Scholarship student Tessa Moss has long dreamed of the chance to study at Rafe’s Academy. But she is floundering amidst the ups and downs of a relationship with egotistical art star Lucian Swain.
Then, one of Tessa’s sketches catches Rafe’s attention: a drawing of a young woman in 1930s clothing who is covering the eyes of a child. The suitcase at her feet says Wizotsky. Sofia Wizotsky, the love of Rafe’s life, was lost during the Holocaust. Or was she? Rafe suspects Tessa may be the key to discovering what really happened.
As Rafe finds excuses to interact with Tessa, they quickly discover they cannot deny their growing attraction to one another. It is an attraction forbidden by the Academy Board and disapproved of by anyone familiar with Rafe’s playboy reputation and Tessa’s softhearted innocence. But what if fate has other plans for Tessa and Rafe? What if they break all rules to succumb to a passion that defies history?
Helen Maryles Shankman’s The Color of Light wasn’t what I’d expected it to be and yet it was an intriguing read. When I first read the blurb above, I’d expected there to be quite a large historical component to the book. An expectation that was proven wrong; in fact only about a sixth of the book could be classified as purely historical – if one disregards the supernatural presence of vampires, that is – the rest of it is set in its own contemporary setting of 1992. This leaves us with a supernatural romance set at an art school in New York with a historical gloss to its narrative and honestly, this isn’t the sort of book I’d normally pick up. But I certainly don’t regret reading The Color of Light.
At first the book was a bit tough to get into. Having not reread the blurb before starting the book I’d forgotten that the book was set in 1992 and there was rather more steamy content than I’d expected. But once past that adjustment, the story became quite intriguing. It was quite obvious that Shankman has incorporated her own love of art into the novel quite closely and that is what initially drew me into the story. I loved the art and the detailed look we get at the process. The book being set at an art school allowed for some explanation of art techniques without dropping in obvious info-dumps. The vibe at the school is fun and Tessa is surrounded by a close group of friends who, while not all as clearly drawn and well-rounded, are a wonderful support group for Tessa. I also liked that Shankman used them to play around with certain stereotypes. Tessa’s studio mate, Graciela, looks and draws like a sex goddess, and while an inveterate flirt, she’s deeply committed to her boyfriend. Portia, the trust-fund baby of the bunch, works just as hard and is just as dedicated as Tessa, who’s a work-study student, and doesn’t just play at art before settling down and having babies. The boys each have their own quality, but none of them are as openly subverting of stereotypes as Graciela and Portia.
Tessa is a bit too perfect as a main character. She’s super-talented, gorgeous, devoted, and hard-working and so on and so forth. Her only flaw, if flaw you can call it, I would call it being human, is being in love with an unsuitable man – who is only uses her when it suits him and ignores her the rest of the time – and being wilfully blind to the fact that he is a cad and the relationship doomed. While Tessa’s perfection never grated on me, as I only realised it after finishing the book, I can see it rubbing people the wrong way. Tessa is Jewish and comes from quite a religious family. Even once on her own, she keeps kosher and celebrates Shabbos each Friday, gathering together with her friends as a substitute family. Her relationship with her own family is strained and Shankman shows exactly how troubled relations are by having Tessa visit home over Thanksgiving. I loved these scenes as they felt genuine and made even me feel anxious and rebellious, the way Tessa did.
Our other protagonist and Tessa’s love interest is Raphael Sinclair. Rafe is a vampire of the old-school: he doesn’t sparkle, he kills for his supper when the blood lust becomes too much for him to control, and his charm is enthralling. While he may only have been sixty years or so Tessa’s senior and not truly ancient, I have to admit that rationally certain aspects of their relationship squick me out, beyond the obvious vampire-thing that is. There is the whole power-balance thing with Rafe being the head of Tessa’s school and perhaps more importantly, the whole Tessa/Sofia substitution situation, where one might question whether Rafe loves Tessa for who she is or for who she reminds him of. But all rationality aside, when I was reading the novel, I didn’t really care; I was just rooting for them. Rafe as a person is quite charming and sympathetic, so it’s easy to root for him and Tessa.
The historical section of the book is a retelling of Rafe’s life and his love for Sofia. We see him travel to Paris as a young man just before WWII and being part of the bohemian society that was artistic Paris. The city and Rafe’s friends were drawn lovingly and it was also fun to find links to the novels present. Sofia has a magnetic draw on Rafe and Shankman knows how to convey this well. But this section also contained less-lovely events as we move into WWII and the Holocaust. We witness it far closer than I thought we would and it felt kind of weird to see it incorporated in this way in a vampire novel. It seems that this would be a touchy subject, where it’s easy to hurt people’s sensibilities and feelings, but I think Shankman pulls it off and never crosses the line into making it cheap entertainment.
The Color of Light surprised me by not being what I expected, but despite this still entertaining me thoroughly. Shankman shows her love of art and history and manages to tread ground that should always be trod carefully without putting a foot wrong. The book hasn’t convinced me that romance is my thing and I don’t think it ever will be, but Shankman has convinced me she is an author who can write books that entertain me. If you don’t mind some – sometimes steamy – romance in your reading and unsparkly vampires are your thing, The Color of Light is a book you’ll want to take a closer look at.
A Fantastical Librarian is one of the last stops on this blog tour. Please visit the other stops for different views on the book, giveaways and a guest post from the author.
Thursday, October 31st: Man of La Book
Monday, November 4th: Must Read Faster
Monday, November 4th: Shelf Pleasure – author guest post
Wednesday, November 6th: Books Without Any Pictures
Thursday, November 7th: Bookish Whimsy
Monday, November 11th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, November 12th: Ageless Pages
Wednesday, November 13th: Conceptual Reception
Thursday, November 14th: Great Imaginations
Friday, November 15th: Book-alicious Mama
Tuesday, November 19th: A Fantastical Librarian
Thursday, November 21st: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, November 25th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Tuesday, November 26th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, November 27th: My Bookshelf