|Eve Silver's third attempt at the gothic doesn't herald exciting news for the genre. While her familiarity with its conventions is to be commended, she doesn't breathe any new life into over-used character dilemmas and worn-out plot devices. More than once, her irritatingly innocent heroine made me feel the gothic was better off dead.
Jane Heatherington is the daughter of a Cornish innkeeper. She feels responsible for her mother's death (she was defending her daughter from rape; Jane acquired a limp at the same time). So when a handsome stranger demands immediate payment of her father's gambling debts, she agrees to become his indentured servant (not really a generalized practiced in early nineteenth-century England, but is anyone asking?). It's not surprising that shy and withdrawn Jane should be wary of the mysterious and powerful Aidan Warrick: he is said to be a pirate, a smuggler, a murderer and worse.
Jane steels herself for disaster, and in true gothic fashion finds more than one question in store. Did Aidan really kill the drowned woman found on the beach? What is he doing with all those barrels of brandy? What horrible fate is he planning for her father? Why does he run to her rescue more than once? And why does she find him so darned attractive? Is anyone really waiting with bated breath for the answers?
Gothic fans will immediately recognize the Jane's perplexity as conventions. The best of the genre plays on the heroine's (and the reader's) questionable judgment and discernment. More often than not, the man who appears evil and wicked turns out to be the most decent and noble of the lot. Silver follows this tradition, but with neither the subtlety necessary for suspense nor the self-consciousness of comedy and camp. Everything is terribly predictable, and everything is terribly drawn out.
Jane's spiritual and literal voyage is peopled with dark, evil men, but (hint, hint) none of them are as good-looking or attractive as the dark prince of the title. The main foil for Aidan is Jane's father. Their long-standing feud helps highlight the hero's inner conflict (pursue his plans of revenge or find redemption through love) and ultimately proves him the better man. And yet because the story is told exclusively through Jane's point of view, it is hard to get a sense of Aidan's inner demons.
To make matters worse, Jane's own journey into enlightenment doesn't take her very far. Her father's betrayal at the beginning of the book opens her eyes very quickly and doesn't leave much room for development. Sure, she wades through a number of highly similar episodes, but none of them are as problematic or as confusing as she makes them sound. When she finally reaches the necessary Nirvana, it seems forced and contrived. As a whole, Jane lacks the depth and the internal contradictions to carry the story.
Silver's lush descriptions and the historical setting provide an atmospheric touch that may compensate for her uninspiring heroine. Still, in the final analysis, Dark Prince is not irremediably flawed, but it's not that interesting either. Gothic fans in need of a quick fix may give it a go. I suspect they would be better off spending time with old favorites.