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Book Review: Sea of Secrets by Amanda DeWees


Every one in a great while, you read a book that, in the immortal words of Little Edie Beale, pulverizes you. That book, my friends, is Amanda DeWees’ Sea of Secrets.

I bought Sea of Secrets during one of Smashwords’ sales a few months back, shuttled it off to my Aluratek, and promptly forgot about it. Shame on me, for Sea of Secrets is just what I’ve been wishing for for years now — a return to the true Gothic romances I loved as a teenager.

Gothic romances on the same lines as Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and the Avon and Signets from the 1970s fall in and out of fashion like hemlines. Whereas the Regencies and historicals that I love so well are part of the popular fiction canon, coming out monthly as regular as clockwork, true Gothics  disappear from the landscape for years on end, leaving those of us who love these books scraping the bottom of the used bookstore barrel for a quality vintage Gothic we haven’t already read.

Sea of Secrets is the Gothic I’d been waiting for. Here’s the synopsis, courtesy of Smashwords:

After her brother is killed in the Crimean War, innocent young Oriel Pembroke finds herself alone in the world.

Disowned by the cruel father who has always despised her, she has nowhere to turn until she is taken under the wing of a glamorous relative she never knew: the former Duchess of Ellsworth, who has scandalized society by remarrying soon after her first husband’s death. At the opulent seaside estate of Ellsmere, Oriel thinks she has found a safe haven—but the darkly handsome young duke, Herron, believes otherwise. Haunted by the death of his father, he suspects that Ellsmere is sheltering a murderer.

Even as Oriel falls in love with the duke, she begins to fear that his grief and suspicion are turning to madness. When dangerous accidents start to befall both Herron and Oriel, however, she realizes that someone may be trying to stop them from discovering the truth about the past. And when her father comes back into her life, she learns that he may hold the answer to the most horrifying secret of all…

Now that’s the recipe for a classic Gothic — the only drawback? Sea of Secrets has set such an impossibly high bar, I’m afraid any other new Gothics I find will never be able to meet it!

DeWees employs all the traditional elements of the classic Gothic — first person narration, vast, almost forbidding estate, a dark mystery, a brooding hero, and a heroine in peril — but does so with a literary style that is as accomplished as that of her best-known antecedents: the Brontes and DuMaurier. Anyone who thinks that popular genre fiction (especially romance) is written by talentless hacks need only pick up Sea of Secrets to see how off base that idea is. DeWees has written a book that can proudly sit on a shelf beside the best literary historical fiction of any day.

But DeWees’ highly-literate, historically accurate writing is hardly the only thing to recommend Sea of Secrets. Like any truly successful Gothic, Sea of Secrets is expertly plotted, and DeWees sustains the mystery at the heart of the story throughout most of the book. It’s a testament to DeWees’ talent that she throws out hints to the mystery’s resolution throughout the book, but that most readers will only appreciate them when the mystery is solved.  In most Gothic romances, the romance is less important to the story than the mystery and the sense of danger that permeates the story, and Sea of Secrets acquits itself well in this aspect, too — the love story, such as it is (I don’t want to give too much away!), is incorporated into the book, rather than the focus of the book.

Not to belabor the point, but I cannot recommend Sea of Secrets highly enough. Amanda DeWees’ book has me excited for a genre that I had feared was dead, and I’ll be waiting impatiently for her next book.

Sea of Secrets is available as an e-book at Smashwords (obviously), Barnes and Noble and at Amazon. A print copy is also available at Amazon.

Did you like Sea of Secrets, honeybun? Here are a couple more books like Sea of Secrets:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The Shadow of the Lynx by Victoria Holt

Author: J.E.

Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

17 thoughts on “Book Review: Sea of Secrets by Amanda DeWees

  1. It looks like a good read… the synopsis got my attention… I haven’t been inside a gothic novel for a while… i’m glad i stepped by… 🙂

    • Try it out — it’s absolutely as good as anything I’ve read by Daphne DuMaurier or Mary Stewart. Best gothic I’ve read in ages!

      • I will…. once i find time between my senior year and managing my new released novel… I really want to read a gothic novel, right now i’m indulging the Jack west Jr. series by Matthew Reilly… its like lord of the rings of the modern world

      • Post a link to your new novel, Ahamin – I’m interested. And thanks for the Jack West Jr. recommendation.

  2. Miss Ruby Jones, thank you so much for your kind review. I feel truly honored by your praise! It’s wonderful to find a kindred spirit who shares my love for classic gothic romances. Readers like you make me determined to write more in this neglected genre. Many thanks, again, for your lovely words.

    • @Amanda DeWees: The pleasure was all mine, I assure you! It’s always so exciting for me to discover an author that’s new to me whose work is so accomplished. Even better when that author writes — and loves — an almost forgotten genre like Gothic romance. I hope you write many more of these books!

      Oh, and you can consider me your unofficial PR person now, because I’m spreading the word all over the interwebs about “Sea of Secrets!”

      • I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather have as my PR person, official or un-! It is wonderful to know that my book has struck such a chord with a true lover of gothics. I definitely intend to write another gothic romance; the one I started after SoS sadly fell apart at the seams, so now I’m adapting that plot for another genre, but I do want to return to my shadowy, cobweb-festooned roots. It’s a wonderful incentive to know I have readers who will cheer me on!

      • Shadowy AND cobweb-festooned? I can hardly wait! And I will definitely be cheering you on.

        And now I have a great idea, since I can’t do enough to promote your wonderful book — how about an author interview? Great promotion 😉

  3. I would be delighted to do an interview! What a lovely suggestion. Just holler (I do have some Southern gothic in my veins) and I’ll be there.

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