries to diffuse his new bride’s fears.
“I promise there’s nothing more exciting knocking about Havenwood than a few squirrels and bats. Your romantic sensibilities might be disappointed if you’re expecting Northanger Abbey.” Malcolm tucked his pipe into his pocket. “Still, it’s not without its charms.” He was pensive for a moment before looking at her again, a mischievous smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “Would you like to see it?” (56-57)
The money that she brought to the marriage will be used to pay off the Winfield debts and reconstruct the damaged wing. Soon after her arrival strange things start to happen in the house that Eliza cannot overlook. She begins investigating the story behind the tragic fire and the Winfield family history.
Haunting the Heroine
At night, there are unexplained noises in her bedchamber that neither the servants or her husband can explain, nor do they want to help her discover the source.
“The knocking came again.
Fear filled Eliza’s mouth with metal. Whatever it was. It was now above her. And this time, as she watched, a dark shadow skittered over the plasterwork, crawling as quickly as a many-legged insect over the laughing mouths of the frolicking cherubs.” (162)
Her husband’s wildly changeable mood swings are even more troubling. One moment he is passionate and loving, and the next day he is distant and dour. The psychological pressure accelerates her fear and paranoia. Suspecting that there are dark, sinister secrets surrounding the house, she soon regrets her hasty decision to marry.
Parting the Veil is unlike any other historical suspense novel that I have recently read. It contains the gothic elements typical to the trope: a creepy atmospheric house with dark secrets, a heroine in peril, and an unreliable hero we are uncertain we want to like. However, it also includes many other themes usual to this genre. At times I was uncertain what kind of book I was reading. At the 25% mark as my eyebrows were knitting together in puzzlement, the heroine marries and moves into the creepy house next door and things really picked up.
The author has a fluid gift with language that was admirable. Her witty dialogue and lush descriptions also gave her great credit. My biggest challenge was in connecting with the heroine. Not a surprise considering she is impulsive, contradictory, and a free spirit driven by her passions. Yes, this is a romance novel that has sensual love scenes. It also contains elements of the paranormal, spiritualism, voodoo, and many others added in for good measure. I had to disarm reproof more than once. It was still an interesting ride.
If you enjoy thrilling, gothic romance with modern sensibilities, I recommend it to those, like Catherine Morland, who are compelled to find out what lies behind the black veil.
4 out of 5 Stars
- Parting the Veil: A Novel, by Paulette Kennedy
- Lake Union Publishing (November 1, 2021)
- Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (367) pages
- ISBN: 978-1542032117
- Genre: Historical Suspense, Historical Romance, Gothic Romance
We purchased a copy the book for our own enjoyment. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Lake Union Publishing © 2022; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2022, austenprose.com
Hello Dear Readers,
If you like this genre, I think you will enjoy the witty dialogue, suspenseful plot, and mysterious characters in Parting the Veil. Austenprose recommends it.
Have you read any historical suspense novels with a gothic twist that you would like to recommend to us?
Drop us a line below and share your thoughts on this review and what you are currently reading! We would love to hear from you!
Laurel Ann Nattress, editor