Leifman Books

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By Tess Bentley

IR Rating:
An assured and inventive debut by Tess Bentley, VALE is an modern update of the classic Victorian romances with a neat twist that adds a freshness to this Brontësque tale.
IR Approved

A contemporary Gothic romance where a Californian mother finds herself the victim of a family curse and is transported back in time to Victorian England.

Vale has just turned thirty-six. She lives in a small Californian town with her husband and children. It is not a happy marriage. Just after Easter in 2021, she finds herself wandering around a graveyard, contemplating the headstones and imagining all of the lives lived and lost. She is approached by a man who claims to know her grandfather. Within moments he has taken a knife to her palm, and she passes out. When she wakes up she finds herself in a strange place: Victorian England. The man who accosted her has brought her back in time, an ancient family curse has been evoked, and now Vale must find her true destiny in both another country and century. She has also become younger, so the Vale who lands in 1847 is a mere eighteen-year-old, ready for new love.

VALE is an intriguing contemporary take on the Gothic romances of the early Victorian era. This is a genre exemplified by the works of the Brontë sisters, to whom debut author Tess Bentley is certainly indebted for the tone of her book. Whereas classic Gothic literature often depended on the spirits of the past entering the present, here it is a kind of future ghost acting as the protagonist. It’s a neat twist, and one which Bentley mostly pulls off. Using first-person narration, Bentley is at pains to write about Vale’s shock and discomfort at her predicament, but it is never completely convincing. Even in moments where Vale weeps for her absent children, she seems strangely passive to the bizarre events that have befallen her and perhaps too quickly embraces the world in which she finds herself. Vale seems more at ease in the past than in the troubles of her present, and in a way this is echoed by the prose. The opening chapter, set in the modern era, is rather prim and mannered. The first-person reflections and inner monologue seem anachronistic for a contemporary character. There is even a throwback ‘dear reader’ aside. When the switch occurs and Vale finds herself in 1847, both her character and the author’s prose seem on far firmer ground. The dialogue in the historical sequences is solid, the detail of the period exact. It is all far more convincing, and, as ersatz Victoriana, near perfect.

So often an author’s hard work is diminished by rather uninspiring artwork, but here the obvious care that Bentley has put into crafting her tale is complemented by stylish design, with effective ornamentation at each chapter heading, and a very striking cover (courtesy of Franziska Stern).

An assured and inventive debut by Tess Bentley, VALE is an modern update of the classic Victorian romances with a neat twist that adds a freshness to this Brontësque tale.

~Kent Lane for IndieReader

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