Through the Smoke by Brenda Novak
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A shocking betrayal…
Riches. Power. An ancient heritage of pride. The Earl of Druridge wanted only for an heir. So when he learned that his wife was carrying another man’s child, he was filled with a thirst for vengeance.
But he wasn’t the one who caused Katherine’s death. Or was he? To his horror, he remembers nothing of that dreadful night, when their last confrontation ended in scorching flame and cold blood.
A forbidden love…
Rachel McTavish, the beautiful daughter of a coal miner, knows something about the fire that took Lady Katherine’s life. In secret, the strong-willed girl strikes a bargain with the desperate earl: he must send his physician to help her dying mother or he may go to the devil—and the scaffold. He agrees, but she is still unsure that her revelation will be enough to save him when so many wish him dead.
Passionately drawn to the nobleman, despite all the doubt and mystery that shrouds him, Rachel wonders if he can really be a murderer. Or if he is the only man who will ever own her heart…
You know that phrase ‘It transcends the form’? That. Holy mother of God, how to do this justice?
This book was nothing like what I’ve come to expect from the genre. There were no flighty females, no intricate descriptions of gorgeous gowns or extravagant house parties, I wasn’t subjected to a lengthy list of the ton and the details of all their various exploits, and nor was I treated to the constant witty banter between the female lead and the hero. Novak managed to avoid every single overused trope and theme that HR fans have ever complained about.
I’m sure you’re wondering what this book is like and I’ll be happy to tell you. This book is dark. This book is gothic and creepy and unnerving and suspenseful and enraging and completely enthralling. From the very first pages it wrapped around me like a cold wind, raising goose bumps on my arms and the hair on the back of my neck. I finished it an hour ago and that chill is still gripping me.
In the forward, Novak explains that when she first became a writer she wanted to create stories that had a similar gothic feel as one of her favorites, Jane Eyre. I’d say she nailed it. This book is a beautiful, haunting amalgamation of my own favorites from that time period and yet is stunningly original. Not only that, but it felt like it could have been written back then. This book is what I wanted all of those to be. It’s uncensored, revealing both the cruelty and the baseness that those classics skirted.
Our main characters are a young woman named Rachel McTavish and Truman, the Earl of Druridge. I disliked both of them in the beginning of the book. Rachel is the daughter of a local bookseller. She’s also one stubborn and prideful woman and she wears both of these traits like chainmail. The Earl was no better. He could be very hard and very cold. He also owns the coal mine in which the locals start working as young as nine.
This story reveals how difficult the lives of those laborers were, how dangerous their jobs, how hazardous to their health the air they breathed in those cramped, dark tunnels. Their plight did nothing to make me like the earl. Rachel’s father and brother both worked in the mines, the former dying of miner’s lung and the latter of a cave-in, so it’s understandable that she too hates this enigmatic and arrogant aristocrat.
Unfortunately, fate has thrown these two together. The earl suspects her father of having had a hand in starting the fire that burned his manor and killed his wife. At least he hopes he does, because he has almost no memory of that night and so the alternative is that Truman himself committed this crime in order to murder the woman that had tormented him throughout their marriage and who was carrying the child of another man.
You find all this out within the first few chapters so it’s easy to see how quickly the plot grabs the reader. I don’t want to go much further into it other than to say that the rest of the book keeps you on your toes, keeps you constantly guessing as to whom the arsonist is and why they did what they did. I had so many theories while reading this that it became slightly ridiculous because every time I thought I had some fact, some aspect of what was going on figured out, Novak blew my assumptions out of the water
And that ending, my God. Bravo.
This book is not for the faint of heart. This book is not for someone looking for a typical HR. This book is for those readers that loved Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. It’s a slow burn with a lot of tension, a lot of twists and a lot of character. As much as I disliked Rachel and Truman in the beginning, by the end I was wholly on their sides. It’s not that their behavior changed or was explained away but that I was able to accept them for who they are and to believe in them as a couple. I just…GAH!