The Black Lotus by Claire Warner is a YA fantasy novel following protagonists Justin and Melissa as they uncover secrets in the English court of 1752.
Warner’s story shows great creative potential, but the execution falls flat, pulled down by cliche characters and repetitive writing.
One of the central issues of the book — the first in the “Night Flower” series — is Melissa struggling with the idea of an arranged marriage while simultaneously dealing with her debut season in court. Warner explicitly resurfaces the issue countless times, when it is already evident in Melissa’s dialogue and actions. Melissa’s family is sympathetic to her feelings, but the conversation about her rights as a woman never ventures beyond complaining.
In the same glossed-over way, Justin and Melissa fall into a love-at-first-sight relationship; they continually mention their deep feelings, but never delve into what those feelings actually mean.
They’re the typical characters to fall in this supposedly passionate and inexplicable way: the fiery young woman, who is upset at her situation and just cannot seem to fit into her role, and the mysterious, handsome rake (every character in “The Black Lotus” has apparently agreed to repeatedly call Justin “a gamester and a cad”) with a bad reputation. It makes their dialogue effortless, sure, but that’s about it; Justin and Melissa’s characters don’t affect the plot in any natural way, and they hardly inspire any curiosity from the reader.
Warner’s description’s of decadent court life are rich and elaborate, moving the story along more than any other element of the book. They are just exotic enough to hint at the fantasy to come, a subtlety that Warner would do well to expand into the other elements of “The Black Lotus.”
I don’t doubt that Warner’s name could be among other celebrated YA authors before long, but this book bears all the marks of a debut, and does not wear them well.