Pros: Very deft handling of paranormal elements, gripping suspense
Cons: Some readers might want more detail about the mythology
Rating: 4.75 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
Elena Whitney is the ward of the mysterious and absent Lord Black. She has lost her memories after an accident, but she is determined to make a life for herself as a female doctor, no easy task in Victorian London. Working as a nurse in a hospital in Whitechapel, she is undeterred by the vicious murders of Jack the Ripper that occur nearby. Lord Black, a member of the Shadow Guard, returns to London to eliminate the evil. To his surprise, he finds that his young ward has not married and in fact has become exceedingly attractive. Can Archer eliminate his target, or will he be too distracted by the growing heat between him and Elena? And what will happen when the Ripper turns his sights on Elena?
I remember wanting to be a forensic pathologist and reading everything I could get my hands on about murder, including numerous books about Jack the Ripper, and so when Kim Lenox’s Night Falls Darkly found its way to the top of my review stack, I immediately jumped right in. One of the first things that I noticed (and loved) was the way Ms. Lenox made the Ripper immediately relevant to Archer and Elena: they meet two of the Ripper’s victims before they are killed. Now the reader cares just as much as the hero and heroine about stopping the Ripper, because his victims are women that we have gotten to know, if only for a few minutes. Because we see them as human beings first, it makes their victimization all the more horrifying.I also appreciated that the debate over who the actual Jack the Ripper was never really enters into the story; instead the focus on what he is completely overshadows who he is.
Ms. Lenox is also very skilled at portraying characters, not only main characters but secondary as well. I love that both Archer and Elena feel like normal people, without some of the more aggravating problems that could have been solved if they had simply sat down and had an honest discussion for five minutes. With Archer having been out of the country since she became his ward, she is making her own way through life trying to become a doctor. Archer is an immortal with a mission, to catch Jack the Ripper, and although he is without a doubt distracted by Elena, he doesn’t resort to getting angry at her. He simply tries to keep fulfilling his mission, as well as do his duty by his ward. The secondary characters surprised me quite a bit; I would think that I had one of them figured out and they would do something that I wasn’t expecting. (Seeing what Selene kept in her room gave me a clue about who she was before she was an immortal, and made me chuckle. But then, so did one of her favorite treats.)
The mythology of the Shadow Guard is well-constructed, and is integrated masterfully into the story. Instead of the story existing so that the mythology can be told, the mythology simply explains why the story is unfolding in the manner that it is. Information is unfolded throughout the story as the reader needs to know it. This isn’t necessarily a negative, but because I love to see how a well-developed mythology works, I wish I had seen just a little bit more of it. There are more books in the series, however, so I look forward to learning more about the Shadow Guard.
Ms. Lenox is also a master at pulling the reader into the story not only through a sense of suspense, but through emotional engagement as well. There is a simplicity to her writing that allows the clarity of characters’ emotions to shine through without having to wade through purple prose, turgid shafts and engorged lips. I thoroughly enjoy love scenes that are as much about the emotional bond between a couple having sex as the sex itself, and Ms. Lenox pulls it off beautifully. Even emotions outside the bedroom are skillfully drawn. For example, there is a scene between Archer and Queen Victoria in which we see her first as a monarch, then as a grieving widow wanting to communicate with her dead husband. I was genuinely moved.
There was only one thing that stood out to me like a sore thumb, and I’ll admit it’s a rather nitpicky detail. Two of the characters, twins, take rooms in a hotel that has a view of Cleopatra’s Needle in London. I understood the author to mean that it was because it was commissioned by Cleopatra. It was actually commissioned by Tuthmosis III about 1400 years before Cleopatra’s time. This normally wouldn’t have been an issue, because most Londoners probably thought Cleopatra had ordered it made, but these characters were alive in Egypt during Cleopatra’s reign, and so probably would know better. The passage is worded a little ambiguously, and so could mean that it being called Cleopatra’s Needle simply reminded them of when they were born, but when I read it the first time it just felt like an incorrect fact.
I never thought that a combination of Jack the Ripper, paranormal elements, and romance would be so much fun to read. It’s an unusual mix, but works very well all the same. Memorable characters and a nice balance between action, suspense, and emotion kept me turning pages until one thirty in the morning. This book is not only a keeper, it’s one I can tell I’ll keep going back to. I have the next two books in my review stack, so stay tuned for the next volumes in the series!