Book Review: The Shadows of Stormclyffe Hall by Lauren Smith

“Evil leaves its mark on a place. Burns itself in the stones so deep that only something truly pure and good can get it out.”

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I love a good Gothic Romance – the combo of old (possibly haunted) houses, heroines with guts and heroes with secrets – not to mention a mystery and possibly an age-old evil, are enough to always pique my interest. And make no mistake – a good Gothic Romance has all of these things, in some sort of combination.

In this case, we have an old estate on a cliffside, marred with stories of ghosts and happenings and an evil. We have a town that grew up in the shadows of these tragic stories that acts like a thorn, cut deep into the flank of the family who owns the estate, and we have an evil that only flits in and out of view long enough for you to know it’s there,but not long enough for you to discover it until its ready. Added to that you have a plucky American heroine who travels to England for school and her own strange dreams, and a secretive hero who is desperately trying to make up for his family’s tragic past.

Review after the jump!

Synopsis:

 To defeat a dark evil, they must face his family’s past…

Bastian Carlisle, the Earl of Weymouth, doesn’t believe in ghosts. Even though tragedy and mysterious hauntings have driven his family away from his ancestral home, Stormclyffe Hall, he is determined to restore the castle to its former glory. His plans are disrupted when a stubborn American shows up on his doorstep hoping to pry into his family’s tragic history. 

Jane Seyton, an American graduate student, is convinced there’s more to the tragedy of Stormclyffe Hall than history claims. Ever the scholar, she is determined to discover the truth, even if it means putting up with the arrogant, yet sexy, Bastian.

Although Bastian wants nothing to do with the pushy American, it soon becomes clear that something evil is in the house—and that something is targeting both Jane and Bastian. The two must join forces to purge the ghosts of Stormclyffe Hall once and for all—even as they try to fight a physical attraction between them that grows more and more impossible to deny

We are thrown right into the thick of it as we open the book: we’re in England, two hundred years ago and all is not right with the world of Richard, Earl of Weymouth. He’s been rudely awakened in the dead of night and his new bride is nowhere to be found. As he searches for her, his search becoming more frantic, he sees the ones thing that makes his blood run cold: the silhouette of his wife on the cliffs that surround their home. And then, in an instant, a lightning bolt lights up the sky and she has disappeared from view and into the hungry waves below. 

Like I said, we start with a bang: we’re thust into the middle of the action, even though it is the foundation of the story. We’re thrown back to 1811 for a brief second, flies on the wall to the very tragedy that sets the tone for the rest of the book: the mysterious death of Isabelle, the new wife of the Earl of Weymouth, her newborn baby and her husband asleep as she disappears from them. 

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And then just as suddenly, we’re brought back to present day and the ambitions of Jane Seyton – an American graduate student whose troubling dreams about Stormclyffe Hall have brought her to this little coastal village in order to research the Hall and its mysteries for her dissertation. Jane has recieved quasi-permission from the current Earl – one Bastian Carlisle – to look through his family’s archives … at some point. Jane, with deadlines looming over her head and dreams becoming more and more powerful, takes him up on his half-hearted offer and arrives at Stormclyffe Hall – and the first thing she sees is not family papers:

The hairs rose on the back of her neck. The eerie sensation of eyes fixed on her back sent a cold wave of apprehension over her skin. She whipped around to look at the desserted landscape, suddenly fighting off a rush of panic at being alone out here. 

Her heartbeat froze for a brief moment. A woman in a long white nightgown, hair loose down to her waist, stood hesitantly on the cliff’s edge, half turned towards the sea. She stared at Jane. Her skin was grayish, and her eyes were shadowed with black circles as though she hadn’t slept in years. Something wasn’t right about the way she looked …

… The skies above darkened to a black thunderous storm pm the verge of breaking. Before she could get any closer, black roots burst forth from the rocks below the woman;s slippered feet, winding up her calves and digging into her skin like thorns. 

And, like a good heroine Jane doesn’t run screaming from the house – Jane just becomes more steadfast in her resolution to solve whatever is going bump in the night, a part of her convinced that this is what she’s meant to do. Of course, that means butting heads with the alpha male in charge, namely Bastian – who isn’t exactly keen on a foreigner traipsing through his ancestral home, digging up secrets that ought to stay buried and dragging him through the sexual ringer to boot. 

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Their first meeting does not go smoothly – in fact, it ends with a ferocious kiss that pummels through them both in a strange way, neither of them really sure what happened to them, both pretty sure something mystical took over, but no one actually believing it. This sets the pace for their interactions: the rest of the book is tightly paced, very quick and spotted with hot encounters that bookmark the strange happenings around Stormclyffe. 

I won’t spoil the book for you – suffice it to say, the past becomes very real for our heroes as they battle – not only to save Stormclyffe and Bastian’s family legacy, but as they realize they need to save one another, that the only peace they will know is with each other.

The book has great rapid-fire dialogue between Bastian and Jane, coupled with these overtly creepy passages that describe the house, the grounds and the weird cold spots and moments of oddness that both of them experience.

The tone for this book is perfect – Every so often there’s a flicker of true evil that you get from something in the lines you’re reading – the way Jane shivers, an eye glance from a stranger, the words thrown about and cool weather. It’s what a Gothic romance should be, with the stakes being high, but the height generally unknown until all the cards are on the table and there is no turning back. The setting evokes the scenes on the covers of Victoria Holt books – old castle, cliffs, and storms. It’s the perfect setting for something mystical and possibly evil to be lurking about.

I would highly recommend this book on those dark (stormy!) nights where all you want to do is curl up on the couch with a blanket, a book and a cup of tea. It’s the perfect blend of romance and gothic, with just enough twists and turns to keep you hopping along with the characters, rushing to solve their mystery before they do.

It’s out today, so go grab your copy on Amazon and dig in!

And for those who love those illustrated word blurbs – head over to Lauren Smith’s website for the rest! 

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