I'm remembering why I didn't like this book the first time I read it.
Drusilla is a wimp. She admits, from the vantage point of the future, that she should have foreseen Lavinia's disasters. But she didn't. And she never really admits to her own responsibility.
But she's also passionless. At best she's "fascinated" by the House, but she never says why. She goes along with Lady Harriet's plans without protest or enthusiasm. Even through the whole business with Fleur, there's no emotion.
So, I didn't actually hate it.
Let me begin with a gif, though.
That's Drusilla, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And, sadly, that is what I pictured every single time I read the name of the main character. It was . . . distracting.
Now that I've gotten that out of my system, I shall talk about the book.
When I read a gothic romance, I expect two things. Gothic. Romance. This was a very low key romance - so low key, in fact, that I do not believe that the two romantic leads actually ever touched each other until the hero proclaimed his undying love for the heroine. There was basically no chemistry between them at all.
What does "gothic" really mean? To me, it absolutely requires a certain aesthetic that invokes gloom, dread and a sense of supernatural possibility and danger. I suppose that the titular India fan was supposed to offer that "gothic" feeling, but it really didn't work because sensible Drusilla just didn't buy it and so the reader didn't buy it, either. The other dangerous elements - specifically, Drusilla becoming embroiled in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1858, wasn't even remotely gothic.
As a piece of historical fiction, it rather reminded me of The Shadow of the Moon, by M. M. Kaye, which I quite enjoyed. Unfortunately, Holt simply does not write at the level of M. M. Kaye. I didn't find it to be awful, but there was nothing special about it.
The backstory of this book felt like it took fully half of the book to develop. I've just now gotten to the point where the main character, Drusilla, has inherited the titular India Fan. There is very little gothic going on at this point. I don't dislike it, necessarily, but when I read a Holt gothic, I'm looking for some sense of suspense or brooding mystery, which is not the atmosphere so far.
Having read a number of Holt books over the last couple of years, I feel like she is just retelling Jane Eyre over and over with varying levels of success, by plucking elements out of Bronte's classic and plugging them into her current writing book. This isn't a criticism so much as it an observation, since this particular device worked really well for her, and when it is done with panache and delicacy it can be very effective. Unfortunately, in this one, her main Eyreian (yes, I just made up that word) device - the mysterious woman in the attic - is pretty clunky and doesn't generate the suspense that it should have in order to work.
Anyway, now that we've - hopefully - gotten to the point, I shall read on.