Title: Gray Places
Author: Julia Byrd
Genre: Fiction, romance, gothic
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Release date: April 5th, 2017
Where I got the book: I received a free e-ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary (from Goodreads): 1790s Yorkshire, England – Katherine Gilbert sets out for Wainforth Manor in North Yorkshire to fulfill her father’s last request. The master of Wainforth, Thomas Norcliffe, does not welcome her unannounced arrival, so Katherine must tread carefully around his dark moods while attempting to unlock the history buried in his ancestral home. After she receives more than one whispered warning from the townspeople in Wainforth Village, Katherine’s initial audacity begins to waver. Deadly secrets from the Norcliffe family’s past are resurfacing, and Katherine begins to realize that the biggest danger lies within herself – the wisest course is to leave, but she wants to stay at Wainforth Manor and uncover the truth about Thomas Norcliffe.
“Most women would be long gone by now. In fact, most wouldn’t have come here at all. But you, Katherine. You like me. You even like not knowing how dangerous I might be. Your life needed some air in it, and you put yourself in my way.”
– Gray Places, Julia Byrd
Katherine Gilbert visits Wainforth Manor to finish her late father’s book about a specific Italian influence on the English country house style, and Wainforth Manor is an example of such. The current master of the place, Thomas Norcliffe, reluctantly lets Katherine stay to collect the information she needs, but in the wake of her research she accidentally uncovers several dark secrets about the Norcliffe family.
After a couple of rather heavy and emotionally taxing books, “Gray Places” turned out to be a light and very suitable read! I’m always a bit torn about books that has romance as one of their main genres. I’m not really very big on this and so my enjoyment of the book as a whole depends on whether or not I actually care about the romance aspect. I’m happy to say that I did end up caring about it here, and that this book also contains more than just that. It has its share of mystery too, and these different aspects are well-balanced.
One thing I really liked about “Gray Places” is the scenery. The descriptions of the surroundings are beautiful but not overly detailed, they’re not in any way repetitive or too simple, and it’s easy to imagine the setting. There are also several architectural descriptions throughout the book, seeing as this is a central piece of the story, and I enjoyed these a lot. They’re very specific and seem to be well-researched but they’re not too elaborate or intricate, and they don’t push too much unnecessary information on you. With descriptions like these I sometimes feel as though the author wants to include as much from their research as possible, making the descriptions ramble a bit. In this case however I felt like I got all the information I needed through Katherine’s observations, and I didn’t know more than what her character saw fit to include or remark upon.
This brings us to another favorite part of mine, which is Katherine Gilbert’s character. She basically has no one left after her father died, and while this was meant to emphasize how lonely and monotone her life has become, I think it also contributed greatly to her independence. She’s traveling alone, she comes off as very professional and knowledgeable regarding her father’s book, she has a curious and adventurous side to her (which often gets her into trouble), and she stands up to the difficult Thomas Norcliffe. Mr. Norcliffe on the other hand is presented as rather typical in all his mystery – he’s tall, dark, and handsome, and you don’t really know where to place him. There are some descriptions of him that do get a bit repetitive – we get it, he’s attractive – but I see the necessity of establishing a certain tension. Even though Thomas Norcliffe starts out as a stereotypical character, he does undergo good development throughout the book.
The overall writing is great, with good language. The dialogue flows well but comes off as a bit stilted at times, though I mostly see this as an attempt at fitting it to the appropriate time period. Many of the elements included are typical and I expected many of them to eventually show up, such as for example the introduction of another “competing” female character, the village ball, and a slightly antagonistic potential romance where they can’t stand each other at first. That said, I also found that many of the elements fit well into the gothic-genre. There is death and darkness, unexplained events, and a mystery that is gradually introduced and uncovered, and this easily had me hooked.
All in all I think this ties up nicely into an entertaining debut novel that is both character- and plot-driven. The author told me she had fun writing it and I can definitely tell; a lot of care has gone into the plot, the characters, and the research for the world-building. Recommended if you’re looking for a light read that includes both romance and mystery!