A new Anne Stuart book, even a re-issue, is always cause for celebration for me. Anne Stuart is one of the authors who inducted me into romance, so to speak, and years later, she’s still one of my favorite authors.
So when I got a chance to review the ebook re-issue of Shadow Lover courtesy of NetGalley, I couldn’t wait to dig in. Here’s the synopsis, courtesy of Amazon:
Victim. Lover. Both? His dark game is seducing her– just as it was when they were young.
How can he still have that power over her? Eighteen years ago, she saw him die.
Wealthy, selfish, and greedy, the McDowell family raised Carolyn McDowell–a foster child–like a modern Cinderella. Neglected and ignored, good-hearted Carolyn adored scion Alexander despite it all, though even he tormented her.
When Alex ran away one night, Carolyn followed and witnessed his murder, though she never told anyone. Her beloved Alex died when he was seventeen. There was no doubt.
Eighteen years later, Carolyn returns to the decadent milieu of the McDowell clan to care for her dying foster mother, Sally. As greedy relatives gather to claim their inheritances, a stunning stranger arrives, claiming to be Alexander. To Carolyn’s utter shock, Sally greets her “son” without question, and no one but Carolyn believes he’s a fraud.
As she delves into the mysteries of both the past and present, Carolyn quickly realizes that the resurrected Alex is a dangerous combination of seduction and power. Is this stranger after the McDowell fortune, or is he really, somehow, the Alex of old, come back to claim her? How can he be an imposter and yet know family secrets only the real Alex would remember? Was someone helping him?
What would you do if the boy you loved returned almost twenty years later, and you fell in love with him all over again–even if you were sure it couldn’t be him?
Caution: Spoilers Ahead
Maybe recognizing the premise of this book as so similar to The Ivy Tree set the bar impossibly high, but somehow Shadow Lover just fell flat for me.
As with The Ivy Tree, I figured out the secret to Alex’s identity fairly early on, but that in no way detracted from the mystery of the book. The bigger mystery, you see, is just who Alex and Carolyn are, anyway, because neither are exactly what or who they seem.
That mystery should have been the crux of the book, but Stuart instead dispenses with those mysteries about two-thirds through the book. The mystery of Alex and Carolyn’s identities should have formed the basis for both their motivations and the motivation of the villains, but instead, we have a muddle of unclear or confused motives and a denouement that is unsatisfying at best.
Stuart can usually redeem even a hackneyed plot with her characters, but that doesn’t happen with Shadow Lover. She’s known more for her heroes than for her heroines, but Carolyn was unmemorable to the point of being a non-entity — I just couldn’t get a grasp on her at all. She comes off as either dumb as a box of rocks or just bland at best, and the bombshell that’s dropped about her identity seemed less important to her than lusting after Alex and hating herself for it.
Speaking of Alex, in Stuart’s rogues gallery of mad, bad and dangerous to know anti-heroes, Alex is near the bottom. He’s not as dull as Carolyn, but his actions make little to no sense half the time. When he’s told about a major secret in his own past, he shrugs it off or conveniently uses it to move the plot along, depending upon his mood.
There was still time to save this book, however. I kept thinking of Now You See Him, another of Stuart’s books, and how that book, featuring a similarly bland heroine and another (much, much better) mysterious hero was redeemed by the interactions between the two. Francy was a bit of a bore, and Michael was, by virtue of the book’s plot, hard to get a handle on, but sparks flew in their love scenes or even when they spoke on the phone. I kept waiting for that to happen with Alex and Carolyn, to no avail. They had zero chemistry together.
And finally, the book’s biggest problem is the villain, or, more succinctly, lack thereof. The villain’s actions are never explained well enough for you to believe why he/she would go to such lengths. He/she simply didn’t have enough to lose to take the risks, and didn’t gain enough, either. Puzzling that Stuart chose this particular villain, because creating a believable villain within the framework of this story would have been so, so easy.
Shadow Lover gets 2 strange phone calls out of five. Truthfully, it only gets two because it’s ANNE STUART, and I cannot bear to knock it down to one.
I find it hard to believe that I have just written a bad review of an Anne Stuart book. Here’s hoping I never, ever have to do that again.
Onyx, 1999 / Belle Bridge Books 2013 (ebook)
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