After Dark, by Jayne Castle

3 Jul

For anyone who may not know, Jayne Castle is but one of Amanda Quick’s best known pseudonyms (see here for a mostly complete list of names and works). Turns out, it’s also the one I haven’t really read, which I’m now trying to rectify.

Caveats: there are a couple of murders, off-page, and some sex on the page, and a HFN ending.¹

After Dark, by Jayne Castle

I had a vague feeling that I read this when it first came out, back in 2000, but when listened to it I didn’t remember…well, anything except the bare basics of the world building premise: humans in some other planet a couple hundred years from now, psychic powers, extinct previous civilization. After thinking about it for a while, I realized that I had read the prequel, “Bridal Jitters,” in the Charmed anthology.

I learned later, though Fantastic Fiction, that there is also an earlier trilogy set in the same world, but a couple hundred years earlier, closer to the colonization of the planet.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Life is tough these days for Lydia Smith, licensed para-archaeologist. Seriously stressed-out from a nasty incident in an alien tomb, she is obliged to work part-time in Shrimpton’s House of Ancient Horrors, a very low-budget museum. She has a plan to get her career back on track, but it isn’t going well. Stuff keeps happening.

Take the dead body that she discovered in one of the sarcophagus exhibits. Who needed that? Finding out that her new client, Emmett London, is one of the most dangerous men in the city isn’t helping matters either. And that’s just today’s list of setbacks. Here in the shadows of the Dead City of Old Cadence, things don’t really heat up until After Dark.

I mentioned in my review of “Bridal Jitters” that the world building was perfunctory at best. I have to say that it wasn’t much better here, though what there is, is internally consistent. There is also a bit more background given on the history of the human colonization to the planet of Harmony, and what has happened since.

So, a quick recap: about two hundred years before this story takes place, humans arrive on Harmony through some sort of space wormhole. While they are prepared to establish a colony, they are also counting on being able to maintain contact with Earth. However, best laid plans and all that, the ‘curtain’ between the two worlds closes, and the colonists and ships’ crews find themselves on their own.

Pretty soon, psychic powers start appearing in the population. Everyone has a minimum of psychic power, referenced as ‘psychic resonance,’ at least enough that it’s used basically the way electricity would be on Earth.²

Which is cool, in many ways, but it’s undermined by using the same names for  new/adapted technology as were used on Earth in the late 1990s. So we have phone calls, and message slips, and computers, and different models of cars, and elevators, yet no cell phones, or equivalent, are mentioned. In fact, there’s a scene with a working phone booth, which made me raise my eyebrows more than a bit.

The colonists, being resourceful folk, quickly established settlements near and around several ruins left by a previous, now gone, civilization. It’s not clear in this novel whether this happens because these are the best locations for survival, or whether it’s because the populations’ psychic powers are enhanced by proximity to the ruins. Either way, one of the most important industries in this world is the exploration of the ancient ruins, referred here as para-archaeology. This is, at least in part, in hopes of finding out how their technology worked, but also because  we humans are a curious bunch.

Now, because of how the world is built, para-archaeologists, familiarly called ‘tanglers,’ need to work in tandem with people with complementary psychic powers, colloquially referred to as ghost hunters. Most ghost hunters belong to guilds, which have a strong resemblance to protection rackets. Or, as Lydia puts it, they are little more than body guards, and not always all that reliable.

Which is how Lydia now finds herself working at a third rate museum, trying to start a consulting business: while on a dig inside the ruins, she was ‘lost’ for two full days, and the two ghost hunters working for the dig team basically shrugged and said, “hey, your own fault.”

So when her brand-new, and rich, client turns out to be a) a ghost hunter, and b) the former head of another city’s ghost hunters guild, she’s not thrilled. On the other hand, she does need the commission, and all he wants is help locating a family heirloom that was pawned in the city…to the same friend she just found dead at work.

Things go downhill from there.

There are so many different tropes here. There’s fog and a body found in a sarcophagus. There’s a gold digging bitch, who is also an asshole on general principle. There’s the former boss who would’ve liked more from Lydia, but who also used her to advance his own career. There’s a missing item, and missing people. There are mysterious clues written in a personal code that only Lydia can decipher, leading to a priceless treasure, hidden inside the mysterious and dangerous ruins of the Old City.

There is glorious sarcasm, and lovely dressing downs. And there’s Lydia saving the day, which is always such a win for me!

There is also Lydia’s pet. Fuzz is a dust bunny, a creature endemic to Harmony; he is adorable in the best possible way. He’s also the most original bit of world building.

I really liked that there’s enough introspection to make Lydia and Emmett interesting as people, with biases and pasts and baggage, but not static. They have friends and relationships that matter, and they have full world views and beliefs that inform what they do and say in ways that are consistent–no personality transplants.

Lydia is resourceful and strong; as an orphan with no resources who still managed to reach pretty damn high in a pretentious academic environment, it is no surprise that she doesn’t stay down even after something as traumatic as the ‘missing weekend.’ She picks herself up, and keeps on keeping on, determined to get back on her feet more securely. She’s no Pollyanna, but she manages to remain hopeful and strong, despite everyone doubting her resilience and ability–including, occasionally, herself.

Emmett is strong and capable himself, but he is not a typical alpha hero. For one, he’s never an asshole. For another, he genuinely regrets it when he fucks up, and he fully appreciates Lydia for who she is. And while we are told less about his backstory, his character and behaviour are consistent with what we do know.

The mystery is interesting, though it depended a bit too much on things that are not revealed to the reader until after the fact–not exactly deux ex machina but not too far from it either. However, this saved the story from being entirely cliched, and allowed for a couple of neat, if small, twists near the end.

On the romance side, though, the ending is pretty abrupt. It’s clearly a HFN, but it’s by no means an established relationship. I was okay with it only because there is no cliffhanger in this one, but it’s worth nothing for romance readers who need a more definite happy ending.

Once again, while this is not the best I’ve read by this author, it’s pretty damn delightful, and left me wanting to read more about the world the story is set in. After Dark gets a 7.50 out of 10, and I’ll be starting After Glow soon.

~ * ~

¹ Spoiler: HEA is achieved for this couple in the next title of the series, After Glow.

² There’s a superficial resemblance to how Flair works in the Celta/HeartMate stories by Robin D. Owens.

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10 Responses to “After Dark, by Jayne Castle”

  1. Miss Bates 03/07/2017 at 9:24 AM #

    The archaeologist heroine is my favourite heroine. She supersedes the governess, which is saying a lot considering, ahem, Jane Eyre, being my favourite novel and all. I think it’s because Elizabeth Peters ruined me. I read ALL the Peabodies one summer in Greece: the obvious connection between the hot, archaeologically-rich setting I was in and the one in the books and the spinsterish, capable heroine imprinted my reading preferences!

    • azteclady 03/07/2017 at 11:14 AM #

      If you can buy into the paranormal/fantasy setting, this is pretty entertaining stuff, but I hesitate to recommend Lydia as an archaeologist heroine–at least not on this one. There’s little happening in the ruins themselves, and yet less from an excavation angle.

      • Miss Bates 03/07/2017 at 12:59 PM #

        One of my favourites is Miranda Neville’s The Ruin Of A Rogue, so good!

      • azteclady 03/07/2017 at 1:38 PM #

        I’ll check it out, thanks!

  2. Erin S. Burns 03/07/2017 at 9:34 AM #

    I enjoy these books quite a bit, because dust bunnies are awesome.

    Though I wouldn’t say the St. Helen’s books are the same world. It was more like trial 1.0, and then she chucked that and started over on Harmony.

    • azteclady 03/07/2017 at 11:15 AM #

      Fuzz is DA BOMB!

      If I weren’t interested in the leads, I would at least read connected stories about him.

      • Erin S. Burns 03/07/2017 at 12:28 PM #

        Honestly, later stories the dust bunnies continue to be the best part. They honestly have the most personality of any of the characters. And in later books you find out their origins.

      • azteclady 03/07/2017 at 12:46 PM #

        I’m quite intrigued now!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. After Glow, by Jayne Castle | Her Hands, My Hands - 25/07/2017

    […] three weeks ago, I finally listened to a book that has been in my shelves for…well, years: After Dark, by Jayne Castle aka Jayne Ann Krentz aka Amanda Quick aka…well, at least a couple more […]

  2. Ghost Hunter, by Jayne Castle | Her Hands, My Hands - 11/08/2017

    […] story here means that we get a couple of glimpses of Lydia, Emmett and the ever lovable Fuzz, from After Dark and After […]

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