Lessons After Dark
by Isabel Cooper
(Sourcebooks, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-1402264405
***
Lessons After Dark is the first Isabel Cooper novel I've read, and while the hero came across as a pompous jerk, the heroine was entertaining and the premise unusual enough that I'll probably be back for the next installment. Widowed Olivia Brightmore takes a position as a teacher at the Englefield School, an academy for "gifted" children. Olivia isn't fooled. She has magical powers and some training as a witch, and she understands all too well what the "gifts" of these students probably amount to. Since she's virtually penniless, it's a fine opportunity and one she doesn't intend to botch.

Upon arrival at Englefield, Olivia meets owners Simon and Joan Grenville and Gareth St. John, the school's physician. Since there are only about six students at the school, Olivia can't help but wonder at Gareth's duties. To her shock, Gareth recognizes her. After the death of her husband, Olivia had supported herself as a "medium," and Gareth knows her act was all a fake. In his eyes, he can never have any respect for her, though he admits she's very pretty.

Olivia jumps right into her duties, rescuing a young witch from her own uncontrolled powers, guiding the boys of the school toward more mature behavior, and teaching spells and incantations while helping the students strengthen and control their abilities. But an outside force of evil seems intent on destroying the school and students. And Dr. St. John is becoming a powerful temptation.

I really liked the character of Olivia. As a young widow in Victorian England, she chose a path of survival that would keep her out of a brothel. I had to admire that bit. And she's forthright to Gareth about why she did it, pointing out that her customers wanted the charade. She's clever, quick, and level-headed, refreshing traits in a romance heroine. This is no shrieking debutante looking to be rescued.

Gareth, however, is far less impressive. He's a gifted, magical healer who knows his patients well but has little self-understanding. Gareth is one of those heroes who can't deal with his own emotions, so he hides behind a wall of "she's a liar and a cheat" even while he's trying to bed her. What a guy. This certainly diminished the believability of their eventual "romance."

The students were interesting side characters, and the external threat intertwined neatly throughout the story. I got the impression the author is planning a return to the Englefield School in future books.

Lessons After Dark has a clever premise that stumbles a bit in the execution. With a stronger, more sympathetic hero, it would have been a standout, but the heroine is interesting enough to make this worth a look.

--Cathy Sova


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