by Lydia Joyce, historical (2006)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21897-3
Lydia Joyce's Whispers Of The Night is a rather tough one to review because this is not a bad book. It's just a difficult one to weigh on because I disagree with several choices the author has made for her characters here. I like this book, but I can never bring myself to love it because of many aspects of this story that make me doubt that there is a genuine happily ever after waiting in the wings for the hero and the heroine.
Alcyone Carter is the daughter of an ambitious Trade family who wish to ascend the social ladder. After Alcy failed to find a titled gentleman to wed in her four London Seasons, her family decide to wed her off to one Baron Benedek János of Hungary. Never does she expect that, after six hard days on the road, she arrives at Castle Vlarachia into the arms of someone who is not her husband. He is Count Dumitru von Severinor, Prince Constantinescu of the kingdom of Rumania. Don't be impressed too much by his titles - he's a penniless fellow whose titles are more ceremonial than anything else. Due to the primitive postal services in that area, Dumitru finds it easy to intercepts his rival János' letters and, seeing a wealthy heiress making her way to János, intercept Alcy and get her to marry him by deception.
Therefore, what we have here is a situation where the heroine is indeed completely at the mercy of her husband. In this case, Dumitru could have easily tossed her into a dungeon and there is very little she can do to stop him. She tries to make the best of the situation. Besides, the fellow is cute. But the main conflict in this story is that when Dumitru realizes that his wife's dowry is actually smaller than he expected because Alcy's father had put a significant portion of the money under Alcy's control, Dumitru decides to lie to his wife and manipulate her into letting him access to the money. His reason is that a man should not beg his wife for money. I suppose a man, however, can coerce a woman to marry him by deception if we are to ask this moron here.
When Alcy realizes this, the fragile bliss the man has created with her shatters. Here is where it gets hard for me to appreciate this story. You see, I understand why Alcy is not happy. Dumitru behaves like a man of his time - in other words, he may like the wife but he's not exactly a sensitive new age gentleman. Alcy will be kept a prisoner in her new home unless she complies with the man's demands. So what Alcy does here is to run away. Alone.
I don't blame her for wanting to run away, but I can't accept that this is the best thing she should do, given that she should realize that she spent six terrible days on the road before reaching Dumitru's holdings and therefore she's not going anywhere on her own. Indeed, when Dumitru shows up to take her home (and save her from her foolishness in the process), this puts her even more under his power. When the husband is the hero as well as the villain in the story, the wise wife has better do all she can to make sure that she doesn't end up being indebted to him. I'd rather have Alcy find a way to use his attraction to her to get the upper hand over this man in one way or the other, or any other method that does not result with her losing even more ground to him. The rest of the story is basically one drama after another that result from the combination of Dumitru's unwillingness to compromise with his wife and Alcy's reckless retaliatory moves.
In a way, I can see where Dumitru is coming from, since for him it has always been the Greater Cause (his people and his land) above everything else. But he's still a familiar hero of this author in that the man has more issues than common sense. I appreciate how Alcy tries to make the best of her situation, but I also wish she exhibits a little bit more cunning to get the upper hand over her husband. She keeps doing things that allow Dumitru to get the upper hand over her, it's frustrating. Ultimately, because the characters feel mismatched when it comes to their personalities, I don't see much possibility of a happily ever after here.
The first half or so of Whispers Of The Night is most readable and for a moment Dumitru and Alcy seem to be going somewhere. This book is a marvelous read then. But once Dumitru plays his hand and Alcy starts scampering around looking for cover, this book becomes much more frustrating to read as the characters seem determined to do every wrong thing imaginable in their situation to worsen things. Ultimately, I like this book, but I also wish the author has done things differently when it comes to Alcy's reaction to Dumitru's antics.
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