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The Prisoner of Ingecliffe by Jean Bellamy
Contains no plot spoilers

Have you ever read a hitherto untried gothic author and found yourself suspiciously "listening" for a false note in the story?
Well in the book I'm reviewing the notes played true, and there was an authentic gothic feel, especially in the first half, yet somehow it never delivered that of which it seemed to be capable.
The story was not exactly masquerading as a gothic, but it certainly never lived up to the exalted claims on the back cover.(In fact, some of the information given there was just outright false).
The book begins mysteriously enough, and not without a certain allure.
There was definite atmosphere, an interesting time period (the 1600's), and a forbidding castle. The heroine was intelligent, reasonable in all her actions and plucky (She fights off an assailant single-handedly in a very well-described encounter). The author also had a way with words.
But somehow, in spite of these assets, it was disappointing. I'm not completely sure why, but I suspect it's partly because I don't like being lied to. "Wed to evil" the reader is told in the blurb. Also, "The husband she loved and trusted suddenly vanished and in his place was a stranger using her as a helpless pawn in a game of treachery and death." Slightly true, but very misleading. Trust me. Her husband was the nicest man you'd ever want to meet!
Taken as a whole, it was an acceptable gothic story, but the best compliment I can pay a book is to plan on some day re-reading it, and I don't think I will.
It's interesting, isn't it, that these misleading blurbs indicate that the publishers clearly understood exactly what Gothic readers wanted? Half the time if they'd honestly described the story it wouldn't have interested the target readership, so they knew just what to say in order to sell it. What I don't understand is why more authors didn't catch on to this, and write books that would live up to typical blurbs. It seems that more of them might have said, "Hmm . . . so that's what these readers want."

I'm not advocating that every Gothic should be the same, mind you. Far from that. But I think we've all had that frustrating experience of blurb-induced heightened expectation resolving only to a sense that we've been had.

I am glad for one thing -- the many helpful reviews and recommendations on this forum. Readers' descriptions make it easier to gauge the "Gothicity" of a book according to one's own personal meter. After reading so many of these books by now, I practically have a mental checklist of what I expect in a good specimen, those elements that make a story in this genre satisfying to read. This "checklist" will vary from reader to reader, but I think we all basically agree on what makes a Gothic a Gothic.
What you say is true. I have read many fraudulent book descriptions that would have made excellent gothic romances. Why so many authors didn't adhere more closely to what was liked and wanted by readers is a mystery to me. Some of them, I guess, just weren't capable of the intricacy involved. From my experience of the very good gothics I have read, writing one would be far from an unskilled art. To balance the importance to a gothic story of potent mood and atmosphere, full and rich setting, engaging characterization and mysteries worth solving, seems to me no mean feat. Perhaps many writers just didn't want to try that hard? Especially if the money was as easily made with a book of inferior quality.
I usually take it more in stride when I end up with a cheating back blurb. But I saw such tempting possibilities in this one that I guess it was harder to get over the disappointment. Also, this writer had a talent, I believe, that was capable of far more than it produced. I would readily try another of her books. Who knows, she(?) may have done better in another.
Thanks for commenting!

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