When it’s snowy and blustery out, there are two kinds of books I really love to read: books that whisk me away to a balmy paradise, and books that are set in a snowstorm so that the real weather enhances the mood of the novel. Nocturne is one of the latter, taking place in the Colorado Rockies during a blizzard.
Twenty-nine-year-old Nicole is driving back from a friend’s wedding when she crashes her rental car in the aforementioned snowstorm. She is rescued by Michael, a reclusive man who lives alone in his palatial mountain home. The weather prevents either of them from leaving for several days. Michael is strangely brusque at times, and at first Nicole thinks he is angry about her presence, but before long they establish a connection.
Syrie James invokes classic fairytale tropes to draw readers into a state of enchantment. There’s a room Nicole is forbidden to enter, for example, and a mysterious rose. One plot twist, I think, may be a homage to an old favorite book of mine, L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, which itself draws heavily on fairytale themes. Yet James doesn’t let the fairytales constrain her story; events don’t always happen as you might expect. That forbidden door swings open with surprising alacrity, revealing one of Michael’s secrets, and another revelation about him follows shortly. The closed doors within Nicole’s mind — hiding nightmares and dreams she’s suppressed for years — take longer to open.
With a tiny cast (two characters, plus a few animals) and a single setting, James spins a story with plenty of drama and character development. Much of the plot unfolds through dialogue. I do have mixed feelings about some of the dialogue. Sometimes, when Nicole and Michael talk, their speech seems a little too expository. For example, when they discuss books, they can sound like they are teaching a class or maybe writing a book review rather than speaking casually. (This worked better, I think, in Dracula, My Love, with its intentionally old-fashioned writing style.) On the other hand, it’s so refreshing to see a paranormal hero and heroine whose relationship is based in large part on conversations about their shared interests. It makes Nocturne more satisfying than books in which the romance is based solely on great sex or on a magical soulmate bond imposed by an external force.
It’s probably not much of a spoiler to say that this is a vampire novel. James raises questions about how a vampire and an ordinary woman fit into each other’s lives, and rejects the easy answers.
A bittersweet love story set against a beautiful wintry background, Nocturne is a curl-up-on-a-cold-night book par excellence. Once you’ve read the ending, you’ll want to read the author’s note that follows. I hope James will revisit Nicole and Michael one day.