Berkley Sensation, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-26083-8
Historical Romance, 2017
Beauty Like the Night is another spy romance story that is anything but spy-like. Oh, but the author tries. Her characters glower, scold, flail around and, in the heroine’s case, does her best to reassure readers that while she may be among the most elite inner circle of spies ever, she didn’t really do all the awesome things they said she did, and whatever she did, she would forever be guilty and beating herself up over so oh, please don’t hate her, readers, she’s just a waifu who just wants to be loved.
Seriously, this one won’t be so bad if the heroine is just a spy, because that way I can overlook her overemotional state that makes her very unlikely to be one of the best in the land. The author isn’t going to make Séverine de Cabrillac too far astray from the typical romance heroine template. Oh, Sévie may not be some ingénue, but from her competency (which isn’t of the superlative level for a spy of her supposed stature and experience, sadly) to the obligatory head mess to make her raw edges more palatable to readers who prefer a certain type of heroines only, Sévie darling isn’t rocking the boat anytime soon.
I know I am going to have problems with this story when I come across the opening scene. Our heroine wakes up, aware that there is a man in her room. He is holding a knife! Don’t worry, she has a pistol under her pillow.
Wait, she will never be able to reach her pistol in time. Oh no, will the man stab her? You know, I’d love to stab her myself. Why would she keep her weapon in a spot that she will never be able to reach in time in the first place? But that’s Séverine in a nutshell. Much about her and her actions is just for show. The author will tell me, that darling is tough! See, she has a weapon! She… she… oops, don’t worry, our heroine won’t be too capable and make the hero obsolete.
The man is our hero Raoul Deverney. He asks her where some girl is. The heroine is like, er, don’t know. He then hands her the knife, talks in riddles about how she can stab him if he wants, and then leaves. Huh? What was that all about? If he cares so much about the girl, why not press the matter? What’s with all that rigmarole about how he’ll leave because he knows that she won’t tell him anything useful? And then, from his point of view. he goes into some internal monologue about how he has been stalking her for a while now, and now he has learned even more about her. Wait, what has he learned? The color of her panties? How she holds a knife in her hand? He has learned NOTHING in that scene, the author just wants to pretend that he has, and NOTHING will have changed if he had just kept following her instead of revealing himself to her like that.
The rest of the story is in that vein. As these two work to locate the girl – Raoul’s daughter whom he’s certain isn’t even his – they talk around one another, posture and pose to emphasize how dramatic everything about them is, and generally behave like lousy theater kids pretending to be spies rather than being believable real spies. And, of course, early on Sévie quickly tells me that she hasn’t killed even one person, she just helped England by misdirecting some French spies, but it was so horrible doing her job and she still has nightmares so she will atone FOREVER and EVER, so please genteel readers, don’t hate her or the poor author will have to cook poor poochie for dinner and it will all be your fault.
Sévie is very emotional and easily driven to the verge of tears by even the mundane kind of setback, which makes me wonder how this lady manages to lay claim to being a member of an inner circle of spies. Raoul seems incapable of saying anything without beating around the bush at least sixteen times first, and he is far more interested in being this broody, emo, mysterious dude channeling Pepé Le Pew in his come on lines to Sévie. These two spend a big bulk of the late two-thirds of the book chasing trails, gazing at their navels, and indulging in conversations revolving around how filled with angst they are. This isn’t a story about spies doing their thing as much as two people who use their pasts as spies as an excuse to play emo and the mumu. Like the opening scene, many other scenes don’t really serve a purpose other than to have our characters posture melodramatically. That or to wallow in guilt, regardless of whether the guilt is deserved or not.
At the end of the day, I guess it all depends on what you want to find in Beauty Like the Night. If you want an author who is doing her best to channel Mary Balogh and Jo Beverley, authors whose stories are often more concerned about heroes and especially heroines thinking and behaving in an “acceptable” way no matter what the plot may be, then this one will do the trick nicely. If you really expect a story that has spies in love doing spy things like the OMG BEST SPIES EVER they are supposed to be, then steel yourself and prepare to be disappointed. Or bored.