Okay, so quite a while back I read (and loved) the Amelia Peabody series, written by Michaels, whose actual name is Barbara Mertz, who wrote the Peabody series as Elizabeth Peters. (Why, people. Why so many names. Please stop.) Anyway, I went on to read Peters/Mertz’s Vicky Bliss series, which was also enjoyable but lacked the magic that made me love the Peabody books so much. (Or maybe they just lacked Amelia Peabody. I really love Amelia Peabody.)
Mertz also wrote several stand-alone novels, most of which were written as Barbara Michaels (many of which have Elizabeth Peters emblazoned on them, as though giving me someone’s other fake name is going to somehow help me keep them straight).
Prior to Black Rainbow, the only Michaels book I had read was Houses of Stone. I’m sure that you all remember my engaging review of that book. My main complaint about it was that it was mostly a treatise on how horrible women have had it throughout all the years. According to the main character in Houses of Stone, there has never been a single woman born who had it better than a man. Or something like that. Frankly, I got super bored with her rantings and explanations about how all Gothic novels were written were just a cry for help from women, who wrote about being imprisoned because they were imprisoned (by men, of course) – emotionally, physically, mentally, etc.
And, let’s be honest, I wasn’t completely surprised, because both the Peabody and Bliss series had a strong feminist line to them. However, I felt like the main characters of those two series were reasonable. They realized that they still had the brains and wherewithal to do something with the their lives, especially if they spent less time whining about their (hypothetical) disadvantages, and more time actually doing. Still. Houses of Stone was a downer, but I went in hoping for better from Black Rainbow. Because I still liked the story in Houses (when Michaels deigned to pause the lecture and grace us with a bit of plot). Plus, I know Michaels can write a solid, engaging tale when she wants to – there are nineteen Peabody books, and while I’m not going to say that they are all 5-star reads, they were, on the whole, pretty darn good.
Enough rambling. On to Black Rainbow. This novel is set in the 1800’s and is about a young woman who has been hired as a governess. She is broke and all alone in the world. We first meet Megan as she walks from the station to her new home, Grayhaven Manor. Ominously, as the storm clouds part, a black rainbow appears over the estate. Megan is seized with a superstitious fear, which she of course represses and continues on her way.
Megan, we find out, has been employed as a governess for the ward of a random fellow she met in London. Megan has quite the crush on her employer, the young and handsome Edmund Mandeville, even though she knows basically nothing about him except he is young, handsome, and owns an estate called Grayhaven Manor. (Oh, and he has a ward.) Megan’s obsession with Edmund, who doesn’t even appear for a few chapters, felt extremely weird, since Megan herself barely knows the guy. Whatevs, as the kids say.
Heroine #2 is Jane, Edmund’s sister. Jane has been running the estate in Edmund’s absence, as it turns out that he’s been away at war for a bit and while he was gone their dad kipped over, and Jane had to step up to the plate, running the estate and, more importantly, the mills that finance it. Of course, this all works out because Jane is intelligent, kind, resourceful, decisive, far-seeing, a good listener, and any other quality you can think of that you wish your local mill owner had.
Edmund finally gets around to showing up, and he decides that because he is a MAN he should obviously be in charge, so poor Jane is stuck wandering aimlessly around the house wishing she had a job. Edmund, who is a complete and total douche, struts around like a banty rooster, making all sorts of stupid decisions that adversely impact the lives of his employees and tenants. He also decides to remodel the entire house, and he wants to sell the mill because real gentlemen aren’t involved in trade. Edmund wants to come off as a real gentleman, because he is interested in winning the hand of a real lady from a neighboring county.
Lady Georgina is obviously only interested in Edmund for his money. She’s beautiful and an excellent horsewoman and is out of money. She’s a total snob and all the servants hate her. Basically, she’s Caroline Bingley.
The story went on and on and ON, and I use the word “story” loosely because there wasn’t much of one. It was impossible for me to like Megan because anyone who is in love with Edmund is just plain stupid. He has no redeeming qualities. He’s a whiny, spoiled little twat who throws temper tantrums whenever things don’t go his way, and then acts all charming and flattery to win back people’s good opinions. I couldn’t stand Edmund, and I couldn’t stand Megan for liking him. Just. Ugh. No. Please. Edmund and Lady Georgina deserved each other.
Jane was much more likable, but she was really only there so Michaels could spend pages emphasizing how helpless Jane’s position was. Poor Jane just has to do whatever Edmund says, because he’s a man and she’s a woman. And, by the way, women are always the smart, kind ones, and men are always selfish jerks, so the reason that there are any problems in the world is because men make (bad, obviously) decisions and women just have to sit about wringing their hands.
Every now and then, something would happen to make the story pick up the pace a bit, and I would think Oh, good, a story! except then it would just sort of fade away again. The other problem to me was that the “mystery” aspect of the story wasn’t very mysterious, as it was quite obvious what was going on/what was going to go on, which added to the overall boredom of the read.
In the end, 2/5. This was more or less readable, but I just didn’t like anybody. The ending was solid(ish), but it just seemed completely and totally unreasonable to me that Megan would go through so much to win the affection of a total tool, and I got really tired of hearing how trapped and helpless Jane was, all due to her womanhood. (Aside: Lady Georgina didn’t seem to have trouble with helplessness. She went out and got shizznizz done. She didn’t spend a whole lot of time hand wringing.) The story was very predictable and not terribly exciting. I’m still planning to check out more of Michaels’s work (actually, another of her books is on the TBR shelf as we speak), because I know she can write good ones!
Oh! And that “black rainbow” thing? Despite the fact that Michaels describes it as “palest silver-gray to a black deeper than the moonlit vault of the sky,” all I can seem to find is “moonbows,” which reflect from the light of the moon rather than the sun. Still, they do use regular rainbow colors, just more muted than their daytime cousin. I couldn’t find anything under black rainbow, but I am open to pictures/articles if anyone else has some??
Here’s a picture from this article about moonbows. In fairness, the author says that to the human eye, they usually appear white or silver, but a time lapse brings out the colors. Of course, everyone takes the pictures with the time lapse, so I can’t seem to locate a picture of what it would look like to a normal, mid-1800’s governess strolling the the dripping darkness towards her new home…