Leaving England for a tutoring position at breathtaking Wolfram Castle in Germany has been no easy choice for Elizabeth Stanwycke. But the job offers her a chance to slip her tattered reputation – for while she is bold, beautiful and imaginative, she has not always been prudent…
When the carriage conveying her to Wolfram Castle nearly upsets on the frozen road, Elizabeth catches a moonlit vision of a naked young woman fleeing into the forest – pursued by a man on horseback. It is said that werewolves roam these woods – but Elizabeth is a woman of spirit and intelligence, not a child to be frightened by bedtime stories.
What alarms her more is her immediate and powerful attraction to her new employer, Count Nikolas von Wolfram. She knows from experience that a woman gives in to physical impulse at her peril. Elizabeth’s task is to shape the count’s sulky young niece into a suitable bride for an English earl – but with the air outside the castle curdled by wolf howls and on the inside rippling with family tension, she finds herself struggling to impart more discretion than she herself possesses…
This book languished in my TBR pile for more than six months, and I only just read it because I’m currently in a mad gothic-reading frenzy – anything remotely gothic, even with werewolves involved – is fair game. And now, I can’t fathom why I hadn’t read this book sooner, because it is good.
The setting is 1795, at a remote castle in Germany. The tension and suspense start from page 5, while Elizabeth is on her way to Wolfram Castle – she sees a naked woman running into the forbidding forest, being pursued by a horseman – and this is just one of the four major mysteries that swirl in and around the castle. The author handled the secrecies well – plenty of the hints and red herrings - which put me right at the edge of my seat and keep me turning the pages, until the mysteries are unravelled in the end.
The castle’s residents are a mysterious and unusual bunch. The head of the family is Count Nikolas - sexy, remote, burdened and tormented – he comes and goes often in the dead of night. Living with him are his immediate and extended family, friends and servants. Some of them, at one time or another, appear to be galvanized by some sinister motives and one is not quite sure who is to be believed.
There are wolves in the forest surrounding the castle. But what about werewolves? Nikolas’ villagers sure believe in their existence and are set on killing some. Nikolas’ adamant refusal to let them into his forest when the moon is full only adds to their fevered agitation. And this frenzied mob may be the catalyst to expose Nikolas’ most closely-guarded secret.
Nikolas and Elizabeth’s chemistry is clearly sensuous. From the first meeting, one can feel the magnetism that pulls them together. Even when Nikolas is at his most forbidding and aloof, one still feels his yearning for Elizabeth.
Nikolas is a classic gothic hero. Apart from his complimentary physical attributes (you know…tall, dark and handsome), what makes me care for him is his absolute honour in carrying all the burdens, and his care, for his family. His is a weary and tormented, but resolute, soul. He yearns for what he thinks he cannot have, a sacrifice for his commitment to his family. He wrenches my heart.
Elizabeth…beautiful, poor and orphaned, she gladly accepts the offer to tutor Nikolas’ niece. She is a woman ahead of her time – too bold, too inquisitive and not afraid to speak her mind, and to contradict her employer. I have some problems with Elizabeth’s character. Considering that she desperately needs this job to start a new life, she is wilful in her disregard of explicit warnings and instructions. Despite being warned that NOBODY uses Nikolas’ library but himself, she was caught in there twice – late at night, by none other than Nikolas. She also likes her nocturnal wanderings along the dark passages of the castle. And at the slightest sound or disturbance, she is out of her room in a second…again, at night. I am torn between admiring her fierce bravery and wanting to smack some sense and circumspection into her.
As for the werewolves, there are merely hints in the first three-quarters of the book. The whole truth as to whether they actually exist or are just a folklore is only known toward the end.
This paranormal gothic tale is told using the third-person narration, with the point-of-view switching between the hero and heroine. It relies on the mysteries and human relationship tension to drive it forward. The gothic mood and atmosphere, while not strongly evocative, are adequate.
Conclusion: I’ve enjoyed this tale a lot, and think the author has done a marvellous job.
|Sensuality rating||Warm +|