“Catherine Cookson meets Victoria Holt”

I grew up reading both Cookson and Holt from a young age.  I have literally read all of their books, some twice. They were, without a doubt (and along with Phyllis Whitney) my favorite authors as a high school teen and beyond. Holt’s ability to create a world of gothic suspense is unparalleled, and Cookson’s ability to transform her character’s, both male and female, is equaled only by a few.

I picked up Suzan Tisdale’s Frederick’s Queen fresh on the heels of having read Rowan’s Lady.  Both are part of her Clan Graham Series.  I read the first page and couldn’t put the book down. The torment of heroine Aggie McLaren at the hands of her father, the physical abuse and scars she has endured by the time the book opens, and her transformation from weakness to strength, was reminiscent of Cookson’s writing style.  And Frederick Macinktosh’s change of heart at the beginning of the book, and the subsequent path he travels in his new found quest to change his life, is endearing, especially as he finds exactly what he is looking for but not in the ways which he had hoped. I truly have not had the pleasure of feeling as if I was reading a Cookson book in years until I opened this one.

Holt is known for her gothic romance and for immersing readers so thoroughly in the story that you feel as if you are there. No one could use settings better than her, from dark forests, to creeping fog, to old houses. Tisdale’s gothic tone is reminiscent of Holt’s, from the run-down McLaren castle, to the Bowie clan’s dungeon, to the hidden passageways of medieval castles and on to the affluent Mackintosh estate near the end of the novel.  I literally felt as if I was there.

While the first 1/3 kept me on my feet, there was a time in the middle 3rd that the book seemed to lag. However, this slower time was necessary to the growth of both Frederick and Aggie. Had they not had this “slowing” time within their story, I’m not sure they would have become as strong as they needed at the end to fight the battles towards lasting happiness.  Aggie simply has so much she has to overcome and Frederick has to work so hard to earn her trust. It takes time to do that. Besides, throughout this middle 1/3 the reader is well aware everything is about to explode in their faces, and the new found intimacy and friendship between Frederick and Aggie will be threatened when it does.

As I always warn my readers, since I have many of you who read very “clean” fiction, this one has some intimate interplays between Frederick and Aggie. Nothing overly specific, but certainly suggestive. There is also more violence in this book than in Tisdale’s previous ones, but I would not say it is unnecessary. Aggie begins as a very tragic figure, and her character motivation is driven by the excessive violence of her father. Without the violence, her extreme distrust would make no sense. Additionally, before the book begins, she was raped by a man of another clan when she was thirteen years old. Tisdale treats the subject delicately, and Aggie’s ability to confront the young man later, as Frederick helps her heal from the trauma, is remarkable.

Now that I’ve read all of Tisdale’s books, it might be time to go read Holt and Cookson again. That will keep me busy for a while. By the time your are my age, it will be like reading them all over again for the first time!

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