The Dark Lady (Mad Passions, #1) - Maire Claremont I've been waiting so long for an HR that opens in an asylum (because I'm creepy), and The Dark Lady sort of / kind of attempts to make my dreams come true. It doesn't fail outright, but it does lose most of its balls in the middle.

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He's sad because he lost his balls, too.

My obsession with somehow fitting an asylum-bound woman into a romance novel started in college when I was really high on my kick as a newly energized feminist. I was all, "OMG, they locked women in asylums just for being assertive or having sex outside marriage. WTF?" So I tried to write my own historical romance about a young woman thrown in an asylum, and ... well, I never finished it. Because it sucked. I'm actually grateful that my husband managed to destroy my college computer with a virus so the unfinished story can't come back to haunt me someday. Therefore, kudos to YOU, Maire Claremont, for beating me at everything.

The Story
Lord Ian Blake returns from battle in India, a broken man from all the killing and the death of his best friend, intending to make amends for his mistakes. His first priority is Lady Eva Carin, the woman he's always loved and the widow of the conveniently dead best friend. Ian is mortified to learn that Eva's brother-in-law had her committed to an asylum in the middle of nowhere. The asylum, of course, turns out to be no better than a shack of horrors for wealthy guys to send their daughters and wives when the woman stop being convenient to them. Now Ian has to prove that Eva, who apparently lost her bananas over the deaths of her husband and their infant child, isn't really crazy. However, laudanum-addicted Eva makes proving her sanity very, VERY difficult. Also, they have to fit in sex somewhere, because OBVIOUSLY.

The opening is very good, kind of gothic and creepy. Claremont does a wonderful job of setting the scene in the asylum, and she doesn't hesitate to GO THERE where other authors would back off. Rape, beatings, murder, madness - she covers them all. I'm personally not a fan of the melodramatic prose used in The Dark Lady, but the story caught my attention. I had so much fun reading the parts where Ian attempts to make Eva quit laudanum cold turkey, and her reaction is basically this:

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But then the balls, you guys, they went away!

It was only a matter of time, I suppose. Claremont had to make Eva "sane" again, but in doing so, she negated all the madness from before. A story about a woman driven batty by tragedy and the inhumanities of a Victorian asylum unfortunately transforms into every other romance story you read about lost love and regret. Ian does so much navel-gazing in this book that I'm fairly confident he loves his belly button more than Eva. I would have liked Ian so much better if he didn't whine all the time. His big, bad, dark secret is actually legit, though. Do NOT read within the spoiler tags if you plan to read the book. Don't do it. No, I'm serious, stop looking. Ian basically let some men KILL his best friend/Eva's husband in India. Granted, the guy was a huge dick, but most heroes have more mercy than that. I'm not saying that Ian's a cold-blooded murderer or anything, but maybe his remaining friends should watch out if they're walking with Ian when a speeding curricle comes by. That's all I'm saying.

The romance is promising in the beginning but turns stale very fast. I tend to like stories that feature a couple with a past. Years of longing can build some monstrous sexual tension. Unfortunately, Ian and Eva are too tortured as individuals to make me care about their romance. Too much thinking about sad things and not enough learning to love each other in the moment. This isn't helped when Claremont basically fast-forwards through Eva's recovery. How, exactly, does she beat laudanum? We'll never know!

Did I mention that the prose is too laborious for my taste? Here's the first line, and the rest of the story follows in this same depressing web of angst:

The road stretched on like a line of corrupting filth in the pristine snow.

You know you're in for a case of teh feelz when a road is given such a sinister description.

And here's a sampling of Ian wallowing in his feelz:

How he wished he could agree with her, that they might find acceptance. It would be so easy to lie. To open his mouth and ease her with platitudes.

He couldn't do it.

She didn't understand him. She couldn't.

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Get this guy a puppy or something.

3-stars for the concept, the functioning grammar, and the excellent beginning.