Dark Light, by Jayne Castle

27 Sep

Trigger warning for a discussion of suicide (by the characters) that is…not good. Really not good.

(Note: this review has been in my drafts for about three years; I’m using the process of cleaning it up to a publishable state to try and get back into reviewing, for I’ve read a few really good books lately that I’d love to rave about, but I’m struggling to put book thoughts down into something coherent, let alone readable.)

Original cover for Jayne Castle's Dark Light

Dark Light, by Jayne Castle

This is the 5th book in the Harmony series, which has now fully merged with the author’s Arcane Society novels. (It seems now all her series eventually lead to Arcane–as I´ve said before, I am not a fan).

The entries in this particular series are mostly lightly-plotted romps populated by mostly likable protagonists, but I would not recommend them to anyone who is not hetero, cis, and mostly passively conservative in their view of society and relationships. The snide jabs at political correctness alone will discourage most people who consider themselves progressive.

Reporter Sierra McIntyre’s stories on Crystal City’s ghost hunters – and their mysterious guild – have earned her tabloid a bit of respect. And they’ve allowed her to clothe her dust bunny companion Elvis in rock-and-roll style. It helps that she has mega-rez intuition to fall back on…
Especially when she interviews Ghost Hunter Guild Boss John Fontana about the disappearances of retired, homeless hunters. She doesn’t want to trust the physically and psychically powerful man, but her senses – and Elvis – give her the green light. To uncover the conspiracy within his own organization, Fontana proposes…marriage. And though it’s purely a business arrangement, there is nothing pure about the attraction that sizzles between them…

Back cover blurb, paperback edition

The good: likable main and secondary characters, good found family for both main characters (Sierra does have family she’s not strictly estranged from, but she is much more comfortable both with her co-workers, and with a group of retired ghosthunters from her neighborhood), the always adorable (in a good way) dust bunnies, good sex scenes, and a heroine who actually grows from TSTL into a pretty resourceful person. I found the setup for the marriage of convenience (a legal, set-term arrangement in this world), well done and original.

The suspense plot has a few weak spots and a couple of too-convenient coincidences, but it does not fall apart. The relationships between the main characters and secondary characters, and among secondary characters, feel natural and well established, like there´s a history between them beyond what´s happening on the present.

The not-so-good: There’s a fair bit of that. From the worldbuilding breaking apart under the strain, to, well, see the trigger warning at the top.

The very simplistic rules of Harmony’s society create equal opportunities for new plots, while falling apart under the most cursory scrutiny.

On the worldbuilding side, a key plot point in the second book in the series is the scarcity of “dreamstone”, a mineral native to Harmony with very specific properties. In this book, dreamstone is no longer native to Harmony, but part of what “the Aliens” who had colonized the planet ages before the arrival of humans had left behind. Among other, less pleasant stuff.

We have yet more new paranormal abilities–which are handwaved as the natural consequence of humans evolving (in a matter of a couple hundred years, mind), under the influence of whatever it is that makes Harmony special, coupled with what made the original human colonizers special (aka, an afinity for the paranormal). Which is all good and well, but it also leads to conflict between “dark Guild secrets”, and Fontana telling Sierra all about those secrets, without any guarantee that she, a reporter who’s already entrenched in a campaign to ~expose~ the Guild, won’t babble to everyone she knows.

Another main problem with the book is actually Sierra, who repeatedly indulges in very childish behavior, to the point of literal teeth-grinding.

For example, her co-workers organize a wedding reception, and she’s actually surprised her husband attends, let alone that he stays. She barely manages to escape a bunch of would-be muggers, and even though one of the main reasons for the marriage is to protect her as she investigates the guild, she resists moving to Fontana’s house, because, we are told, “marriages of convenience are not real”.

I mentioned that she’s not strictly estranged from her family, but she chose to move away from them, partly because she never fit comfortably among them (they are all overachievers, she’s very much not), and partly because of a broken engagement, to someone they would find acceptable but who is, essentially, a heel who wanted her for her family’s connections and fortune. And yet, she clings to their views of marriages of convenience v covenant marriages.

In short, while Sierra is supposed to be in her mid- to late twenties, she´s written like a teen for most of the book. And yes, she eventually grows into a strong-willed, more assertive adult, but the process takes too long for my taste.

Then, there’s the shitty way suicide is discussed in the book, by the two main characters. Yes, it is an older book, but sensitivity and compassion didn’t just arrive on the scene this decade.

To summarize, my main struggle with this book, and this author’s work generally, is that her writing voice is engaging, so I can usually read her stories in one sitting, but the undercurrents of conservative patriarchal thinking end up annoying me once I’m done reading and actually think about the story, the world, and the characters.

Dark Light gets 4.50 out of 10. Because no amount of liking of the author´s voice can make up for shitty treatment of suicide.

3 Responses to “Dark Light, by Jayne Castle”

  1. twooldfartstalkingromance 16/09/2018 at 1:15 PM #

    Maturity is not overrated. I only want to read childish behavior in children, not in heroines.
    I love Jayne Ann Krentz for so many reasons but her characters are oftentimes problematic. She used to be an auto buy for me but now I read her so rarely.

    • azteclady 09/01/2022 at 11:27 AM #

      Gah, I just saw this comment, I’m sorry, Lori.

      And yes, same here. I don’t think I can read any of her newer work any more. I tried her newer Amanda Quick series, set in the early 1930s, and liked it well enough, but…yeah, problematic is a good word.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Genre romance: expressing our values, sharing our myth | Her Hands, My Hands - 28/01/2022

    […] 7 This is, in fact, one of the things that makes reading some of Ms Krentz’ novels so hard for me, as I note near the top of this review. […]

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