Book Review: Evangeline by Gwen Williams

17436884Title: Evangeline
Author: Gwen Williams
Genre: Adult Romance, Retold Fairytale, Gothic Romance
Rating: 3,5 stars
Review copy was provided by Red Sage Publishing.

Paul Rumsfeld, a lonely, rich, widower, seeks Evangeline’s hand in marriage. He is her first real marital prospect, as the entire village considers her damaged goods. Rumors abound about the way Evangeline and her sister Rose Red, serviced the Black Bear who resided at their hearth during one particularly hard, bitter winter. Evangeline did no such thing, but no man pays her court. She accepts Paul’s offer to marry him, while trying to ignore the vile gossipmongers’ talk in the village that Paul’s last four wives died under bizarre-and troubling-circumstances. Is Paul a Bluebeard, or is he an innocent man? Evangeline trusts her husband implicitly, but the rumors are hard to ignore.

They marry and she travels with him to his marvelous villa on the sea. Once there, she is introduced to the household servants, including the grim and reproving Mathilda. Mathilda is a formidable opponent, and it takes all of Evangeline’s guile and resources to outmaneuver the imperious maidservant. Evangeline soon finds herself with child, and with the support of the midwife, she begins to exert her will. Out with the restricting corsets and stays! Evangeline has no desire to confine her body to the dictates of fashion. She wants her baby to be healthy and strong, and the only way to do that is to ensure her own comfort. Mathilda is horrified, but cannot bend Evangeline to her will.

At the same time, Evangeline is attempting to breach the citadel that is her husband’s broken heart. Paul honestly cannot say how it has come to pass that he is the widower of four deceased wives, each one expiring under odd and distressing circumstances. As a result, he has locked down his heart to any further intimacy. He is half-convinced that Evangeline shall also die, and it would be unbearable if he were to allow her into his heart.

Who still remembers the story of Rose Red, Black Bear and her sister – Snow White, in the original fairytale? Well I don’t, at least not completely. I think I was born right after the Rose Red and Snow White fairytale-hype, and I only heard it once or twice and forgot most of the details. I mean, I’m probably born in the generation who thinks of Snow White as the girl who bit in the apple and fell asleep, not the girl who took a big black bear into her house and took care of said animal, who later turned out to be some cursed prince. Evangeline is actually a spin-off of the original fairytale, now featuring Evangeline in the role of Snow White, and focuses on the events that happened after Black Bear left the sisters’ cottage. No man in the entire village wants to marry Evangeline – but that’s alright, because she doesn’t really want the village boys’ interest either. She’d much rather get the attention of Mr. Rumsfeld, an older and lone widower who is wealthier than she could even imagine. However, the town folk know a lot of gossip about dear ol’ Mr. Rumsfeld: turns out he has been married three times, and every time his wife died under peculiar circumstances. Determined not to let old wives tales’ stand in her way of getting the man she desires, Evangeline persues Paul Rumsfeld anyway. But as soon as they are married, the young girl starts to notice strange things: not only about the man she loves, but also about the house they inhabit and the strange creatures that lurk in the darkness.

I love retold fairytales, or spin-offs of original fairytales. I adore gothic horror. But although I found Evangeline an enjoyable read, entertaining and with rather interesting characters; it didn’t really awe me the way I expected it to. Several reasons. First off, I figured out the mystery surrounding the suspicious deaths of Paul’s former wives right away, and to be brutally honest; Paul is quite the idiot for not thinking about this sooner. In fact, his unawareness of the people around him practically blindfolds him, and makes him unable to realise even what’s right in front of his nose. Evangeline isn’t all that much smarter; and I’m pretty sure any self-respecting heroine with some basic intelligence level could have figured out the malicious person in the picture a lot earlier. I think this novel would have been significantly more interesting had the author introduced more characters who could have been responsible for the other wives’ gruesome murders, thus atleast adding some more suspense to the story. It’s no fun reading a gothic horror novel when you know right away who’s responsible for all the bad stuff that keeps happening.

Apart from that, there were parts about the book that I really enjoyed. For instance, the scenery and the decor. An enormous villa by the sea, with gardens you can get lost in and marble statues that seem to move in the sunlight for no apparent reason. Enough to get anyone who loves gothic novels to start drooling. Add an evil presence in the house, murdered wives and a bunch of nightmares, and you have the perfect set up for an impressive gothic horror tale. However, the setting is there as are the characters and the basic plot – it just doesn’t get executed very well. There is no actual tension, there aren’t enough suspects for the murder schemes on Paul’s previous wives, and Paul basically has the IQ of a carrot. I would have liked this novel to go more in the style of Jane Eyre – where you actually get to wonder who or what is behind all the wicked things that keep happening – or more along the lines of Wuthering Heights.

The see-through plot put aside, Evangeline does make for a very enjoyable read. The main characters have very different, rich personalities with their own fears and anxieties. They could have been a bit brighter, and perhaps a bit more courageous – this definately counts for Paul – but maybe their lack of these traits makes them more human and less like the fairytale-heroes they originally were. Gwen Williams does an excellent job of describing the haunting, eerie atmosphere and the dread and terror of her characters. However, this novel didn’t scare me at all – not in the way Jane Eyre does when the girl with the same name is trapped in the Red Room. I don’t even know if it’s meant to be scary, but I would have liked if it managed to atleast make me feel a bit uncomfortable while reading. The author does get the romance point straight on though, and the growing relationship between Evangeline and Mr. Rumsfeld feels real, honest and very loving. All in all, Evangeline is a nice read and if you’re a fan of the genre, I would definately recommend it.

Comments

  1. I *think* I vaguely remember Rose Red, hmm. And wow, this sounds like a really promising novel beside the see-thru plot that you just mentioned. I haven’t read re-told fairy tales but i do plan to do so this year and would like to read this one! I absolutely loved this review!

    xo,
    Lah

  2. This is one of the most detailed book reviews that I’ve read. It is also refreshing to see the author give her opinion that the characters were more entertaining than interesting.
    Mike

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