Book review: Gentle from the Night by Meagan McKinney

Published December 1st 1997 by Zebra


Left penniless after her father’s death, Alexandra Benjamin strikes an unusual bargain with John Damien Newell, the darkly seductive master of Cairncross Castle. Hired to teach his troubled younger brother, Samuel, to speak, she soon discovers the castle harbors many terrible secrets. Secrets that lead Alexandra through a labyrinth of twisted lies and ancient mysteries, to where the answers lie waiting in the innermost chambers of the heart.

My rating:

This book really messes with one’s head. So, was there a ghost or not?

To be honest, when I dived into this book I did not know what I was signing for. Megan McKinney is one of the old guard romance authors who knows how to write complex tortured characters. Also, I have to admit I love to dive into old books sometimes because they are more ruthless than modern ones. Heroines are subjected to dubious trials and moral stands on a very thin line between grey and black. But if the psychological part is done superbly, one can find true gems among old dusty tomes.

Gentle from the Night is that kind of book. It’s gothic, haunting, bordering on paranormal with a really creepy ghost story which serves as the main mystery and torture. Was there a ghost or was it just their imagination? This book scared me. A lot. No wonder the heroine’s favorite story is Ivanhoe by Walter Scott. The old castle, insane baron, and a violent ghost of the former governess who used to torture two young masters, and now roams the secret passages under the castle terrifying the newcomers.

Gentle from the Night reminded me a little bit of Rebecca and Jane Eyre, a slightly heavier on the erotic side, but nonetheless the same in the topic of corruption of innocence. Alexandra finds herself surrounded by madness and seduction while trying to solve the mystery of Cairncross Castle. And this book sets a really high standard when it comes to anti-heroes. The hero literally drags the heroine to death while confessing his undying love to her. Until almost the very end we are not sure if he is going to marry or kill her, as the heroine does not know it as well. I don’t know how I feel about Damien Newell but he is definitely one of the darkest and most complex heroes I’ve encountered… and I am not sure it was a nice encounter.

The hero is tortured by his past that molded him into an unfeeling cruel person. He is cruel, there’s no ‘he is bad but not really’ vibe. He is no good. Period. When he was 14 y.o. he and his younger brother were assigned to care of a governess – a distant relative their parents allowed under the roof. The parents were absent and didn’t care for their children, so the governess ruled the day. She corrupted not with passion but with hatred. She managed to damage both boys so thoroughly that even now 20 years later her ghost keeps haunting the place and people who live here. To be honest, if you thought that Christian Grey from 50 Shades of Grey was corrupted by an older woman, reconsider. The level of degradation the governess puts the hero through is a new level of evil. She is definitely going to my top villains’ list.

“She was evil. She could never forgive the boy for his rejection of her. She wanted his attention even if it were acquired in the most hateful way. Years ago, John Damien had a favorite hound as a boy and one day the poor old thing just up and died— very mysteriously. She gave John Damien all the false consolation she could muster for the boy’s grief. Then one day, she appeared in the schoolroom with a most unusual pair of gloves. Green leather, they were, with orange trim, but they weren’t made out of cowhide, or lambskin, you understand. They were made out of a unique leather. They were, as I said, a most unusual pair of gloves. Do you know what that woman did? That creature, Miss Pole, told John Damien that she’d had his old hound’s body taken to the tannery and herself made up that pair of gloves. She told the boy that, and if you think about it, Miss Benjamin, you’ll see that the cruelty of the story was that it didn’t matter whether it was true or not. The only thing that did matter is that she wore those every day, and it was to make John Damien never forget what she told him.
She did unspeakable things. Unspeakable things.”

All in all, Gently from the Night is not an easy romantic read. It’s dark and vile but the allure of getting to the bottom of the story and unrevealing what really happened 20 years ago is too strong not to be pulled by it. I finished the story late at night and I still can’t shake the feeling – even in the daylight – of looking behind my shoulder searching for bright red hair of the person lurking in the shadows of underground catacombs. *Shivers*

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