A sinister illusionist wants Alice... and he won't take no for an answer.
Alice's life has always been ordinary. But when her new job comes complete with strange noises, creepy legends, a sexy amateur magician, and an enticingly wicked ghost, all that changes.
Of course, Alice doesn’t actually believe in ghosts, but what she encounters at the Strande Mansion has her questioning a lot of things—including whether or not her gorgeous new boss is as skilled in the bedroom as he is at illusions.
Julian Strande may have died a century ago, but that doesn’t stop him from taking a keen interest in the new caretaker of his estate. It’s been such a long time since he’s had anyone to play with. And he plans to have a great deal of fun with Alice. That is, if he doesn’t decide to kill her first…
The Main Characters.
Alice Monroe is a fairly standard down-and-out heroine, but she's got a handful of unique qualities that I enjoyed in particular. First off, she's a musician and a bit of a theatre tech; Alice gets to use these skills during her new job, and it's cool to see her repairing old-school animatronics. The author clearly knows her stuff on this point, and it's a neat sort of glimpse behind the curtain. Secondly, Alice is tattooed—and while I know that doesn't sound like much, it's extremely rare that I get to see a heroine with tats. There's a real feeling that you or I could be Alice—not because she's a blank slate, but because she's a fairly fleshed-out, totally normal woman. I particularly liked that about her.
Charles Mensonge (hah! for the francophones among us), Alice's love interest, is a real draw in a lot of ways. He's witty, charming, and lovable, with a dark edge that only really comes out as the two-book series progresses. He's also got a hint of unselfconscious kitsch to him, which I loved. Throughout both books, I was constantly tickled by the over-the-top stage magician demeanor.
The Big Keyword: Dark Romance.
A word of warning: first off, there are two books, and you should expect to read them together. I felt they might have worked better as a single book, but I can still see why the author might have decided to split them up. Either way, you should plan to just buy both and read them as though they're one book.
Secondly, this is dark, dark, actually dark romance.
I don't normally read dark romance. The real world is pretty grim already, so I tend to prefer stories that show off the best in people. That said, I loved the concept behind this one, so I decided to give it a whirl anyway. I really did enjoy it a ton, but I'll admit that the love interest here is an actual honest-to-god villain, and he is not redeemed by the end, or anything. That's right. He kills innocent people, terrorizes the heroine more than a little bit, and winds everything up with another giant bit of villainy at the end. He's not a good person, and while you might convince yourself that he's relatively harmless around the beginning of book two, he's not.
In short, this is an excellent example of the genre, and I'd recommend it for anyone who actively enjoys dark romance. Even if you don't enjoy dark romance, like me, you'll probably get a kick out of it. I ended the whole thing feeling like the Last Girl in a haunted house horror movie ended up going off into the sunset with the monster. It was a kind of refreshing switcheroo of my usual expectations in that respect.
The Big Misunderstanding.
There's not really a misunderstanding here, so much as a major, intentionally-crafted deception. The villain is a villain. He lays a trap for the heroine, and she walks straight into it. I already knew the plot twist going into the first book, but I hear a lot of people get surprised by it—either way, it was a good plot twist, and I enjoyed the hints even more because I knew it was coming ahead of time.
Fie, You Villain!
In this case, the villain was also the love interest. It worked very well for the setup, and he was a compelling character. I do feel that some of his background and motivations came out too quickly near the end of book two—I would have preferred to see more hints about this stuff in book one, so that they didn't come as quite so much of a surprise—but the background-dump at the end didn't really bother me too much. He was still a great villain, full of humor and suave style.
And he loves cats. So I can totally forgive him for all of the murdering and stuff.
The sex scenes are very spicy in these two books. There's plenty of normal sex to go around, but also ghost sex, which—if you go into this not expecting ghost sex, you are reading the wrong books. The author plays around with the possibilities, and explores them pretty fully by the end of book two.
Laugh Out Loud.
I genuinely enjoyed the banter in these books. There were a lot of pithy lines that made me laugh or grin. It's hard to really dislike a villain who's so witty, which is obviously part of the point.
Normal girl in a haunted house horror movie ends up dating the monster. Seriously, what's not to enjoy? I can't say I'll go out of my way to read tons of dark romance, but this particular author has thoroughly sold me on her imaginative style.
Why It's On the Bookshelf.
I read both books in this series, one after the other. It's a trick to get me to click on a dark romance, let alone read one straight through like this. I think I have to be in a particular mood for these, but it's probably safe to say that I'll pick up at least a few more of Kathryn Ann Kingsley's books.