This novel is an unusual one. I have one of its early covers, courtesy of Barrymore Tebbs:
Gorgeous, huh? And the painting behind the woman sort of goes along with the novel. A painting plays a major role in the plot. I had heard before that Berckman's gothics are worth reading. She is lauded as a hidden gem among gothic romance/romantic suspense novelists. Many say she never got her due. I tend to agree after reading The Heir of Starvelings.
I'm not sure how many gothic romances she wrote, but I ran across this one at a Friends of the Library sale and snagged it. My cover looks like this. I couldn't find another on the Internets. I really like the teeth:
A naive innocent, Davina Milne, winds up at the fabled Starvelings--a ramshackle out of the way estate--one day as she's wandering in the woods. The opening sequence is quite tragic and scary. What she finds there changes her life--a neglected young boy who's more than just a common urchin. He's a lord who has been neglected by the lecherous Lord Stanyon and other household members.
The novel is worth reading for the introductory materials alone. Berckman obviously had a great passion for history and its preservation, and Victorian Era history is the focus of this historical gothic/gothic romance.
Plot: 4/5--I enjoyed the novel. It also had a couple great twists. The story line stands out among the many Gothics I've read, and it haunts me when I think about it.
Characterization: 5/5--Davina is a great heroine--strong and bold. She knows her own mind, and she's full of integrity. It's nice to find a heroine who isn't of the TSTL (too stupid to live) variety. Lord Stanyon, William, and the other characters are so well drawn, they step off the page, and indeed, the story is supposed to be based upon a true one.
Atmosphere/creepy elements: 5/5-- This novel nails the closed, isolated and claustrophobic feeling that a good Gothic has. Starvelings is a nightmare, and it's peopled with pathetic human beings. The villain is also scary in his own special way as is his minion. The true fright of this novel is the reality of the way that some human beings are neglected and forgotten... and left to a living horror of an existence.
Romantic elements: 5/5-- I can't say too much about this, but I loved the two males in the novel. One is a lover who has died in the Crimean War, and the other is a young lawyer who woos Davina.
** 4+ stars. I recommend it. If you're looking for something different that has a happy but wistful ending, you'll love it.