Title :The Shadow Hour
Writer: Kate Riordan
Publishing House: Penguin Random House
Publication Date: February 25th 2016
Kate Riordan’s first novel, “The Girl in the Photograph”, was one of the most atmospheric reads of last year. It contained everything we have come to associate worth the good, old British Gothic Fiction. An old mansion, dual time narration, a governess that finds herself in front of dark family secrets and a touch of the Creepy and, possibly, the Paranormal. In “The Shadow Hour”, Riordan repeats herself and this is more than obvious. However, there is absolutely no Gothic element, unless we count the same old “governess holding a candlestick and wandering in a dark corridor after hearing a strange noise” as Gothic. Yes, not! What I found was a predictable plot, with too many coincidences and resolutions that were too “safe” to satisfy me as a reader.
The narration is divided between two governesses, Grace and Harriet, her grandmother. Harriet has her own agenda and sends Grace to Fenix house that sealed her own future years ago. Harriet is equipped with a moderately interesting story line, unlike Grace who is a walking doormat with a snooze fest for a story. To tell you the truth, I’d far prefer it if the three young ones (Helen, Victoria and Lucas) were the narrators. They were so much more interesting than the two women whose voice is meek, repetitive and, in my opinion, frightfully boring at most times. There is no spirit in them, they only swoon over their employers, blushing and practically shoving themselves on them. It was a bit pathetic, actually….
What rescues the novel from the lowest of the low is Riordan’s ability to create anticipation and atmosphere through well-written descriptions. The interactions, however, left a lot to be desired. Naturally, the language of the 1880s and the 1920s was stylized and formal, but this doesn’t mean that it has to be flat and melodramatic. The story was so predictable and so loaded with clichés that I found my mind wandering to a millions other things as I was reading. When you are in the Tube and you catch yourself l gazing absent mindedly out of the window into the fast-moving darkness, there is definitely something wrong with the book in your hands.
Perhaps, readers who have a bit more tolerance with family dramas and romance may enjoy this. I’m not an admirer or these tropes. I want some form of meaning in the books I read, I want female characters that don’t define themselves by blushing for a man. I want well-written dialogue and when a book is advertised as “Gothic”, I want it to be…well, Gothic. Romance and forced tear-jerkers are not good for my headless (apparently) soul. I didn’t grant one star out of respect for Riordan’s first novel, but I admit I will think twice before I choose another work of hers. And, frankly, the clichéd doomed love affair between a governess and the “master of the house” has to seize. There can only be one “Jane Eyre”, there can only be one Charlotte Bronte…