Sunday, March 13, 2011

Book Review: A Darker Dream, by Amanda Ashley

A Darker Dream
Author: Amanda Ashley
Mass Market Paperback
400 pages
Published by Love Spell, (Dorchester Publishing Co.), July 28th, 1997
Genre: Vampire Romance, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy

This author's books were my first introduction to the vampire romance genre.  She has remained one of my favorites ever since, although Stephenie Meyer will always be my top favorite.  In fact, I consider Meyer to be the undisputed queen of the vampire romance, although I will also say that Amanda Ashley is a very close second.  This is in spite of the fact that Meyer writes primarily for young adults, while Ashley's books target the adult market exclusively.

This novel begins with a scene that immediately elicits outrage in the modern reader.  A desperately poor farmer, Vincent McLeod, is actually selling his fifteen-year-old daughter to the highest bidder.   Such things were still taking place in 1843 England, which is the setting of the story.  Slavery, of course, was still a viable institution across the Atlantic, in the United States.  Considering the status of women at the time, also, it is not too surprising that McLeod was selling his own daughter.

The dark hero, Rayven, begins to feel quite disturbed as he watches this auction.  All around him in the dimly lit tavern where the poor girl, Rhianna, is being exhibited like a fine piece of horseflesh, are men who are leering and wondering what she looks like underneath her shapeless gown.  Unable to tolerate it anymore, Rayven decides to buy her himself, on the spot.  So it is that Rhianna McLeod is taken to Castle Rayven, a desolate place indeed, for the nearby villagers are afraid of the castle and its solitary, antisocial owner.

As time passes, Rayven and Rhianna fall in love, which is, of course, a foregone conclusion.  In spite of the predictability of this event, their relationship doesn't immediately begin, since Rayven is loath to have her fall in love with a vampire.  After Rhianna has done some growing-up, she insists that she wants Rayven, no matter what he is, so their relationship begins...

The love story of Rayven and Rhianna blossoms into an eternal union of soul, mind, and body, leaving this reader satisfied and content.  

Ashley portrays Rayven in a very realistic manner, and it’s fascinating to see how his inner torment plays out in his relationship with Rhianna..  Although he is a vampire, he does not delight in killing.  He is tortured by his terrible compulsion to survive on blood.  Frequently, he kills sheep from his own herd, instead of slaking his thirst on humans.  He ruthlessly isolates himself in his castle, unwilling to put the villagers nearby in danger.  Nevertheless, he sees himself as a monster, someone totally unworthy of love.

As for Rhianna herself, she is the epitome of feminine compassion, innocence, and kindness.  She, too, is tortured, for she does fear for her life at Rayven’s side.  It is the true self she perceives in him, however, that gives her the strength to override that fear.  She knows he longs for the light, and she attempts to bring as much of that into his life as she can.  Instead of despairing, she touches his soul with her unconditional love.  Her selfless devotion enchants him, and is the beginning of his long journey toward personal redemption. 

This novel is an enchantingly beautiful, wonderfully romantic tale of how a man who has carried a burden of loneliness, darkness, and self-loathing for centuries, at last finds love and light with a woman who accepts and loves him with her whole being.  

There is a brief sex scene in the book, but it's tastefully done.  There are no extremely graphic details.  The emphasis is on tenderness and sweet passion.  Ashley apparently stands alone among vampire romance authors in this regard.  She is also unique because of the absence of profanity in her novels. 

There are many lyrical passages in the book, especially when Rayven and Rhianna meet in his garden maze at night.  I could picture these scenes in my mind as if they had been put on film.  Indeed, I wonder why this story has not been made into a movie.  It certainly is a grand romantic tale!  Moreover, the ending is nothing short of miraculous.  As a hopeless romantic, I couldn’t help basking in it all!  

This is the second time I have read the book.  The first time was several years ago, and I know I will read it again!

Ashley's novels usually delight and enchant.  This one is no exception, although she has really outdone herself here!  The story really sweeps one away, and cannot be put down until the very last word is read.  If that should happen at three o'clock in the morning, then so be it!


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