I really, really wanted to like this book.
I thought Twilight was utterly appalling, so when I saw the review on the cover of this book that said something along the lines of "The thinking person's Twilight", I thought, hurray!! An intelligent, well-plotted, well-characterised fantasy with elements of a supernatural romance - just the thing for cold evenings by the fire. Sadly, I don't feel that the book really delivered on any of these fronts. The premise seemed interesting - a mysterious manuscript that supernatural creatures want to get their hands on is called up by the novel's heroine, a witch named Diana. A dishy vampire - the hero, Matthew - sees the danger she is in and decides to get involved. The location (Oxford) is well-described, and the reader gets a nice sense of settling in for a meaty read.
Sadly, nothing much really happens. Diana spends a lot of her time going running and rowing on the river while Matthew eyes her beadily from the banks. At this point, he starts to tell her how extraordinarily brave she is to be carrying on as though there were no danger. He continues to be amazed by her courage throughout the book. I get the impression that we, the readers, are supposed to think that Diana is terribly brave too, though really it's more like she's just oblivious to the strange turn her life is taking.
She drinks enormous amounts of tea. Every time she puts on the kettle (and spoons the tea into a pot and warms her hands on the hot mug and sips at the soothing, fragrant brew), the experience is lovingly detailed for us. I began to think that tea was going to turn out to be a major plot-device, and that perhaps the action would centre around some sort of ancient tea-leaf feud, but no.
Then there is the yoga. I'm not sure why I found this so jarring. I tried to accept that, within the world of this novel, yoga would be be a perfectly normal hobby for witches, daemons and vampires but it just seemed odd. Diana is being threatened by a host of other-worldly creatures, and strong, mysterious Matthew is deeply concerned for her safety so, to relax, the two of them put their yoga mats into Matthew's car and drive off to an "inclusive" yoga class, in which other-worldly creatures put aside their differences and fold themselves into downward-facing-dogs and sun salutations (quite lengthy descriptions of the various postures and movements, and how it felt to do them, are given). I recognise that authors may create their worlds as they wish but this still felt incongruous to me.
Then there is the fact that we are told, time and time again, that Diana is brave, that she is strong, that she is a capable, independent woman. Sadly, and very like Bella in Twilight, once the alpha-male vampire appears on the scene, she is reduced to someone that just needs to be protected. Matthew is constantly ordering her to go to bed, carrying her up the stairs, wrapping her in blankets, propping her up before the fire and telling her exactly what she may or may not do. When she is not drinking tea, in fact, she seems to be permanently in a state of exhaustion - sometimes only a couple of hours after an enormous sleep, she's worn out again - and this seems to be used as a vehicle for her man literally to sweep her off her feet and tuck her into bed again, while looking adoringly at her and telling her what a feisty, strong and stubborn creature she is. I don't really understand what their deep and abiding love is based on, either. There is no sexual tension or chemistry to speak of. The fact that Matthew treats Diana more like a sickly child than anything else doesn't help. There is kissing, but not as much as there is sleeping, enfolded in manly arms, soothed by a strong and manly presence.
Despite all of this, and somewhat to my own surprise, I didn't hate this book.
This is probably only because, truth be told, I rather like descriptions of food and drink and gothic places (luckily, in this case), so I didn't find the novel quite as tedious as its lack of action deserved. Nothing much happens and I really don't like either of the main characters much, but the cosy images of meals and fires and old castles and quirky houses were enough to get me through to the end - just about. Ideally, the food et al would be coupled with some real plotting and interesting personalities, a female lead who isn't a droopy-drawers and a male lead who isn't an aggressive, over-protective know-all. In this day and age, are we really supposed to be into this image of how relationships should be?
I'm torn between giving two stars and three for this book, so I'll err on the side of generosity! I won't be buying the sequel, though.