For me this was a lurid and convoluted tale. First of all I don't want to bore readers with a history lesson, but in this case it might help more than it hurts.
First of all, the set up goes something like this:
Janella is a young girl living at Villa Montezuma with her step-mother, and severely disabled and mentally handicapped half-brother. Literally, out of the blue a man shows up and explains to Janella, he is her uncle by marriage. His name is Lucien Dubois and has come to inform Janella that her Aunt Toivi is not well. He would like Janella to come and stay with them and help care for her aunt.
“When the fog came down from the sky and changed the world into shapelessness, into a gray dream, the Fog Maiden, Terhen Neiti, came too. And she could grant a wish, but it was dangerous to ask. For instead of granting a wish the gray maiden might take you with her, and then you could never be found. But, if you called to her and she liked you, knew you as a friend, your wish would be granted”.
Aunt Toivi made a game of calling the Fog Maiden when Janella was a child. But, as an adult, Janella remembers nothing before the age of eight years old. She finds her aunt is not truly ill in the body, but is ill in the spirit. She likes to practice certain rituals, one them being hypnosis or entering into someone’s mind. Janella is susceptible to hypnosis and often manages to put herself in a trance. So, from the beginning Janella has an unsettling feeling about her aunt and Lucien, as well as an older woman that lives in the house who apparently dislikes Janella's presence.
To make matter even more interesting, Janella meets a young man on the grounds she calls “Red” who seems to be very curious about her aunt and uncle. In fact, he tells her that one of Lucien’s other “companions” has disappeared.
In the beginning I thought this book had all the ear marks of a good old Gothic tale. The Jane Eyre meets Barbara Michaels’ type Gothic mystery/romance. The elements were in place for such a set up. Eccentric aunt, a strange uncle, an odd character hanging around the grounds, and an old woman that dislikes Janella…which makes Janella the damsel in distress. However, if you are not familiar with the Gothic mysteries of the 1970's then let me give you some idea of what to expect. Read a Barbara Michaels novel that is clearly one of her Gothics and you will see a similarity. (But, only a slight one, since Barbara was the queen of the supernatural Gothic). Many TV shows, movies and books of the era were dark, gloomy, spooky and often very lurid. They were also placed in the “horror” genre as opposed the Gothic genre. Gothics of this era were often on the Jane Eyre side of things, but occasionally a supernatural element was added. Romantic suspense is what we would really call those types of books today, but Barbara Michaels took the genre on new path with many of her books and sort of changed the way many people thought about Gothic as well as the wildly popular TV soap opera “Dark Shadows”. This book really tries to land somewhere in the middle of a gothic and horror and it just didn't make it in either. It was just too hard to follow along with all the odd terms used and it just got confusing. I understood the story but it just wasn't cohesive. There is some really dated material and references which didn't bother me, but might throw the modern reader a little as well as terms that we DO NOT use today. In this time frame however, these terms were not considered offensive.
I have some Jane Toombs books as part of my Silhouette Shadows collection and so I am somewhat familiar with her work. I can imagine this book being liked in the mid-seventies. I think this one might have a hard time finding a new audience, though I could be wrong. I just review a great many older books that are being re-issued in digital format and new readers are discovering authors whose work has been out of print for a while. Most of the time it works, but some books just will not appeal to today's readers and I'm afraid this one will fall into that category. I'm going to have to go with a three on this one.
Sometimes secrets are better left buried.
Janella Maki never felt as though she truly belonged. Haunted by bouts of amnesia and strange visions of her mysterious childhood, she is desperate for answers. When a strange man enters her life and introduces himself as her Uncle Lucien, Janella is eager to accompany him to her long lost home.
Leading her to a remote house, Lucien reveals the nightmares that her forgotten childhood was shielding her from. Possessed of supernatural powers, powers gained through occult rituals, powers beyond her control—Janella knows that through her, evil has been unleashed on the world.
This Retro Romance reprint was previously published in March 1976 by Ballantine.