Sunday, January 25, 2009

Book Review: Blackness Tower, by Lillian Stewart Carl

Lauren Reay had come to the end of the world. Across the sea she glimpsed the blue-tinted hills of the next. White gulls called. The wind and the waves whispered, The water is wide, I can’t cross o’er... Rational thought swam up from the depths of her mind, informing her she had only come to the northern end of Britain, and now stood on the coast of Scotland looking across to Orkney. Only? She was here at last. She seemed to be standing outside her own body. And yet she was very much in her body, hyperventilating with the excitement, with the jet-lag, with the fear of what would happen now. She should have followed the advice of her distant cousin and native guide, Emily, and waited until tomorrow to finish her journey. But Lauren could never have made Emily understand why she couldn’t wait another minute, let alone another day. Why coming here wasn’t finishing her journey at all. This day was still, the sun warm, the air moist, and a dark haze like a deep blue shadow hung low over the sea, so the smooth peaks of the islands seemed to be suspended in midair, unsupported as a dream. In her dream, Lauren had never smelled this north wind, scoured clean by salt and ice and yet, on this August afternoon, no more than a sigh against her cheek, soft as a lover’s caress. And perhaps as false. -Excerpt from Blackness Tower, by Lillian Stewart Carl Lauren Reay is a young woman from the United States who travels to Scotland to find the answers to family mysteries, and what those mysteries have to do with her constant dreams. At her family's ancient home, Blackness Tower, Lauren encounters Ewan Calder, an archaeologist searching for proof that a Spanish galleon wrecked nearby, Magnus Anderson, a television personality searching for proof of the paranormal, and David Sutherland, the current owner of Blackness Tower with his own personal demons to deal with. Lillian Stewart Carl combines historical mystery with the supernatural in this novel about unlocking the past in order to move into the future. Unfortunately, it fails utterly at being an intriguing read. Carl's intentions are difficult to surmise for the first hundred pages. The overuse of cliche is reminiscent of cheesy romance novels but the little romance you do encounter is devoid of passion. By the end of the first chapter you're overwhelmed by the flowery language, including the tendency of nearly every character to quote Shakespeare at the drop of a hat. Frankly, I didn't want to keep reading. The historical data is interesting, but so watered down by an insistence on the supernatural (rather than a subtle blending of such) that any facts are relegated to a questionable status. I usually enjoy historical fictions (Catherine Neville's The Eight is still in my top ten all time favorites), but Blackness Tower is a long, somewhat boring study of the past that fails to inspire. Meanwhile, the characters don't give enough to make you want to slog through the minutiae of history. As I mentioned earlier, the romance lacks passion but this is largely because the characters lack personality. Ewan Calder is probably the most authentic, his only goal is a detailed examination of the archaeological bonanza around Blackness Tower. Carl tries to set up some tension between him and all the other paranormal loving characters, and the possibility of romantic tension between Calder and Lauren - but neither tension has much ground to stand on. Magnus Anderson should have been a simple side character, but he too becomes conflict creating fodder for Carl's oh so convenient story-line. Finally, David Sutherland with the dark past is a weakly established ex-soldier suffering from nothing so much as guilt. Boo-hoo. Meanwhile, the heroine, Lauren Reay, is such a trite, insecure, and untrusting figure that you end up rooting for her failure in all things romantical and supernatural. These are not the type of characters that one should base a book on. They're weak at best, formulaic at the worst - but never, ever do you give a damn about their success. One of these days, I swear I'll be able to review a good book - but for now Blackness Tower is best left relegated to the 'do not read' pile.


James Swezey said...

A rather interesting review of the book. When you mentioned the romance in Carl's book I found that when I wrote my first book that it was best to not have any overt romance present with the characters, rather only having subtle hints of what might come in the next book. Otherwise it can become cheesy if it is rushed and not able to grow naturally like love on average in reality does. I also did my best to avoid cliches as they too can become quite nauseating after a while. Perhaps she will be able to come out with a better book next time, with less cliches and cheesy romance.

LoopdiLou said...

I have no problem with over the top romance as long as it admits its over the top and cliche. You can't have your cake and eat it too with romance. Either you're subtle and natural or over the top and cliche. Carl somehow managed to be understated but cliche - highly contrived and just plain annoying.