Review: The Veiled Heart by Elsa Holland
I don’t generally read historical novels. Every now and again I will pick up something with a historical flavor but it is not my preferred genre. However, I was told there was a new flavor of Gothic historical romance emerging so I decided to give it a go. It’s been cold in Melbourne and I needed something to warm me up. I was drawn to Elsa Holland’s book for three reasons; word of mouth, the word ‘Gothic’, and the incredibly beautiful cover art by Hang Le that could be a stand-alone work of art. Elsa’s website is as equally mesmerizing.
The only way to describe what it was like when I first started reading The Veiled Heart was the experience of biting into a warm, soft chocolate brownie. Not too heavy and the occasional nut to give it that unexpected crunch. Pretty delicious, yes? Okay, now imagine that when you get to the center an explosion of hot salty, caramel-chocolate sauce hits your tongue and sends your taste buds into a meltdown before kicking off into a riot demanding more. That kind of sums up how I felt reading The Veiled Heart.
The first thing I fell in love with in this book was the atmosphere. I am a sucker for a book that not only locates me as a reader but also seduces me into the feel of a place; the light, the sounds, the taste, the touch, the whirring life that is the context for the characters. Shifting patterns, delicate textures and haunting shadows danced through the pages-a subtle poetry woven into the writing giving it a Gothic undercurrent that satisfied my need for darker reads without weighing the novel down and pulling it out of the romance genre. Within the first page I felt all of these things and more. I was deeply enchanted by the world of Miriam and Lord Worthington. And I have to say I love the title of the series: The Velvet Basement. The names Elsa uses such as The Split Tart brothel points to a subtle and dry humor that is dealt with a deft hand allowing me to giggle without being pulled out of the story.
The characters in this book are well rounded, complex, challenging but endearing. I felt deeply for both Miriam and Lord Worthington. I felt their hurts, their loves, desires and their conflicts. From the first moment we meet Lord Worthington we know he is a troubled good guy, sure, but we also feel (emphasis on the word feel) how hot his blood runs. The way he looks as Miriam and describes her is with fevered fascination. Worthington has a keen knowing about female wants and desires as well as how to pursue, romance and free them in a way that is both respectful and sensitive. Worthington’s style of pursuit SHOULD read cliché but instead his style just had me turning the pages faster, why? Because he felt so very real as a person and real love often is cliché. Within the first few lines I wanted him to grab my hair and pull me down to the Velvet Basement – yes I was jealous of Miriam.
There is a scene in the ocean with Miriam that I know will haunt me for a long time even though it was a very short and understated scene. But the interplay of light, color and bittersweet words laced with terrific pain was nothing short of perfection. Although Miriam is wounded she is far from weak. In fact her sharp tongue and quick wit had me laughing out loud in places and wanting to high five her. If I had a girl gang I’d ask her to join (then try and steal her boyfriend, probably.)
The writing is not the only thing that is sensual about this book. The sex is hot. Hold your breath and fan your face HOT. It’s erotic, tense and moving – yes moving. There is a real conflict regarding what sex means to the protagonist of this novel and I really felt that – the war of desire, pain and confusion along with a need to heal and reclaim. Both characters carried battle scars but there was an innocence that balanced the darkness and really had you rooting for their love to persist… along with more sex. Lots more sex. Like really, just write more sex Elsa because I haven’t been that excited reading a romance book in a long, long time. The sex scenes are beautifully written but also integral to the characters development. I feel that this is an amazing feat for a first time novelist- balancing scorching hot sex scenes with deep, swirling undercurrents of emotion. Sign me up for every book in the series and the next, thanks.
I sat with The Veiled Heart for a while before writing this review because there was something about this book, aside from the Gothic poetic brilliance, that really got to me but I couldn’t pin point what it was. Then it struck me. You know that feeling you had when you’re waiting for your first boyfriend or girlfriend to call or knock at the door? That giddy excitement that buzzed right down your middle and warmed new places you never knew you had? That kind of nervous heat that welled in your chest and almost hurt? And then that feeling when you opened the door and tried to play totally cool but you’re bursting inside? Elsa captures that feeling and it is a delight to return to. But it is also bittersweet. There is a gentle flavor of nostalgia in The Veiled Heart that really touched me. I am not sure I have ever read a writer that captures that. So, even though this novel deals with serious issues and has a Gothic underbelly there is a sparkling innocence that adds luster to the surface of a very deep ocean of words.
It must be said that the story draws on common tropes in the historical genre and at times it felt a tad predictable but that was pretty much all a ruse because Elsa turns all your expectations of this genre on their head. Just as you think you know what is coming the story takes an unexpected turn that breathes new life into the Gothic historical romance genre. Elsa is definitely carving out a new niche that I pray others follow.
I personally would have liked the crisis to be punchier and felt the ending came a tad soon-but only because I wanted more of Miriam and Worthington.
The only major fault with this book is the writing can feel a tad self indulgent if not purple. But, I adore that kind of writing and Elsa has the heart of a poet and can carry it off with aplomb. However, I know some people might find it a tad heavy or not, as I said I am not familiar with the historical genre. But I do ask that if you feel that way – just let the words wash over you. The rich tapestry that is The Veiled Heart is not just a book but an experience – allow yourself to sink in to it and you wont be disappointed.
You can read the first chapter of The Veiled Heart here.