skygiants: Nellie Bly walking a tightrope among the stars (bravely trotted)
[personal profile] skygiants
Despite its incredibly bland title, Into the Darkness turned out to be one of the most interesting Barbara Michaels gothics I've yet read.

This is one of the ones where Barbara Michaels decides to break the "girl meets house" mold and go instead with "girl meets career." Our Heroine Meg Venturi, called back to her hometown for her grandfather's funeral, finds that he's left her half of the family jewelry business; the other half has (of course) been left to his dark and brooding protege, whom half the town is convinced murdered Meg's grandfather and the other half the town thinks was probably just blackmailing him.

Obviously, this is Bachelor A. Bachelor B is Meg's annoying fake cousin (there's always a cousin in there somewhere), Bachelor C is the boring lawyer who keeps trying to mansplain Meg's inheritance to her, and Bachelor D is the married businessman that Meg has been having an affair with but who rapidly becomes irrelevant to the plot.

Meanwhile, Meg's grandmother keeps cheerfully sharing conversations that she had overnight with the ghost of Meg's dead grandfather, the housekeeper will not stop pretending to be Mrs. Danvers, someone keeps mailing threatening antique jewelry to the house, there's another pile of probably-stolen and certainly-priceless antique jewelry hidden in the back of Meg's closet, and every so often there will be a murder attempt. Throughout it all, Meg comes to two realizations: a.) she really, genuinely loves the jewelry business and b.) she is really, genuinely sick of Various Bachelors treating her like a Gothic ingenue.

The Real Love Interest turns out to be the Real Love Interest; of course he is not actually a murderer, just a socially awkward undiscovered goldsmithing genius! (With a limp, PTSD, and a tragic backstory courtesy of Vietnam.) Meg's sheer professional avarice at the thrilling notion of getting to MOLD AND MENTOR A BRAND NEW TALENT thus becomes her driving force for the rest of the book, which is honestly a motivation I respect.

This romance probably works the best for me of any I've encountered in Barbara Michaels' other books -- partly just because she commits to it more than usual. But also, while the initial setup makes it initial appear as if Riley were a standard sinister Gothic hero, the power dynamics of the relationship are in fact almost completely reversed; if this book were a kdrama, Meg would absolutely be the charmingly rude, over-persistent chaebol heir to Riley's prickly-but-talented impoverished ingenue. (Meg also gets to rescue Riley from peril multiple times and shoot the bad guy in the climactic finale.)

My only qualm about this dynamic, which otherwise pleases me almost entirely, is that Riley is half Native American -- revealed in a throwaway line, otherwise completely irrelevant to his character or the plot -- annnnd Meg's whole "I CAN MOLD HIS UNDISCOVERED GENIUS" thing does make me a little uncomfortable when viewed through that lens. Like, I have to wonder if Meg would get to be so unambiguously The Hero if Riley were white.

However, that aside, I really do enjoy almost everything else about this book, from the probably-existent ghost to the melodramatic housekeeper to the fact that Annoying Cousin Bachelor B, shockingly, turns out to be neither a love interest NOR evil! Despite the number of times Meg thinks irritably about his stupid sexy face, it turns out he was just an obnoxious older brother figure all along! And that's charming.
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