For years, Lauren Reay had been haunted by a dream about a castle. Then, when her grandfather was on his deathbed, he received a calendar that included a photograph of the castle and a note about its location, causing Lauren to realize with a shock that her dream castle actually existed and was connected to her family. Now, her grandfather having passed away, Lauren travels to the remote north of Scotland to see the castle, Blackness Tower, and to dig into the tragic family history that led her ancestor to leave the area long ago.
Lauren soon learns that she’s a dead ringer for a scandalous woman who lived at Blackness Tower a century ago, who was herself a dead ringer for another scandalous woman who lived there in the sixteenth century. Blackness Tower is haunted, and to cleanse it, Lauren must unravel the mystery that ties all three women together. Also delving into the Tower’s history are three men: the new owner who has recently restored the castle, an archaeologist excavating the nearby cemetery, and a paranormal investigator looking for evidence of Blackness Tower’s ghosts.
Blackness Tower gets off to a slow start, and some of the language can seem overly portentous: lots of musings about fate and destiny. It does help establish Lauren as a character who is imaginative and “away with the fairies,” but it can also seem melodramatic, especially when not much is happening yet.
I can pinpoint the exact moment when Blackness Tower hooked me: when the excavations turned up something that was archaeologically impossible. From that point on, revelation follows quickly upon revelation, and the story catches up with its ominous language. Lillian Stewart Carl builds toward an otherworldly climax that is beautifully written, moving, and enchanting (and made me late getting back from my lunch break the day I finished it, because I just couldn’t stop in the middle of it!). The central factor in the novel’s resolution is not combat or even magic, but the characters’ choices between healing and bitterness.
Overall, I enjoyed Blackness Tower and am glad I read it. The readers who will get the most out of Blackness Tower are those with a soft spot for Gothic romance and/or ancient folklore of the British Isles.