Harriet Esmond is a lovely pen name for husband and wife writing team John and Jean Burke. John Burke's wonderful website is here:
Tales of Unease
Take a look at that horse in the foreground as well as the gorgeous yellow gown. The house has a lighted window, and the colors are dark blues and greens. Very nice.
Plot: 4/5 The novel starts out a bit slowly, but I noticed the narrator describes characters' clothes, etc. immediately with waistcoats and such. So many gothic romance novelists who write historicals don't include such things, and it's annoying to me. Anyway, Deborah Ritchie travels to a remote part of Eastern England after her father's death. She plans to spend time with her half-sister and is shocked to learn her sister Beatrice and husband died in a mysterious fire. A mystery unfolds that includes Satanic rituals, decaying families, sadomasochism and more.
Characterization: 4/5 Nicely done. All the characters are well drawn and memorable, and Deborah is a strong heroine with brains. The tortured hero is yummy as well.
Literary elements: 4/5 The novelists did their research, and it's obvious with Victorian words like mere and others sprinkled throughout the novel. Mentions of other period events also lends credibility to the novel.
Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 There isn't any real ghostly activity going on, but the shocking nature of what the villain and others get up to with the young ladies of the village lends a dark tone to the novel.
Romantic elements: 3/5 The romance isn't hot and heavy in this one, but I rooted for hero and heroine, though I knew early on which man was the one. I prefer to wonder for a while.
Rating: 4 stars ****
If you find a copy of this one, grab it! It is original and interesting.