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TPG Reviews: St. Charles At Dusk, by Sarah M. Cradit

June 20, 2013

*Book received by the author in exchange for an honest review.*

St. Charles at Dusk provides both an engaging protagonist and a satisfying conclusion, but its dense style makes it a tougher read than it needed to be.

At twenty-one years old, Oz Sullivan is unable to understand his fascination with and attraction to a much younger Adrienne Deschanel. Adrienne is spirited, passionate, and impulsive… all of the things Oz is not. Oz is drawn to her in a way that is inexplicable to him, and deeply concerning to those who know him.

Amidst her father’s threats, Adrienne makes secret plans to run away with Oz. Before they can act on them, Adrienne and her family are involved in a tragic accident that takes the lives of the entire family. Adrienne’s body, however, is not found in the wreckage. Oz is devastated and unable to move on when an extensive investigation fails to solve the mystery of Adrienne’s vanishing.

Three years later Oz has made a life for himself as an attorney at his family’s law firm. However, the predictability and peace of his quiet life is shattered when Adrienne is discovered, alive and well…but with no memory of anything before the accident. Oz is conflicted: grateful that she is alive but still damaged from her disappearance and hesitant to get involved and re-open a wound that never fully closed. Yet, Oz finds himself unable to resist helping when Adrienne’s desperate attempt to flee the confusing and dark influences in her life instinctively finds her on Oz’s doorstep. Unable to turn her away, but equally unable to get too involved, Oz keeps from her the truth of who he was and what they meant to each other before she disappeared. Against his better judgment he finds himself enmeshed in the mystery of what happened to her when she was sixteen. The more he learns, the less he understands, and as the story unfolds and Adrienne’s memory slowly returns, everything they thought they both knew gets called into question.

I’ll start this review with the good.

Oz, the narrator, is a fantastically realized character who manages to be both likable and relatable despite his privileged upbringing.  When he and Adrienne fall in love, Oz is already 21 while Adrienne is only just pushing 16; Oz questions and reflects on this situation constantly, enabling the reader to root for the relationship despite the rather iffy details of it.  His character and development were consistently believable and very well written.  By the book’s ending, he is well and truly a changed man, and his changes is entirely consistent with his experiences over the story.  Said ending, by the way, was immensely satisfying and provided a real sense of finality for all the characters involved.

Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that I’d have made it far enough to see the good parts had I not agreed to write a review.

The main problem, for me, was the description in the book.  The book has a serious habit of overdescribing things, some of which are of questionable relevance.  One scene, for instance, consists of a room-by-room description of Oz’s house followed by a detailed description of the house’s surroundings.  Another scene serves the purpose of expositing on a large chunk of Oz’s mother’s life history, even though the character turns out to be of limited importance.  Even in cases when description was called for, the writing felt ever so slightly denser than it really needed to be.

I should also say some words about Adrienne, Oz’s principle love interest.  Frankly, I didn’t find her pre-amnesiac self to be believable in the slightest.  She is apparently a child prodigy, having managed to read “from Dickens to Dostoevsky” by the ripe age of nine.  By sixteen, she describes herself as “a fan” of War And Peace and is close to finishing the book for the second time.   Other books under her belt include The Great Gatsby and The Canterbury Tales.  In addition, she also manages to write three novels, at least one of which is (according to Oz) a work of genius.  Even allowing for the possibility of Oz being an unreliable narrator, these details quickly became annoying.

I should point out here that Adrienne is far from flawless.  Before her accident, she is incredibly naive and is far too keen to move her relationship with Oz forward, though this didn’t make her any easier for me to swallow.  By the time she and Oz are reunited, years of isolation have left her nervy and unsure of herself.  This new Adrienne was a lot more rounded a character and, consequently, was far more enjoyable to read about.  I dearly wish that the narrative had spent more time on this part of her life and less on her younger self.

Finally, I would like to tip my proverbial hat to the character of Angelique.  Saying too much on the matter would spoil it, but suffice it to say that she turned out to be one of the most interesting fictional characters I’ve come across in a while.

Overall, St. Charles at Dusk is a book that you really need to work towards in order to get the most out of it.  The underlying romance between Oz and Adrienne was compelling to read, but the dense style of the book frequently tested my patience.  Barring a major slump in reading material, I really can’t see myself continuing with this series.



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