I finished Deanna Raybourn's newest, Silent on the Moor, last weekend. I started it Friday, then literally sat in my favorite chair all Saturday afternoon and evening devouring it, with occasional interuptions when JB would walk through the living room and comment, "That must be a good book."
And it was.
I hate writing plot descriptions, even of books that are awesome, so here's Amazon's description (edited a bit to remove a misplaced modifier--c'mon, Amazon--and for clarity): "Lady Julia arrives at Grimsgrave Hall in Yorkshire to find Nicholas Brisbane as remote and maddeningly attractive as ever. Cloistered together, they share the moldering house with the proud but impoverished remnants of an ancient family—the sort that keeps their bloodline pure and their secrets close. Lady Allenby and her daughters, dependent upon Brisbane and devastated by their fall in society, seem adrift on the moor winds, powerless to change their fortunes. A mystery unfolds from the rotten heart of Grimsgrave, one Lady Julia may have to solve alone, as Brisbane appears inextricably tangled in its heinous twists and turns. Before spring touches the craggy northern landscape, Lady Julia will have uncovered a Gypsy witch, a dark rider and a long-buried legacy of malevolence and evil."
Malevolence and evil? Sign me up! This book is heavily atmospheric and moody, but never, ever gets bogged down or depressing. It's got more than a whiff of Wuthering Heights, which = AWESOME.
Grimsgrave is as creepy as its name, a mouldering, dilapidated mansion on the windswept moors. It's so well conceived, it's practically another character.
Lady Julia is feisty as ever: it's impossible not to cheer for her. What I like is that she's a real woman who knows her own mind; there's no wimpy, too-innocent ingenue stuff, like "oh I'm so silly I had no idea that wandering in a creepy house at night would be scary!" She's likable and relatable; practical when she needs to be but also imaginative and, like any good heroine, intensely curious. Nicholas Brisbane (her love interest) is brooding and flawed and captivating. You know he's a good man, deep down, but you also know he could probably kill someone with his bare hands, and might actually do it.
The great thing about the Lady Julia novels, especially this one, is that each mystery has lots of layers. There's never just one thing you want to find out. Lady Allenby and daughters are creepy and obviously hiding secrets. But so is Brisbane, and his secrets may or may not be the same, since the last book left us with even more questions about his identity.
There's also a smidge of feminism, in that Raybourn really makes you think about the situations of the various women in the novel, from Julia, to her sister, to the Allenby women, the female servants, and even the gypsy woman. They're all bound by their places in society, and even though most of them don't whine about it, you do end up thinking about how much harder it must have been for them, and how much that colors the decisions they make--good and bad.
Throw in some Egyptology, mysterious tolling bells in the creepy bog on the moor, gypsies, the talking raven (!), a secret panel, poisoning, disgruntled townsfolk, Julia's family troubles, some seriously crazy people and a smash-bang ending and you've got yourself a stay-up-at-night page-turner.
Highly, highly recommended. Lots of suspense, romance, danger and mystery. One caveat: Silent on the Moor is a sequel, so if you haven't read the first book, Silent in the Grave and the second book, Silent in the Sanctuary, definitely check those out first. Brisbane will make much more sense this way. And believe me, you'll want to understand every inch of him.