While it has been a while since I’ve read a Gothic romance, pressing play on the audiobook for Patty G. Henderson’s Shadows of the Heart made me feel like I never left that world. It’s full of my favorite elements: secret passages; an isolated, ailing, and neglected young wife; stolen kisses and forbidden romance; dark visages hiding darker deeds; a strong and strapping woman astride a steed, hair and mane flying in the face of convention; stodgy dowagers; a duplicitous lady’s maid; dinner parties and masquerade balls; poisonous plants; a cavernous, dank and oppressive castle; and, of course, a heroine of former social standing who must couple her wits with opportunity, while also standing up for those in need and staying true to herself! *Phew! Take a breath.*
The novel unfolds through the eyes of Annalee Stewart, amidst early 1820’s England social conventions and the atmospheric grounds of Blackstone Castle. Our heroine must accept a position as a companion to Lady Lenore Blackstone, the Earl’s wife. At once, Annalee finds the situation strange and disconcerting. If there is a Gothic term for “Spidey sense”, it would aptly describe her feeling of unease as soon as she sets foot on the premises. Lady Lenore does not benefit from medical care and is confined to her quarters by her lady’s maid. Lord Blackstone, for his part, keeps a fair distance between himself and his estate, leaving his wife to the attentions of his mother and sister, Victoria, who becomes a trusted confidante and ally. When he does return, events spiral quickly out of control.
Henderson is a masterful storyteller. She paints a vivid world, full of intrigue and dark corners; brooding servants and duplicitous spouses; and of course, inquisitive heroines and vulnerable dames. I also love Annalee’s romantic pragmatism. Her uncertain financial situation balanced with her love for Lenore feels appropriate to her personality and the time period. The story is also wonderfully paced, essential to maintaining a moody, romantic atmosphere.
Cathy Conneff delivers terrific characterization of the leads and secondary cast members. Her vocal range and pacing plunges listeners into the rolling emotional terrain. Aside from her strong performance as Annalee, there are several strong characterizations that stand-out. As the dour dowager of Blackstone and as Annalee’s godmother (referred to in flashbacks), Conneff’s voice uses a crotchety register and entitled intonations. The ailing Lenore is a blend of delicate eagerness and vivacious affections. And Veronica is pure velvet seduction.
I recommend pairing it with a foggy morning and a strong cup of tea! I think I’ll revisit the story in October so that I can perch atop the bluff and gaze out upon the gray horizon and white-capped waves.
Shadows of the Heart (Gothical Historical Romances #4) by Patty G. Henderson
Narrated by Cathy Conneff
Produced by Audible Studios
Length: 6 hours, 29 minutes
Audiobook version released: March 16, 2017