It’s time to follow the new generation of Casteels or Stonewalls or Tattertons or whatever in Gates of Paradise, the fourth book in the now confusingly-named Casteel series by V.C. Andrews. I was really excited to read this one but most of the Goodreads reviews fell pretty lackluster. So let’s give Gates of Paradise the Grown-Ass V.C. Andrews Review, shall we?
STUNNED BY TRAGEDY, DESPERATE AND ALONE, HEAVEN’S DAUGHTER CLUNG TO THE FRAILEST OF DREAMS!
The car crash that killed Heaven and Logan left Annie Casteel Stonewall orphaned and crippled. Whisked off to Farthinggale Manor by the possessive Tony Tatterton, Annie pines for her lost family, but especially for Luke, her half-brother. Friend of her childhood, her fantasy prince, her loving confidante…without the warm glow of Luke’s love, she is lost in the shadows of despair. When Annie discovers Troy’s cottage hidden in Farthinggale’s woods, the mystery of her past deepens. And even as she yearns to see Luke again, her hopes and dreams are darkened by the sinister Casteel spell…treacherous, powerful and evil!
About Gates of Paradise
Published in 1989, Gates of Paradise continues the story of the Tatterton’s (not so much the Casteel’s), following Heaven’s daughter Annie Stonewall. Like I mentioned in my review of Midnight Whispers, these 4th “spawn” books always fall short, continuing the family BS on with the next generation, retelling the same old family secrets while trying to make them shocking again.
One thing I will say about Gates of Paradise is that it at least doesn’t attempt to cram three books of plot into one.
It is, however, Andrew Neiderman’s second attempt to write like Virginia herself. Fallen Hearts failed. Maybe he redeems himself?
My Copy of Gates of Paradise
I got my copy from a local used bookstore. While the numbers claim it to be a first edition, it features no holographic elements, which is a standard first-edition feature of V.C. Andrews books. I looked online and can’t seem to find a proper photo of holographic Gates of Paradise. Did the publisher just go the cheap road with this one? Did they not expect to sell as many?
There are questions I cannot find answers to.
Anyway, my edition was in pretty great shape. Then I read it. It’s a little dog-eared now. I creased a couple portions of the spine. I realize now that mas-market paperbacks are meant to tell stories about the readers who read them. I’m sorry I judged you all. I really tried.
So this stepback is a real sausage party. We’ve got Annie in the middle, with half-brother Luke getting a bit too close on the left, and then cousin? Drake on the right. Tony is super old now, seated on the chair in the front.
Gates of Paradise: The Grown-Ass Review
Friends, I dove into this book. Typically the “spawn” books flop in the V.C. Andrews universe but this book contained the big mansion, the wheelchair-bound protag, the incest. Gates of Paradise promised to deliver everything that V.C. Andrews is known for in a BIG way.
But does it deliver?
An Innocent & Pretty, Yet Completely Naive Female Protagonist
Meet Annie Stonewall, a fresh-faced 18 year-old obsessed with the big mansion (Farthinggale Manor, or Farthy) that her mother used to live in. She spends most of her time painting this mansion that she’s never seen. She also paints her half-brother Luke. A lot. Her cousin Drake mocks her for this for good reason. Because her relationship with her brother is weird AF:
Luke’s eyes widened and a smile rippled across his soft lips. He knew what that tone in my voice meant. We were about to play the fantasy game, to let our imaginations wander recklessly about and be unafraid to say what other seventeen-and-eighteen-year-old teenagers would find silly.page 11
But the game was more than that. When we played it, we could say things to each other that we were afraid to say otherwise. I could be his princess and he my prince. We could tell each other what we felt in our hearts, pretending it wasn’t us but imaginary people who were speaking. Neither of us blushed or looked away.
Annie lives in a mansion in the Willies. The book opens on her 18th birthday where she gets a dumb convertible and dumb fancy bracelet and a gorgeous little model cottage from her mother. She speaks in that too-delicate girly way full of hopes and dreams.
I wanted to enjoy this. The naivete looked promising here, promised that horrible things were about to befall Annie.
A Tragic Death
As with most V.C. Andrews “spawn” books, things kick off with a big party and a horrible incident that kills the protagonist’s parents. Gates of Paradise gives us an even better blow-up when Logan (who we already know from the first three books to be a giant douche-nozzle) gets absolutely plastered at the Aunt Fanny’s 40th birthday party.
Aunt Fanny obviously flirts and dances with Logan, which infuriates Heaven to no end. Heaven gets all bitter-sister and gathers up the family to leave, for some reason allowing the inebriated Logan to drive them all home even though he can barely get the key into the ignition.
Right as they leave a horrible rainstorm washes over the the roads, because obviously. The car approaches a sharp turn when another vehicle swerves around the corner.
I heard Mother scream and felt the car swerve to the right. Then I felt the brakes lock.page 67
The last things I remember was Mommy’s shrill scream and my daddy’s now instantly sobered voice call out my name.
“Annie… Annie… Annie…”
A Rags to Riches Plot
This point doesn’t go anywhere because Annie starts off Gates of Paradise all rich and privileged. It takes a bit of reverse angle here when she wakes up in the hospital without the ability to use her legs. Conveniently enough, her injury has nothing to do with her spine and something to do with her brain being unable to make her legs work.
Utter bullshit, I know.
“I’m so sorry, my poor, poor Annie. Heaven’s beautiful daughter, Leigh’s granddaughter,” he muttered as he kissed my forehead and gently pushed back strands of my hair. “But you won’t be alone; you’ll never be alone. I’m here now, and I’ll always be here for you as long as I live.”page 71
Forgot to mention, Annie wakes up with creepy-ass Tony Tatterton at her bedside!
He kisses her cheek and forehead SEVERAL TIMES while explaining that her parents are dead, that he’s hired all the best doctors and nurses to help her, and that he plans on moving her to Farthinggale Manor to help her heal. Because OF COURSE she can regain her ability to walk, which is honestly gross and stupid and an insult of a plot gimmick.
A Vivid Gothic Setting
We take a few chapters giving Annie the chance to say goodbye to Luke and Aunt Fanny (who now plays a sympathetic character). Annie gets introduced to her nurse, Mrs. Broadfield, and then gets some expositional pages to get over the death of her pReCiOuS aNd PeRfEcT LyFeEeEeEe!!!!
I was being ripped out of my world, torn from the people and places I loved and cherished and identified with. There would be no magnolia trees, no sweet scents of fresh flowers blossoming on the street as I walked to school. There would be no magic gazebo, no tiny cottage music box playing Chopin.page 83
I often wonder what kind of thought process Neidermen goes through when writing this kind of crap. Sure, the 80s female aesthetic proved DEFINED by a delicate and dainty ideal of a woman, but like… geez dude. Granted, even I find myself getting sucked into the “romanticism” of passages like this, but the saccharine melodrama just comes off ridiculous when this kind of stuff appears at every second wall of text.
Anyway, Annie spends several days in the hospital before finally agreeing to stay with Tony at Farthy. She falls asleep repeatedly, because injured women always fall asleep when they’re weak and unable to cope with things. Then she wakes as she’s driven up the driveway of Farthinggale Manor in its now dilapidated state:
The grounds were overgrown and unkempt, bushes untrimmed and flower beds overrun with weeds.page 139
The house was as breathtaking in size as Luke and I had drempt it would be, but it looked like it hadn’t been lived in for years and years. Wherever there was wooding siding or trim, it was peeling and cracked. The house looked gray and cold, the windows dark, the curtains closed like the eyelids of a dying old woman.
And hey, this is what I came for!
Unfortunately, most of Annie’s time spent at Farthy is within the confines of Heaven’s old room, which I imagine is her first room and not the suite that Tony brutally had renovated in horrendous 80s-style for Heaven and Logan in Fallen Hearts.
The room looked as though it had been left as it was the day my mother departed. Silver-framed photographs sat on the long dressing table, some standing, some facedown. A hairbrush lay on its side. A pair of wine-red velvet slippers were tucked under the chair by the table, slippers that matched the robe Tony had brought me at the hospital. Was it a new robe, as I had through, or had he taken it from these very closets?page 148
Now, what I will admit to is the nice use of foreshadowing. It’s decently crafted, though it’s also not as though we DON’T expect Tony to pull some nasty rape-y stuff, because, of course, this is a V.C. Andrews novel. Nevertheless, I appreciate the manner that Annie slowly learns that Tony is a disgusting incestuous pervert.
A Beloved Doting Paternal Figure
Because she cannot walk and remains confined to a bed of a chair, Annie spends a majority of her time looking out the window. One day, notices this man in the Tatterton family cemetery:
Suddenly I saw a man appear as if out of the air. He must have been standing off in a shadow. I leaned as close to the window as I could and gazed at the figure made small by the distance. At first I thought it might be Luke, but as my eyes focused in more accurately, I realized he was a taller, thinner man.page 171
He stepped up to the monument and stared at it for the longest time. Then he dropped to his knees. I could see him lower his head, and although I was much too far away to be sure, I even though I could see his body shudder with sobs.
Who was he? It wasn’t Tony, although there was something about the frame of his body that reminded me of Tony.
Well duh, It’s Troy, who is Annie’s real father, but we still have another hundred or so pages to read before Annie discovers this fact. Even then, and yes, I’m spoiling the ending, their meeting is LACKLUSTER AF! Troy literally just pretends to be a nice dude in his dumb cottage and takes like a decade and a half before he finally tells her that he’s her fucking father. He just lurks in and out of the shadows.
Troy sucks, okay? He sucks. He’s not mysterious. He’s dumb and narcissistic and lacks all emotion.
Now, let’s get to Tony:
Tony found me asleep in my wheelchair by the window. I woke when I felt him wheeling me back to the bed.page 173
“Oh, I didn’t mean to wake you. You looked so beautiful, like a sleeping princess. I was just about to be the prince and kiss you to wake you,” he said warmly, his eyes bright.
The book pretty much contains scenes of his variety. For a pervert, most of Tony’s “obsessed affection” falls along cheesy sentiments and some not-so-harmless hair touching and kissing, which was all too commonplace in the 80s.
BUT WAIT! The 80s was when Heaven was a teen. Annie is now 18, which means that Gates of Paradise takes place in the mid-aughts. And I just gotta address this issue because it’s a long-withstanding one across many of the early V.C. Andrews books. The passage of time never changes culture. These books remain firmly tethered in the 80s, which is just kind of a weird reality that I found myself struggling to adjust to.
Annie very slowly discovers that Tony isn’t quite himself. He forgets things, brings odd things to her to wear, including the Jasmine perfume that Jillian and Leigh wore. Annie remains perpetually tired around Tony, and eventually realizes that he’s drugging her to remain asleep.
Eventually Tony persuades (ahem, pressures) Annie into dying her hair blond to match Heaven when Heaven attempted to look like her mother, Leigh.
“All of you run together in my mind sometimes… as if you are not three, but one woman, Leigh, Heaven, and now you, so similar in voice, in demeanor, in looks. You’re like sisters, triplets, instead of mothers and daughters,” he said softly, hopefully.page 201
At one point, Tony gives Annie a proper tour of the house, finally bringing her to the suite Heaven briefly shared with Logan. Annie wonders why the room looks abandoned. She prods at Tony to explain why it appears that Heaven fled Farthy, and, as usual, Tony gives with his long-winded sob story bullshit about trying to win Heaven away from Luke (Heaven’s not bio-dad but the dad she craved the attention of). He goes into all the bribing circus details from Dark Angel but of course holds back from the attempted rape.
Annie, clearly troubled, says she doesn’t hate Tony but needs time to process things.
Like…why, Annie? The fuck is wrong with you?
A Hostile Maternal Figure (+ Bonus Mean Girl!)
For the mean girl, we get Mrs. Broadfield, who is Annie’s personal nurse and caretaker. She is qualified to be neither, seeing that she has the bedside manner of a Target Karen.
Here’s a scene in the hospital that takes place shortly after Annie learns that her parents are dead:
“Try to sleep, Annie,” Mrs. Broadfield said, jerking me out of my reverie. “Lying there and crying will only make you weaker and weaker, and you have many battles ahead to fight, believe me.”page 84
Mrs. Broadfield bitchily does her nurse-ly duties, giving Annie massages, baths, and helping her dress and transfer from her bed to her chair over and over. Many times throughout the book, Annie feels pins and needles in her legs and tries to relay this into to Mrs. Broadfild, who insists every time that the return of feeling is just “her imagination”.
Clearly, Mrs. Broadfield must be asking under Tony’s orders, keeping Annie bed-ridden and confined to a room. Then Annie gets rebellious, sometimes leaving the room to investigate the house, and also asking the Farthy cook, Rye Williams, to make her some spicy food. Mrs. Broadfield RETALIATES in true V.C. Andrews fashion:
She took the tray and left. I took the remote control and turned on the television set. I settled on a movie I had never seen and sat back, but what seemed to be only minutes later a sharp pain stabbed across my abdomen. I groaned and pressed my palms against my belly. The pain ceased and I sat back, taking deep breaths; but then it came again, this time with a great deal more ferocity, tearing up and down my stomach and sending pain into my chest.page 268
I hear my stomach bubble. I knew that I was going to have an accident any moment.
“Mrs. Broadfield!” I called. “Mrs. Broadfield!” I screamed. But she didn’t respond. I stared to wheel myself toward the doorway. “Mrs. Broadfield!”
It was happening. My body was rebelling.
Well, eventually Annie manages to convince Tony to fire Mrs. Broadfield for putting laxatives in her food. This would be great if it weren’t for the fact that Tony becomes Annie’s replacement nurse.
Fortunately, he does give her some canvasses and paint to occupy her time, but he still hesitates when she asks to have a phone in her room so she can call Luke (who is now at college and who Drake insists is plowing a bunch of coeds.) Annie manages to stand for the first time, but when she relays this to Tony and asks him to call the doctor.
The worst part is when he insists on giving Annie a bath, which culminates in his HORRIBLE AWFUL SCENE THAT I WILL NEVER UNREAD of Annie’s grandfather-uncle helping her get her knickers on:
“I can do this, Tony.” I reached for my panties, but he simply lifted my feet and slipped the undergarment over my ankles, moving it up my legs slowly, his gaze fixed, his fingers never toughing my skin. When he reached my thighs, he stopped and came behind me. There was no stopping him. Using his forearms, he lifted me just enough to pull the panties into place.page 298
Anyway, Tony does get a stair-lift installed and Annie eventually picks up enough strength to get into her own chair and ventures outside to the infamous hedgemaze, where she meets up with Troy. Long story short, Heaven learns all the ins and outs of his relationship with her mother. Upon returning to the manor, Annie finds a frantic Tony, who responds by going hyper-overprotective, keeping her confined to her room by moving her wheelchair out of reach entirely.
We get to the rape scene, because that’s pretty much what this entire book working toward. Tony walks into Annie’s room at night. Absolutely wasted, he
mistakes pretends that Annie is Leigh.
For a long moment he didn’t move or say anything and I thought I had gotten through to him, but then he untied his bathrobe and let it drop to the floor. In the dim light spilling in from the sitting room, I could see that he was completely naked.page 341
Skipping ahead a bit:
“Oh Leigh… Leigh, my darling Leigh.” His hand groped about until he found my left wrist and began to pull me toward him. I tried to resist, but I was so tired, I could barely put up a struggle. I was sure he was taking that as a form of encouragement. “We’ll make love through the night, just as we did before, and if you want, you can call me Daddy.”page 342
Thankfully, we only have to barf our way through one more page before Annie finally gets Tony to recognize reality. He puts his robe back on and then waltzes into the room the next morning with no memory that he tried to rape his granddaughter-niece. He tries to get her to have to sedatives but then she unleashes hell.
Eventually Luke finally arrives in too-late white knight style. Annie screams for him from her room but Tony manages to push him away, which doesn’t matter because the true G.O.A.T hero of the Casteel series, Fanny, comes back the next day to save Annie.
Turns out Troy wasn’t entirely useless and called Fanny to rescue Annie. But why in the FUCK didn’t Troy get off his hermit ass and save his own daughter himself? He’s worse than Logan.
Fantastic Psychological Horror
Gates of Paradise wraps the final few chapters with Annie’s returns to Winnerow. She regains the ability to walk, withholds her lust for Luke, and then finds Troy’s secret love note hidden in a compartment in the stupid toy cottage.
Troy then calls Annie to tell her that Tony died from a stroke. Annie decides to go to the funeral, despite Aunt Fanny’s WISE ADVICE:
“No one know’d he was yer grandpappy, Annie. No one expects ya ta travel all the way ta see ‘im buried.”– page 426
“I know who he was, Aunt Fanny. I cant forget him and hate him. He did try to help me in his own way.”
“That place is poison. All them rich people destroy themselves one way or t’other. Not that I don’t want ta be rich; it’s jist the way those beantown phonies lived, thinkin’ they was better’n everyone else. Makes them mad as hatters. I wish ya’d change yer mind ‘ bout it.”
Long story short, Annie realizes deludes herself into believing that Tony was just a love-struck man with his heart bent on his step-daughter and… forgives him? All the other confined psychological horror aside, this is what takes the cake.
Then, FINALLY, on page 440 of the 443 pages in the book, Annie finally learns that Troy is her dad:
“Believe me, I agonized over telling you all this, for I feared you would think less of your mother because of it, but I finally concluded Heaven would have wanted me to tell you so that you and Luke would not lose one another as she and I did.”
So Troy was scared to tell his own daughter that he was her dad because he worried that Annie would think that Heaven was a slut? And the only thing that finally convinced him to confess the truth was that he didn’t want Annie to feel slutty by lusting after her half-brother?
I just…I can’t, y’all.
Some Good Olde School Misogyny
Like many V.C. Andrews protagonists, Annie is no stranger to beauty ideals. Her judgement rings true during the scenes with Mrs. Broadfield. Now, I get that her character is rightfully horrible, but her appearance also becomes a part of this aspect of her character, which is cringe-worthy. In this first interaction, Mrs. Broadfield gives Annie a juice box:
“Just suck gently,” she advised, adjusting my bed so I was in a sitting position. Her short, stubby fingers and large palms reeked of rubbing alcohol. This close to me, I could see the tiny black hairs peeking out the bottom of her round chin. I wanted my mother, my beautiful, loving, sweet-smelling mother to be the one taking care of me, not this ugly stranger.page 77
It gets worse:
I took one more suck on the straw and then handed her the juice. She pressed her lips together, her rubbery face filled with annoyance. When I looked more closely at her, I saw how pocked her skin was and wondered why a nurse would have such a poor complexion.page 77
Later, at Farthinggale Manor, Annie meets the maid, a young woman named Millie who promptly gets fired later when she tries to send a letter to Luke. While Millie is portrayed as a sweet and very likable woman, this is Annie’s first impression of her:
She turned and gave me a warm smile. She was a plain-faced woman with dull brown eyes, a rather round chin, and puffy cheeks. I imagined that because she was cursed with a dumpy body, a small bosom, and hips so wide that they made her look like a church bell, she was doomed to be a domestic servant, always cleaning and polishing in someone else’s house.page 148
Some Really Bad Writing
I want address the obviously offensive plot point of Gates of Paradise. Annie loses her ability to walk. For a majority of this book, she remains paralyzed from the waist down. This puts Annie out of her comfort zone, and also acts at the mechanism which ultimately keeps her kidnapped at Farthinggale Manor. This is the ultimate adversity that she must overcome, and it shouldn’t be.
Annie doesn’t actively work to break the “curse” that plagues the tatterton family. Rather, it’s the curse that plagues her legs, and she’s fortunate enough to have some magical temporary paralysis she has to overcome on her own.
You know, unlike real life spinal paralysis, which real people live with every day.
Here is Annie, facing her wheelchair for the first time:
I lay there staring at the chair, realizing that it and I would have to become good friends. Although Tony had gone to great effort to make it look like an ordinary chair, a comfortable chair, he couldn’t hide its true purpose. I was an invalid, a cripple sentenced to dependence on other people and mechanical aids. All the money and all the expensive help in the world couldn’t change that. Only I could ever change that; and I was determined to do so.page 130
I mean, she could have just stayed away from her pervert granddaddy uncle and she would have been fine, but sure, blame medical advances for your life woes, Annie.
Wheelchair-bound characters are a V.C. Andrews staple and I suppose Annie is no different, although she does get to be a “nOrMaL g1rL” again, which is kind of insulting. I realize that Becky (the Barbie with a wheelchair) didn’t come out until 1997, and thus, no girl who required a wheelchair for mobility could have any semblance of self-esteem until then (being sarcastic here!), but GAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!
Regaining the use of her legs is pretty much Annie’s only adversity this entire book. She’s kidnapped, abused, nearly raped, and yes, does manage to escape the confines of her room. It’s actually the best moment of the book, quite honestly, is Annie working with this new piece of her identity to get out of a tough situation.
Still, even when her captor dies, she forgives him and CURSES HER LEGS FOR NOT WORKING YET. It’s not until she walks in front of Luke that she finally works through her trauma. Now, I can be impartial and recognize this for the “book published in 1989” that it is, BUT I just wish that her paralysis could have been legit and that she worked through her new struggle with her family alongside her.
Gates of Paradise: My Final Thoughts
Well, Gates of Paradise came with a great premise. It promised true horrors and couldn’t deliver. Most V.C. Andrews books trudge along with bullying and abuse, but at least those scenes move between school and home and other places. Gates of Paradise confines it all to a bedroom.
I liked the deteriorated house, and the lore of Faththinggale Manor does hold some weight through the narrative, but yeah, that’s about it. Halfway in, I about lost interest with Annie’s whining and Tony’s endless puppy dog sad whining and Troy’s do-nothing depressing garbage.
It’s easily the worst book in the series.