Meh. Make that MEH.
Maybe it's because Outlander
's Jamie Fraser has spoiled me for all other virgin heroes. Or maybe it's because this is a book with a cool premise that just doesn't deliver.
So...by day the hero of Thief of Shadows
is Winter Makepeace, a stoic (read, stick up his arse) headmaster at a school for orphans. By night, he casts aside his uptight persona and becomes The Ghost of St. Giles, a kind of Victorian vigilante. Who, coincidentally, also has a stick up his ass.
The heroine, Isabel Beckinhall, is no masked avenger, but instead some nobleman's widow. One evening, while returning from a social engagement, her carriage almost runs over a corpse in the road. The corpse, however, still has a heartbeat, and turns out to be none other than the infamous Ghost of St. Giles, all decked out in his Harley Quinn-style motley. Well, except without Harley's requisite comic book girl sexy. That's what this book needed: more delicious Harley Quinn and Joker dynamic. Yes, a digression, because I'm as bored writing this review as I was reading the book.
The first few pages did capture my attention, with what seems to be a dry-witted heroine who isn't afraid to do something crazy. I.e., pick up a known criminal, saving him from a mob, and take him home to tend his injuries. The tending part includes undressing him and getting a good look at his man junk. Winter, however, somehow manages to keep Isabel from unmasking his face -- uh, how con-veee-neint -- and slips away before dawn.
Winter hasn't seen the last of Isabel because she's part of a hoity-toity ladies' committee on educating orphans, with their focus on Winter's school. Some of the other lords and ladies, finding Winter's manners crude and boorish, have decided to sack him, and replace him with someone more gentile. It's up to Isabel to go all My Fair Lady on his drab, glum ass and turn him into a proper gentleman.
Meanwhile...a dastardly villain is stealing London's orphans and enslaving them in a Victorian sweatshop. Winter, as the Ghost of St. Giles, has to rearrange his schedule to allow for: caring for the children in his school; being tutored in the finer points of gentlemanly arts by Isabel; attending social functions and kissing London's snootiest asses; and playing caped crusader.
The premise sounds great. What went wrong?
The hero and heroine is what. The problem with writing a dour, uptight character is that those characteristics don't exactly add up to "interesting," or anyone worth spending 250 pages with. I mean, Winter is a guy who's convinced himself that getting some tail will make it impossible to fulfill his sacred mission to the children. Seriously, dude? I mean, how long will a little something-something take? Five minutes?
His driving passion, if you can call it that, is rescuing London's homeless and orphaned children. But his approach to the whole matter is utterly joyless. This, I guess is the point, and a part of his character arc. He learns to loosen up, have some fun, and enjoy life, including the children, thanks to Isabel. Blah-blah-blah-the-power-of-a-woman's-love. Ugh.
I appreciate that Isabel is a sexually confident, uninhibited woman (the kind who'll give a masked man a BJ in a closet), but there isn't much to her beyond the bedroom. Her primary angst has to do with her inability to carry a child to term, but it's screamingly obvious how that problem will be resolved.
The result is a story that could be called Dull People Falling into Even Duller Love in Pretty Period Costumes.
Going with two stars instead of the default pity-fuck three, because this thing has enough five star reviews to offset my rating.