Brenda Joyce





St. Martinís Press, 2000
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Present day England and Spain, 16th century England

When Tracey and Cassie de Warenne meet Antonio de la Barca, their dignified Aunt Catherine inexplicably panics and forbids the acquaintance. Contacts between the two families always lead to disaster, she says. But Tracey is infatuated with Antonio, Cassie is magnetized by all that she and the very attractive Antonio have in common, and a power stronger than they are is determined to bring these distantly related families back together.

Antonio politely separates himself from the family, but the headlong, self-centered Tracey will not accept this. She delivers herself, her daughter and Cassie to the doorstep of Antonioís Spanish manor. Mysteriously compelled, the other members of both families gather at the decrepit house with its frightening atmosphere. Aunt Catherine insists that Isabel de la Barca, their ancient family link, is haunting them all with vengeful malevolence. Cassie and Antonio immerse themselves in their familiesí past, hoping to understand Isabel and also the history of violent deaths and women disappearing from this manor. Their research supports Aunt Catherineís contention that Isabel de la Barca was burned as a heretic 450 years ago.

When the author begins to tell Isabelís story from her own viewpoint, we learn that many loves and hates have been involved in this complex vengeance. Isabelís outraged spirit escalates her campaign of terror and it appears she cannot get enough of revenge. It seems to me that Cassie and Antonio take an extraordinarily long time to figure out what is happening, partly because of the reluctance of the participants to pool their knowledge. They are just too educated and modern to admit they see evidence of a malevolent ghost, and also each person has secrets they want to hide.

In spite of this, Cassieís love for her niece Alyssa attracts my support, and Antonio is a warm and protective presence. The self-involved Tracey is vividly and believably drawn. Among the secondary characters, Antonioís son Eduardo is especially appealing. I had trouble with Aunt Catherineís secretiveness when information was essential, but she is basically likable. The least successful character is Gregory, Antonioís twin, who never seems to develop a consistent personality.

HOUSE OF DREAMS does not attempt to show a historically accurate sixteenth century England. It appears that author Brenda Joyce chose the time period for Isabelís life simply so that she could provide Isabel with the right kind of death, and it is perfect for Isabelís ultimate betrayal. There was an Earl of Sussex at that time, but he had an entirely different name and character from the Earl of this book. The real court of Queen Mary was very different from this portrayal.

HOUSE OF DREAMS has the ingredients of a Gothic novel: a creepy house, a vengeful spirit, family enmity, romantic triangles, and secrets from the past. Brenda Joyce writes vivid pictures and she is known for her dramatic sensuality. Her previous book, THE THIRD HEIRESS, was a New York Times bestseller, so I expect that fans of the romance-horror genre would find this offering exciting as well.

June 2000 Review


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