Review: Shadow Road by A.J. Wilde

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After his mistress is killed by rogue highwaymen, servant Bailey ends up in the hands of Lord Charles, the man his lady was to marry. Sick with fever, exhausted from his ordeal, Bailey can only remember that someone cared for him gently when he first arrived, and that the mysterious Lord Charles seems to have a great interest in him.

When Bailey recovers and begins to work for Lord Charles, he discovers that his new home is also plagued by a highwayman, one called the Shadow. Out late one night on his Lord’s business, Bailey encounters the Shadow himself, and learns more about the daring bandit than he ever dreamed possible.

Review by Hayden Thorne

A.J. Wilde’s “Shadow Road” has all the elements of a sexy, breathless romance – history (the events take place in 1739), danger, murder, vengeance by the sword, and the seduction of an innocent. One also shouldn’t forget the dashing, dangerous figure of the highwayman – reckless, courting death at every turn, romanticized in so many ways. Unfortunately, the story’s brevity sacrifices too much of the plot and characterization, and what would have been a sexy, breathless romance falls flat in the end.

Wilde’s voice is strong and vivid, robust enough for an 18th century romance-adventure. The scenes are wonderfully described with just the right touch of period details to set the events firmly in their respective time. Except for a few lay/lie errors, I found nothing too jarring by way of surface problems. The non-romantic character interactions, curiously enough, come across as more natural compared to those scenes involving Bailey and Lord Charles. And that might have something to do with the length requirement of the series for which “Shadow Road” was written, which is novelette (10K-15K words).

There’s so much potential in “Shadow Road” for a very engaging, complex, and developed romance. There’s enough background material as well as minor characters that could have been nicely explored in much greater depth had the story been written as a novella at the very least, a novel preferably. As it stands, everything’s crammed into a long short story (in a manner of speaking), and the promise of an 18th century gay romance falters with some clumsy moments and a too-strong dependence on coincidence.

The biggest plot difficulty I found involved Lord Charles’s reaction to the news that his betrothed, her young maid, and their coachman were all butchered on the way to his estate. In short, he does nothing – merely carries on with Bailey as though nothing tremendous has just taken place. Even if he were getting married reluctantly, I’d imagine that he’d at least get some help, demand to see the site of the murders – do something, even if it simply means being upset by such a horrible loss of life. There are innocent people (one of whom is the woman who was set to marry him) lying dead on the road somewhere, and he walks away from them?

His indifference isn’t the only problem I found. The use of coincidence in moving the story from beginning to climax to resolution also hurt what would have been a really engrossing account of a man’s desire to avenge a lost lover as well as the second chance at happiness that he can now find in Bailey. Had “Shadow Road” been longer and better explored, the implausibility of some of the events would have been fixed with stronger and clearer connections between characters. The sex scenes are well-developed in contrast, and perhaps the plot could have benefited from less sex, given the publisher’s length requirements.

For all those, I do think that A.J. Wilde has a knack for strong, vivid historicals, her writing style certainly right for a rough, bawdy, rouged time such as the Georgian era. Novel-length fiction, however, would be a more proper vehicle for her talent to bloom along smoother, deeper, and more nuanced lines.

Buy the book: Torquere Press

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