Title: Valley of Shadows
Author: Phoenix Emrys
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M paranormal/horror romance
Length: 285 pages
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
An initially absorbing and interesting start gave way to an ending which came out of left field and was very confusing.
*** This review contains spoilers ***
Ellery James, a celebrated author of historical romances, shuns the spotlight, preferring the solitude of his small town sanctuary to risking media scrutiny. He harbors a closely guarded secret that is not only the bane of his existence, but the source and inspiration of his bestsellers.
His strictly proscribed existence goes south and sideways when the grimly dangerous Boone Dantrell blazes into Ellery’s life. Ellery is alarmed to experience a tentative but undeniable connection to the haunted, mysterious stranger with secrets of his own, and the burgeoning attraction between them grows almost as swiftly as the danger dogging Boone.
They’ve barely met before their secrets and worlds collide, thrusting them both into unimaginable peril. The battle they must wage together spans this world—and the next—and losing it could cost them not only their lives, but their very souls.
This is the second book by a new author from DSP I’ve reviewed this week, and again this one failed to engage, but for different reasons. I’m also sorry for having to flag up the spoiler alert, but there’s no way I can describe my problems with this book without revealing the big secret that the main character is hiding. If it’s any consolation the secret is revealed within the first few pages of the book.
Ellery is a famous and popular writer of historical fiction who also hides a big secret: He’s able to see and speak to ghosts. Throughout his life this has caused problems for Ellery, especially as he is pestered pretty much all the time by ghosts who wish Ellery to pass on messages from beyond the grave to their loved ones. Things are further complicated by the arrival of Boone to the small town where Ellery lives. Boone has a ghostly companion who is refusing to ‘pass over’ until Boone can be brought out of his crippling grief, something Ellery is only too happy to do.
The book is written in the first person from Ellery’s point of view. I generally like first person narratives, but they do rely quite heavily on the reader connecting with the narrator. In this book, I found it difficult to connect completely with Ellery for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Ellery speaks (to coin a phrase from my Grandma) like he’s swallowed a dictionary. Here’s an example:
I’ll leave her to it, then. Satisfying the nutritional requirements of nonexistent felines should keep her out of trouble until Cal comes to collect her…..On the other side of my front door, I encounter yet another impediment to my intentions and progress. Bert, my UPS guy, arriving for the envelope I’m toting.
This verbosity put a distance between myself and Ellery, especially as I spent much of the book thinking ‘who speaks like this?’. I might have been more forgiving if this was just a quirk of Ellery’s character, but Boone also suffers from the same way of speaking. As we are not told Boone’s background (other than he had a wife and child), or what his former occupation was, then the similar way that the two men expressed themselves seemed out of place. As an author, I almost understand why Ellery might speak the way he does, but we are given no clues as to why Boone should be so educated and cultured. The second reason why I failed to connect to Ellery was because he was just a little too pleased with himself. He has a witty and sarcastic character and way of speaking, which could have been amusing, but instead came across to me as overly smug and self-satisfied.
The story itself begins well and I was quickly drawn into the story of Ellery and how he copes with the day to day life of living surrounded by ghosts. Much of the early world-building is very gripping and interesting, showing how difficult Ellery’s life is and the way he copes with his special ‘gift’. Then, about 100 or so pages before the end, the story takes an abrupt left turn, and instead of focusing on Ellery’s ability to see ghosts, all sorts of other themes and ideas are thrown into the plot. Ideas such as past lives, fated love, rips in time and space, absolute evil and ghostly possessions. All of this was crammed into the last third of the book as I was bombarded with more and more information, very little of which had been set-up previously in the book and some of which was difficult to understand or follow. Ellery suddenly seems to take on a whole lot more abilities and know how to use them with ease. If this had been foreshadowed earlier in the story then the story would have flowed better but this wasn’t the case. At one point Ellery jumps his soul out of his body and I thought ‘how did he do that? I didn’t know he could do that!’. The bad guy appears out of nowhere, stays to cause havoc and is then dispatched in a rather confusing manner. I was so taken aback by all the new stuff that Ellery could suddenly do, and by trying to keep up with all the new developments that I completely lost my faith in the story and by the end of the book, I was left with more questions than answers.
It’s been difficult to grade this story because of my feelings for Ellery and the way the book ends. However, the first part of the book was so engaging that I thought that it deserved a grade in the 3 stars, especially as some readers might like Ellery more than I did. As paranormals go, this book had a lot of initially great ideas and some sweetly emotional scenes. Be aware though that the ending might leave you a little lost and confused – or maybe that’s just me and I was having a ‘dense’ day.