1236 Sidekicks
352 Superheroes

The Quilty Reader

Lawyer, mother, avid reader. Game host extraordinaire! Partner in crime to Obsidian Black Plague! My bookish weaknesses include classics, fantasy, YA, and agreeing to read more books than is even remotely possible.

Black Amber by Phyllis Whitney

Black amber - Phyllis A. Whitney

MBD reminded me in a comment to a different review that I wanted to provide a warning on this book: animal abuse is a plot point, and it is disturbing. Avoid if that is a deal breaker for you.


These backlist gothic romances are so much fun for me to read. The plots are a bit formulaic, and they do show their age a bit. Even the "contemporaries" are more or less "historicals" at this point, being set in the 1960's and 1970's. It's interesting to watch the roles for the heroines evolving into the proverbial "career girl," which is very much a novelty of that era.


After all, this isn't really a phrase you see anymore: career girl/career woman. At least not used by anyone under the age of about 70. Everyone, pretty much, works. Work is the default. Not work is the exception. Even people - male or female - who marry and stop being employed in favor of contributing their labor to their household for free "work" prior to having a baby. The parent-to-husband pipeline has largely been disrupted with a decade or so of work between high school graduation and the birth of a first child (in Europe & North America, at least).


So, it's interesting and a bit fun to see the main female characters in these books challenging stereotypes of the time by having jobs, even if they do seem to be mostly marking time until marriage. 


When I selected the first of the Open Road re-issues of Whitney's backlist, I went, first, for the one set in England (Hunter's Green). These are the quintessential gothics to me, probably based on my affection for Jane Eyre and Mistress of Mellyn. I picked this as a back up because of the exotic setting in Istanbul, Turkey. I believe that I may have read this one many years ago, because bits of it felt very familiar to me.


To my surprise, I preferred this one to Hunter's Green. I both preferred the heroine, Tracy, and the gorgeous location. Whitney, like Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels and another old favorite who wrote spy fic, Helen MacInnes, has a way with settings.


If I have an overall complaint with these old gothics, it is the unconvincing nature of the romance, especially in comparison to modern romance writers who do a much better job of creating chemistry between their characters. Generally, the old school gothic romance ends abruptly with the hero confessing his love for the heroine in a masterful fashion that would, IRL, likely get him slapped and then served with a restraining order.


I've figured out, though, that I really don't read these books for the romance. I read them to see the heroine navigating a situation of danger, and for those moments when she shows true resourcefulness, and for how the settings interact with the heroine and the danger. I also freaking adore those old covers, even if my edition rarely has the best of the early covers. The romance is secondary, so when it actually works (as in Watch The Wall, My Darling), it's extra delightful.