One of my favorite romance novels, by one of my favorite romance writers. Judith Ivory is a subtle, highly sophisticated observer, with an elegant, clear writing style, who ought to be taught in college-level English courses. This book is set in the 1860s, in England. The plot's a twist on the old saw of a will with a bequest that brings two unlikely people together: Submit Channing-Downes, an intelligent, dry-witted widow, who's very secretly engaged in writing a scandalous, serialized novel, and Graham Wessit, a flamboyant earl with a taste for setting off fireworks and embarking on midnight boating parties fueled by champagne and strawberries. Poor Graham's fighting a major paternity suit, brought by a woman he's never met, but his reputation is so wrecked that everyone thinks he did it. Graham's also coping with a demanding, American mistress, Rosalind, who's really enamored with the idea of bedding an English lord. The machinations of these three people and others are carefully thought-out and subtly rendered. Much as I adore this book, I've learned from lending this book to friends that it doesn't work equally well for everyone. What it's offering is a close-up, psychological study of all the characters. If you were once an English major, and you adored Victorian novels, and wish current romance writers wrote stuff that is of the quality of Edith Wharton and early Henry James, you may like this book.
~ Convoluted and meandering story that left me unsatisfied; hero and heroine were great together but couldn't save the book (2 stars) ~
Judith Ivory is an interesting historical romance author who writes books that are different from many of the other ones you find in the genre; she by no means follows the traditional cookie-cutter plot or character-cast. I found that though BLACK SILK had redeeming qualities - the hero and heroine characters and their relationship - they were not enough to save the book (a good romance doesn't make up for 446 pages of a book when most of those pages feel unrelated to the central love story). Note it's not a regency romance and takes place in 1858.
I found the age gap of 43 years between Submit and her dead husband disturbing. I know relationships like that do occur and not always for gold-digging reasons, but the fact that she married Henry on her 16th birthday and they started having marital relations then ... it just didn't sit well with me. (If you're wondering, when the book takes place Submit is 28 and Graham is 38). I was also bothered by Graham's (non-existent) relationship with his two children, whom we only learn of on pg. 206 (in addition to the fact that he was previously married) and discover are 13-year-old twins on pg. 286.
The plot was convoluted and could have been so much better if there was more focus on Graham, Submit, and their developing friendship/attraction. There were random components of the book (children above being one example) - items, histories/pasts, characters - that were brought in but didn't contribute anything, were not fully explored, or were dispensed with easily and quickly while leaving you wondering why they were included to begin with. The book was like a ball of yarn full of knots that you're trying to unravel; every time you think you have it all sorted out you find another knot, every time you think you've found the beginning piece, you pull it out to find that it's just a scrap, disconnected from the rest of the skein. The last contrivance involving Gerald Schild was completely unnecessary and the ending - or rather how it was written - was not very satisfying.
Ivory excels at writing great chemistry and this is one area in which she didn't fail here. Graham and Submit don't have their first physical encounter until close to the end of the book, but their relationship up till that point still sizzles and there is a definite rapport between them. Their developing friendship and romance is what makes me so disappointed to have to give this book such a poor rating; I looked forward to each of their interactions and found them so enjoyable - the kind that make you reread some of the lines or page back to read the scene over before continuing on with the book. There weren't enough of these scenes though, which added to the letdown. Also concerning the two main characters, I'm a sucker for books where the heroine is unusual and not necessarily beautiful, but the hero sees in her something that most others do not.
NOTE about Graham's lover:
Rosalyn Schild is Graham's (married) lover; they've been together for about 6 months and have a relationship throughout almost all of the book. I absolutely hate infidelity - in real life and reading about it - and normally don't even like to read historical romances where a character has had a happy marriage before, so it surprised me that her inclusion didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. Know that the character does exist though, for any of you who might consider this a turn-off.
Don't waste your time unless Ivory decides to do a rewrite. Instead, read THE PROPOSITION by Judith Ivory, which is one of my *favorite* historical romances of all time (and since I've read about 300+, that is definitely saying something)!!!
The author has a gift for describing places and action very vividly
I had not read Judith Ivory before. I enjoyed this book. Not your typical storyline, but great characters.
Perhaps my favorite Judith Ivory I've read. Has many reviews available online, so I can't add much more, but I did enjoy the complexity of the relationship between Submit and Graham.