Fresh Meat: Inheritance of Shadows by Janis Susan May

Inheritance of Shadows by Janis Susan MayInheritance of Shadows by Janis Susan May is a contemporary romantic suspense novel with Gothic elements (available March 12, 2012).

Aurora Mathis is coming home. Back to Merrywood, an estate she doesn’t remember. Back to the house in which her father died by his own hand. Back to where she witnessed his death. Charles Mathis captivated millions of readers with a series of eerie fantasy novels before taking his own life when Aurora was just a toddler. Aurora tried to hide from his infamy but now she wants to learn about the man she never knew.

But as the days pass and the happenings around her turn from odd to dangerous, Aurora begins to wonder if the magical world her father created may not be completely fictional…

I decided to have a look at Inheritance of Shadows because of the cover copy—it’s always fun, to me, to read books that include fictional authors.  The best part is that this novel is a Gothic mystery with a definite element of the thriller. 

The novel itself is set in the present, but it has a distinct feel of the past, which helps maintain the Gothic feel.

Charles Mathis wrote dark fantasy that mingled aspects of Tolkien with Clark Ashton Smith or perhaps August Derleth, fantasy writers from the first half of the 20th century. Aurora—A.J.—is his daughter. I am guessing she would have been born in the 1980s, but her ties to the past are cleverly maintained by an upbringing that was outside of the mainstream of American culture.

…it might seem laughable that I knew so little of my famous father. Only those familiar with a narrow evangelical sect, a private school system more concerned with the promises of the next world than the practicalities of this one, and a family obsessed with maintaining the appearance of ministerial perfection could understand my ignorance.

A.J. is invited by a man named Edison Lee to attend a convention celebrating her father’s work. She swiftly encounters two of the main elements of a Gothic romance. First, there’s a mysterious house, in this case the one where her father died.

In spite of the comforts of the house I was uneasy, as if unseen currents moved around me. A draft?… Merrywood did not welcome me.

…there was that same feeling of things not being the way they should, of proportion gone wrong, of a strange charged energy in the room, though I didn’t notice any of that then. My attention was elsewhere.

Second, once A.J. is ensconced at Merrywood, she’s confronted by an ambiguous love interest, in this case Corwin, the man whom she’d loved in college, who later betrayed her. Worse, his ostensible purpose is to write a book about her father, when his betrayal of her had revolved around the same issue.  Her feelings about him remain strong, though she tries to deny them as much as she can; and at times it’s difficult for her to distinguish his real feelings from his manipulative behavior.

I simply stood there as [Corwin] covered the space between us in two long strides and swept me into his arms. I didn’t even struggle. I had lingered over guilty dreams of those steely arms enfolding me again so often that this was almost an extension of my fantasies. Only it wasn’t, at least not completely. Sensations swirled around and through me as I responded to his embrace with passionate alacrity. I was swimming, I was melting, I was flying… The length of Corwin’s body was hard next to mine as he crushed me ever more firmly against him. In the cool night the heat of his body was like a flame. His lips, those firm, classically sculpted lips, pressed against mine with a nearly savage passion, as if all the kisses we had once shared were combined into one explosive moment. My lips were bruised. I felt as if my soul were melting, but I did not try to pull away, even though it wasn’t real. I had known a real kiss from Corwin Warrender, many of them, and this wasn’t one. He was acting, and not doing it very well. Why?

Even though May follows the tropes of Gothic novels for the story’s setup, the story itself has enough twists and turns that I kept (electronically) turning pages, eager to learn what creepiness would next ensue, and how the romantic relationship would—or wouldn’t—turn out.  A fun read!

Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories.  Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice.  Follow her on Twitter:  @victoriajanssen or find out more at

Read all of Victoria Janssen’s posts for Criminal Element.