In this YA fantasy/historical romance, an aristocratic young woman is in danger from demonic figures.
Soleil Devatt, who’s about to turn 18, lives in an isolated French château with just her father, Charles; her older brother, Frederic, is away, and her mother died in a horse-riding accident two years before. In the surrounding forest live bloodthirsty, pale creatures who venture out, apparently only under the cover of darkness, to attack and kill people. Spoiled, stubborn, and beautiful, Soleil gets put off balance by the château’s new huntsman, the young and handsome Taras. He’s seductive, infuriating, and mocking yet concerned and helpful when Soleil is in trouble, as when she begins fainting and having unsettling visions. When Soleil’s brother returns for her birthday, her cloying cousin Emiliana le Bihan also comes to visit, annoying her when she flirts with Taras. Soleil feels increasingly drawn to the woods; her visionary ability is somehow connected to it, and she knows that the creatures there want her blood. After Soleil’s father has a stroke, the château’s balance of power shifts, and later, with Taras injured and Frederic missing, it’s up to Soleil to muster her abilities for a fiery confrontation with evil. Portera (Beasts and Roses, 2016, etc.) employs overly familiar tropes in the Scarlett O’Hara/Rhett Butler–style interplay between Soleil and Taras, who gets away with unlikely impertinence: “So, you have noticed I exist. I’m quite surprised.” The book’s temporal setting is murky, with revolution recent enough for escaped noble families to come under disfavor; a current “Russo” war (eight Franco-Russian wars were fought between 1733 and 1856); and bustles with ruching (fashionable in the 1870s). This blurriness particularly matters because the château’s extreme isolation makes less sense in the later 19th century. The ending does have some unexpected twists in store, however, and Portera does write some effective passages, as when describing Soleil’s “eerie feeling” about Emiliana perusing an occult book’s engravings: “She had turned each page slowly and easily, taking in each depraved image as though it was familiar. As though she was home.” A sequel is planned.
Some strong moments, but a formulaic romance and untethered timeline mar the novel.