BLOG REVIEW: Cage of Shadows by Anne Mather

19y.o. was about to start art college with her father's encouragement,
when her writer father suddenly dies 5 months ago. He leaves nothing to her and everything to her ambitious stepmother, who he naively trusted to continue to financially support heroine.
Her father's publisher makes a deal with her: find out what her father's friend, 39y.o. medical researcher Hero, is presently working on and she gets a much-needed £6,000 for living expenses and art school. The problem is she has to go to Florida to find him, based on an old address from her father's diary.
Also, the last time she saw him was when she was 8 years old and her father's photos of him confirm her memory of what he looked like then.
His highly-secured estate is only a temporary setback to finding him.
Pretending to stumble upon his beachfront home while out on a swim proves to be successful.
However, grim and unwelcoming Hero appears very different than how she remembers him to be.
The feelings he's arousing in her is unlike anything she's ever felt before. She can tell it's reciprocated 
and she welcomes it.

But Hero insists on keeping her away from him.
Her determination to get to know him better is driven by different reasons.
The main one being their fierce attraction to each other,
which becomes his downfall.
The unexpected arrival of heroine's stepmother becomes her downfall, 
as the truth of why she's there gets revealed. However, the truth of what Hero's been up to the last 3 years comes out as well.
What does the truth do to their new romance?

This Mather book worked for me. There's a big age-difference between heroine and Hero, who she used to call Uncle when she was younger. Their 20-year age gap was justified by their relationship distance (i.e., they haven't seen each other in 11 years & heroine only ever saw him occasionally when he'd visit their house in London in between his international work) and heroine acting as the aggressor in their romance.  Heroine wasn't generally aggressive or self-indulgent nor had she ever pursued a romantic relationship. But she knew that she wanted Hero, that he struggled with his attraction to her, and that time was very limited.  The urgency of time and the fear that he'll want nothing to do with her after he finds out why she's in Florida made her uncharacteristically determined to have her way with him. Her naivete and impulsivity from being a 19-year-old likely added to her dogged determination to have him, no matter the cost. And its this cost of a long-term romance with Hero that made me wonder how much she'd really thought things through.

     -------------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-------------

1. Hero's big secret
The reason why Hero left England and became a recluse 3 years ago was because he contracted leprosy while helping diagnose and find a cure for it in the countries he worked at. He needed time and space to heal. But he was also suffering shame from having contracted the disease like many lepers do and didn't want to face the social stigma from having the disease, especially since it was the very work he was sought to help cure.  He was also conducting his personal research on another man with a more debilitating leprosy condition who lived in his estate along with his wife. Although Hero's leprosy was treated, it made me wonder how prepared heroine was to deal with the social backlash from those ignorant and/or prejudiced against those who suffered from leprosy. Their time together was quite short (about 3 weeks) and cocooned in a secluded Florida island, where no one knew either of them. What would it be like when they both returned and lived together in London? An epilogue would've helped.

2. their age gap
Heroine was just starting her life as an independent adult and attend art school. She was financially sheltered by her wealthy father so she'd never had to work and had always been provided for. Her father's death spelled the end of her financial dependence, knowing how her stepmother resented her.  Her reluctant acceptance of her father's publisher's request to find info about Hero for a good sum of money was due to her lack of financial independence. She had planned on getting a job and renting a room somewhere. But she was smart enough to grab the opportunity to make a quick £6,000 plus enjoy the sun a bit at Key Largo. She had to wrestle with the question of betraying Hero for the money she needed. It would've been better if she actually came up with alternative means to support herself without the promised money. But it was bypassed by her stepmother and then later Hero saving her from her financial struggles. 

Heroine also had never had a boyfriend but had gone on dates before. There were no mention of her friends and it was her housekeeper she went to for help and support, when her stepmother kicked her out of the house. So heroine didn't have much of a social life. Hero, on the other hand, had gone through college years ago and had an established career. He also had quite the social life before he isolated himself. He actually dated heroine's stepmother for a while before she met and married her father. Even in his isolation and leprous condition, he caught the eye of his sensual housekeeper (who was the wife of the leprous man who lived with him) and had a drunken sexual cheating incident with her.  Hero was at a stage of his life that he was ready to settle down, while heroine was just launching from the nest. It's not a big problem really. But they hadn't dealt with any age-related issues in their relationship during their 3 weeks together. It may not even be a big issue at all.

       ------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS--------------------------------------------------

Their 3 weeks of pursuit and resistance gave us a glimpse of their romance. Other factors that could affect their romance in the long-term was hardly or not touched on at all.  I wished we got a glimpse of their settled life in England in an epilogue, say 3 years later. That would've given me more certainty about their HEA (happy ever after), which I believe is quite likely. A little more nudge in that direction via an epilogue would've helped.

A major reason why I'm rating this book a 4-star (versus my initial 3.5-star rating) was because of its unique storyline and fuller characterization. Comparing this 1983 Mather book with the more recent Mills & Boon Modern/Harlequin Presents (HP) books I've read made their differences glaringly obvious. There were no sex-scene details in this book. We just got general information that Hero and heroine had sex twice. There was some foreplay description but they were quite tame and only went as far as breasts. This book, however, drew me into the main characters' romance much more than the sex-romp HPs of late by how their relationship and characters were portrayed. In less than 200 pages, I became invested in their romance and the character development, making me root for their improvement for the sake of their individual happiness and HEA. The sexual chemistry wasn't explicitly depicted but was still very obvious in the emotional tone of their interactions. The secondary characters, especially heroine's stepmother and Hero's housekeeper, gave their romance an edge and a step towards angst. I like how HPs like these present a conflict or barrier in the main romance just enough to grip my emotions but it doesn't actually follow through on the cheating, complete rejection/abandonment, etc. to really inflict total angst and ruin the romance.  It stirs enough emotional movement in less than 200 pages to make it a favorable read with a good-enough ending. This combination has been difficult to find in the recently-published HPs. It's a sad state of affairs that a 1983 HP is written much better than most of the HPs written within the last 5 years.

I recommend this book.

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