Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: April 20, 2010
Pages: 355 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
This historical, paranormal romance is part of two different Jayne Ann Krentz series. The first is the Arcane Society. The second is the Dreamlight Trilogy. She has written books for both of these series under her own name and her two pseudonyms, Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle. Even though this is the second book of a trilogy, The Burning Lamp is very accessible for those who choose to read it as a standalone book.
TBL is set in London in the late-Victorian era. Its core story is a classic “Beauty and the Beast” romance, and the book itself could easily have been titled, “The Crime Lord and the Reformer.” The story is told primarily from the point of view of the two romantic leads, twenty-eight-year-old Adelaide Pyne and thirty-six-year-old Griffin Winters, with occasional forays into the heads of important subcharacters and the two main villains.
Adelaide is known only as The Widow to the teenage girls she has rescued from a life of forced prostitution. Adelaide offers these girls refuge at an academy she funds from her personal fortune where they receive vocational training so they can support themselves and remake their lives. None of the people who run the academy and none of the girls she has rescued have ever seen Adelaide’s face. She covers herself with a widow’s veil in order to keep her identity secret from the owner of the brothels she has raided.
Like Adelaide, Griffin Winters’s face has never been seen by anyone other than a handful of his closest associates. The mysterious crime lord presides over an underworld empire in London consisting of numerous business enterprises, the exact nature of which is never specified in the book. There are only a few things that we find out for sure about his criminal activities. First, there are two pursuits he refuses to engage in (and we never learn why), the opium trade and prostitution. Secondly, he doesn’t enjoy using violence. The evidence for this is that his “enforcers,” the muscle working for him, use bribes to acquire useful information around London, not force. And we learn from his history and actions that he never kills unless he absolutely has to.
Adelaide and Griffin both have paranormal powers. Adelaide can work “dreamlight,” which allows her to both heal and harm others–up to and including killing people–using the power of the light emissions of dreams. The talent Griffin has had since his youth is the ability to cloak himself in shadows. He can choose to merely obscure his face–which is how he conceals it from the world–or make himself entirely invisible. But recently he has suddenly developed a second psychical talent, which is an extremely rare and dangerous event among those with paranormal gifts. A person with more than one talent is called a “Cerberus,” and is believed to inevitably become criminally insane.
Griffin is already a criminal, but he is terrified of going insane. He would rather be dead. Griffin’s lineage is far more likely to periodically produce offspring who have the potential to become a Cerberus because of the “Winters curse.” An ancestor of his from several centuries ago, Nicholas Winters, was an eccentric alchemist. He created the burning lamp of the book’s title in order to amplify his psychical talent and develop additional ones as well. The results of that experiment were madness and death, in spite of, or because of, the assistance of his lover. She was a woman who, like Adelaide, worked dreamlight, and she and Nicholas passed on through their lineage the curse of, every several generations, a descendant developing a second, or even a third, paranormal talent around their thirty-sixth birthday. As Griffin’s new talent becomes stronger, and he experiences accompanying nightmares and hallucinations, he is positive madness is inevitable, unless he accomplishes two things. He needs to find the burning lamp, which was stolen from his family two decades before, and he needs the help of a woman who can work dreamlight. Only with her assistance in utilizing the burning lamp can Griffin hope to reverse the curse by getting rid of the new psychical talent he has developed.
In Adelaide Pyne, Griffin thinks he has found both of the things he needs. She has possessed the lamp for the past thirteen years and her dreamlight talent is as potent as Griffin’s own two very strong talents. But though Adelaide agrees to help Griffin, accomplishing his goal is anything but assured. He and Adelaide have powerful, psychically talented enemies who will stop at nothing to destroy Griffin and kidnap Adelaide in order to force her to unleash the power of the lamp on their behalf.
I am a huge fan of Jayne Ann Krentz. I’ve read everything she’s ever written, but I am particularly fond of her paranormal, romantic-suspense novels. I love her strong heroines who are fully capable of going head-to-head with her dynamic, wounded heroes. I love the sparring they engage in and the way they form a team to take down the evil villains of the story. This book has all those things in spades. I’ve been enjoying the Arcane Society series very much, especially the way Krentz has stretched it across generations by setting some of the books in the present, some in the past, and with her third book in this Dreamlight Trilogy, incorporating it into Harmony, her futuristic, Jayne Castle series. My favorite series of all the ones she’s written is the Harmony series, so that’s a two-for-one for me.
I think the characterization, plotting, action, romance, setting, paranormal elements, all are excellent in this book. And I like the way that the hero and heroine are both mysterious people who each shroud their faces. No one has ever seen them the way they can see each other, so when they lift their physical and paranormal facial veils for each other, they bare their hearts and minds as well.
There is only one aspect of the book that rather bothered me. As I mentioned above, Krentz/Quick never spells out what precisely Griffin’s criminal enterprises are. His work is presented as his obsession. Therefore, if we as readers don’t know what that work is, we are left without vital information to understand his motivation, which arises from ethics, personal philosophy and personality. Simply having Griffin behave honorably toward the heroine and never do anything that looks remotely criminal in the book (in spite of being a “crime lord”) did not satisfy me as a reader that he is truly deserving of Adelaide. I wanted to know what Griffin’s crimes were, his motivation for engaging in them, and strong signs across the course of the story that he has powerfully changed from a criminal to an honest man.
Across the entire book, right up to the end, since Griffin never commits a single crime on stage in the story, and we never hear about any of his criminal activities, I frankly kept waiting to hear that he had been running a huge scam against the underworld the past twenty years. That maybe he never has committed any real crimes and that, just like his ability to be physically shrouded in shadows, his so-called evil reputation has been only an illusion. I thought he might be a kind of underworld Robin Hood, robbing from the real “crime lords” and returning the ill-gotten gains to their rightful owners. Or perhaps only preying on the powerful members of so-called legitimate society who use their privileged social position to get away with crimes without ever being seen as criminals. But, no, that is not the case.
If this were not a romance novel, and in particular, A Krentz romance novel, I might not have a problem with any of that, since the foreground of the story is very compelling and I did enjoy the relationship between the “crime lord and the reformer.” But this is the first time in all the years I’ve been reading Krentz that, to my recollection, she’s failed to do one of several things for a “dark and dangerous” (D&D) hero: (a) Mr. D&D turns out to be a truly noble guy suffering from an unearned bad reputation; (b) Mr. D&D has a noble motivation for the dark things he’s done; (c) Mr. D&D was pulled into dark activities in his naïve youth and has since repented of his past actions and is currently a stand-up guy. In this book, the hero is smack in the middle of his dark, anti-hero lifestyle as the book starts.
An additional wrinkle in my problem with Griffin’s unmentioned crimes is this: Adelaide has an out-of-character lack of curiosity about them. She has no problem confronting him about everything else. Why would she not ask him, as she grows closer to him physically, psychically, and emotionally: What do you do for a living as a crime lord? Do you kidnap people for ransom? Do you run guns? Do you rob banks? Do you manipulate the stock market? Do you run crooked gambling dens? Do you commit blackmail? Do you embezzle? What are your crimes?
Because of that problem, I lowered the book from 5 to 4 stars. I didn’t lower the score any further than that because all the other elements were so well done.