Well, I feel like I’m really late in reading this one, mainly because there was a discussion at Racy Romance Reviews and dueling reviews at Dear Author recently. And I couldn’t read them, because I was still reading Black Silk.
I’ve heard about it over the years. I had started another Judith Ivory book way back when, can’t remember which one though the opening scene was at a railway station? In any event, it didn’t engage my interest. So I was rather expecting that I’d start Black Silk and put it down after a chapter or so.
But, no. In large part because of the hero, Graham. I thought Ivory did an amazing job in making Graham compelling, flawed, sympathetic, attractive and just plain interesting. He kept me reading right through the book. I’m actually hard-pressed to put my finger on why I found him so riveting. He was more complex a person than most romance heroes. It’s a trick to walk that line, in making a hero complex and yet having him make sense, in a fictional sense. Yet Ivory made me believe in him, and love him.
But the novel repelled me at times, and I actually spent weeks, not days, reading it, unwilling to put it down completely, but obviously not quite the page-turner some books are. It’s a long book, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but it did seem to meander in the middle. However, what most repelled me was the character Henry, the heroine’s dead husband and the hero’s cousin who half-raised Graham. What an absolutely awful, distasteful man—who was very present in the book. There were a couple of times when I just didn’t want to read further because I did not want more of Henry. I wasn’t entirely sure if this was supposed to be my reaction. The hero, and especially the heroine, saw Henry in a much better light than I did. But that was actually a strength in Ivory’s writing. That these characters would forgive Henry or at least understand him in a way I could not.
Finally, I was fascinated by the shape of this romance novel. Written twenty years ago, when I didn’t read romance, it makes me wonder if Black Silk was unusual in its time—obviously since it’s risen to be a classic it must be in some way unusual. But was its shape unusual? The hero and heroine spend a lot of time apart. For the majority of the book, the hero is in a relationship with his mistress, and this takes up quite a bit of page time, which I don’t think would happen now. This less strict romance shape, for lack of a better description, allowed the story to be told in a way that fascinated me. (That said, it probably also allowed me to put the book down more easily. I’m used to having the tension between the hero and heroine much more consistently in the foreground.)
As for the heroine, Submit, I was not nearly as taken by her. I ended up thinking she was all right and not knowing entirely why Graham would be in love with her. Plus she does something near the end, related to her dead husband, that I found quite ugly. The very end gives me some hope for their HEA though, sudden as it was.
I’ll need to try another Judith Ivory. And read those reviews and discussion. I expect they’ll discuss things I haven’t touched on or even thought about.