Dark of the Moon, released in audio format this past April, carries an original 1988 print publication date. I haven’t read a lot of romances written in that time period but this one thoroughly impressed me with its attention to detail and character development. In fact, it’s one of the first longer length audiobooks that I have listened to (about 14 hours), where I actually believed that nearly every minute was essential. Moreover, it’s a bargain. In today’s publishing world, this story would likely have been produced as a series as, in addition to its longer length, the story also logically breaks down into two parts. The first takes place when the heroine is a young teenager when she first meets the hero, and the second begins a few years later. Interestingly, the publisher’s description only describes the later, which is when the romance and critically important suspense really begins. But one big warning: this story contains extreme domestic abuse including non-consensual, non-erotic BDSM at the hands of a villain.
Dark of the Moon mostly takes place in Ireland during the Protestant Ascendancy. We first meet the Irish heroine, Caitlyn O’Malley, on the streets of Dublin where, disguised as a boy, she survives by picking pockets. That changes one day when, mistakenly believing she is stealing from a English nobleman, she meets her match – Connor d’Arcy, Earl of Iveagh.
But Connor is no Englishman. During the Protestant Ascendancy, many Catholic Irishmen lost their lands to the English Crown due to the clash between their religious beliefs. In an attempt to protect their family’s landholdings (Donoughmore Castle), Connor was sent to England to study and learn about the Church of England, but in his heart he is a Catholic and is not loyal to the English.
Orphaned at a relatively young age, Connor was but a mere child when he was forced to grow up to provide for this three younger brothers. With no available work to be found, he resorted to looting from rich Englishmen. Once he had provided enough for his family, he continued in this Robin Hood style tradition, giving the remaining spoils to the impoverished Irish people. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Caitlyn strikes a cord with Connor. Wanting to find a way to help “O’Malley” and truly believing she is a boy, Connor offers her shelter in his home and a job as a sheepherder on his farm.
Strong-willed and proud, Caitlyn doesn’t want to accept his charity but eventually capitulates although she refuses to let up her charade of being a lad, as she believes that men only want to harm females. Raised on the streets dressed as a boy, she is more comfortable in britches and doing boy’s work, and has no idea how girls are supposed to behave. Soon after Caitlyn moves to Donoughmore, however, the truth comes out. Fearing that Caitlyn would suffer a terrible fate if her secret was discovered, Connor does the honorable thing and decides to take her in and raise her alongside his brothers.
Unlike the typical bodice ripper 1980s romances, it is not Connor who pursues Caitlyn. In fact, for the first third or more of the book, there is no romance between the couple whatsoever. Connor is so accustomed to being her caretaker that after years of serving in that role, he still refuses to acknowledge that she is a woman or that he could have romantic feelings for her. When his younger brothers, however, start taking notice of Caitlyn’s now blossoming womanly charms and start fighting over her, Connor feels compelled to claim her to restrain their advances. Caitlyn, who silently admires Connor, needs no further encouragement, and aggressively pursues Connor.
The story is made even better by the fantastic narration by Elizabeth Wiley. I had recently had a so-so experience with Ms. Wiley’s work, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the breathing issues I noticed in that performance were absent here. Moreover, Ms. Wiley’s highly differentiated, character-appropriate voices for each of the many roles in this book really brought the book to life. In particular, I loved that even in the scenes where all four brothers were present and engaging in dialogue, I could easily distinguish each one.
Additionally, Ms. Wiley’s portrayal of Caitlyn was perfect, bringing out beautifully all of her distinctive traits, including her youthful innocence, extreme pride, and headstrong nature. Her depiction of Connor is equally impressive. You could just hear the anguish dripping from his voice when he was struggling to both listen to his heart and do right by Caitlyn. Perhaps her best work is a scene where Connor is clearly impaired for drinking too much. Noticing the difference in his state, Caitlyn naively worries that he might be sick and comes to his aid. Several paragraphs before the author even tells you that Connor is drunk, the listener knows what has transpired due to Ms. Wiley’s great acting which added a slightly comical element to this scene.
What a breath of fresh air. I loved the different setting and learning all about the strife between the Irish and the English and the battle between the Catholic and English Church. Moreover, the longer timeline allowed me to believe in, and even root for, the romance when it finally occurred. Add in the talented narration by Ms. Wiley, and you have one of the best historical romances that I have listened to in recent times. I so thoroughly enjoyed Karen Robard’s writing, that now I am compelled to go and read or listen to more of her huge list of works.
Book Content: A-
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence: Escalated Fighting (including a rather detailed description of practices employed during hangings) and Domestic Violence
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Dark of the Moon was provided to AudioGals for review by Tantor Audio.