Let’s start with a confession. As a girl who hasn’t read “Gothic” fiction – or had very little exposure to it, the most prominent name in the genre that comes to mind when calling to mind its singular style are the Bronte sisters. Between the three of them, the genre was proudly represented – albeit often with a tragic outcome. Debuting in the fiction market – and her first novel, this year, Jessica Dotta is bringing a fresh voice to the genre lending a unique perspective and narrative to the young heroine. The story opens with the 17-year-old Julia Elliston arriving at Am Meer, the simple estate is home to Julia’s best friend, Elizabeth and her mother Mrs. Windham who attempts to socially control Julia under the guise of being her “chaperone.” Under the protection of a mysterious “guardian” who is planning to place Julia in a service position in Scotland, Julia make plans of her own in order to rid herself of this faceless stranger but before that can see reality, she is soon caught in the middle of a power struggle she doesn’t understand and becomes a pawn of a woman of the aristocracy – a fragile position that could be her undoing.
During the first fourth of the novel, I have to be honest, I struggled through this. The overview of the book is excellent, it begs a new kind of curiosity and demands attention, yet nothing seemed to go anywhere whereas Julia was a predicament of a character – instead of using the history of Julia’s past to purposely drive the premise, the character seemed never to fully “reveal” herself. Ironically, the first person narrative should facilitate better knowledge of the heroine if no one else, yet Jessica seemed to keep her character’s verbal emotions close, even as her thoughts play across each page – she shifts from sorrow, anger and scared reactions rapidly in those thoughts, but expressing them never verbalizes – it feels like she’s always on the cusp of reacting, but no more. Here is the real – and possibly the only significant failing of the novel, there is a lot of disappointment in repeatedly experiencing Julia’s mute, uninspired reactions. Time and time again, the narrative reads more as if its protagonist were the narrator (sometimes veering off from being “in the present” and suggesting Julia is thinking back on her life instead of living it) rather than a present part of the conversation.
In Jessica’s author note, she recounts her journey to finally publishing this book; it was a story that she branded as “insisting” to be told and really, it’s a grand one. Skillfully written, I was impressed by the period detail and the subtle intrigue – everything we learn is on dubious ground and begs to be questioned. Each subject vacillates between “good” and “evil,” nearly every character is called out by their peers to question their intentions and as a reader, our own trust of these players experiences highs and lows. While reading I wanted to like Julia’s dalliance with Macy – he seemed kind and loving of her in several expressions, then his temper inspires distrust and everything encouraging is torn down. Somewhere between his deceptive charm and tender care of Julia, I wanted to believe there was a good man inside. Considering the end of the book, there are many things to be unresolved and it’ll be grand fun to see what comes next over the spanned trilogy. Readers who enjoy a taste of classic stylized fiction will enjoy this historical tale of intrigue. There was rarely a passage that went by in which I didn’t recognize elements of Jane Austen deftly transitioning into similarities of Gothic Bronte. Jessica cleverly managed this feat – impressively so, any fan of the genre should expect a memorable debut.
Synopsis: The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.
With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.
← Coming Next from Jessica Dotta: Synopsis unavailable, coming Summer 2014
Learn more about Jessica Dotta.
Keep up to date on news from Jessica including learning more about Jessica’s 31 days of giveaways starting August 1st!
Sincere thanks to author Jessica Dotta for providing a complimentary copy of this book.
© Copyright 2011-2013 Dreaming Under the Same Moon / Scribbles, Scripts and Such