|Lydia Joyce has published two novels with Signet and both are refreshingly different from the usual romance book offerings. The Veil of Night, her first novel, had somewhat mixed reviews, but her current release, The Music of the Night, deserves to receive only the most positive.
The heroine, Sarah Connolly, has left her extremely difficult past behind and is very grateful for the gift of an only mildly difficult life. She has managed to secure a position as the companion of Lady Merrill, and has been allowed to travel to Venice with Lady Merrill’s party. Sarah enjoys her job, even though it means putting up with the snubs and put-downs of her employer’s family and friends and the subtle tortures of Lady Merrill’s son, Bertrand De Lint. Sarah expects nothing better, feeling that the smallpox scars that mark her face set her apart forever from her betters by indicating that Sarah began life as one of London’s poor. Immediately upon debarking in Venice, Sarah becomes aware of the scrutiny of a man standing in a shadowy shop doorway.
The man in the doorway is the hero, Sebastian, Lord Wortham. He stares at Sarah because he recognizes her by her scars as the whore who helped Bertrand commit a terrible crime against Sebastian’s family. Sebastian has faked his own death and signed over his holdings and his title in order to travel to Venice as an unknown. There he can take his revenge against Bertrand outside British law. When Sebastian sees Bertrand’s accomplice so conveniently close by, he changes his revenge plans to include Sarah. To keep Sarah from returning his gaze, Sebastian ducks into the shop and finds the beginnings of his plot in a rack of costumes.
Joyce’s intelligent writing includes interesting description and dialogue. Her 1800s Venice is not the sunny stereotype with smiling gondoliers in shining boats. The Venice where Sebastian plots against Sarah has muddy canals that stink, haunting music that floats across the humid night, and the gondoliers are just as likely to stab one in the back as to smile.
Sebastian is a complex hero. His plotting is extremely complex and the reader has no more knowledge of what will happen in the end than Sarah does. Sebastian blames himself and his former lifestyle for the damage done to his family, so there is a lot of self doubt beneath his confidence and capability.
Sarah is a fitting match for Sebastian. Her lack of beauty and self-confidence don’t keep her from doing what needs to be done. When she realizes that Sebastian has been toying with her, Sarah doesn’t hesitate to go to his home to confront him. Nothing can shock Sarah after her upbringing in the rookeries of London, so she pragmatically agrees to Sebastian’s compromise. Her pragmatism is one of her most engaging qualities, and the reader never gets that “woe is me” feel from Sarah.
Though at first there isn’t much romance in Sebastian and Sarah’s relationship (he’s vengeful, she’s lonely), their encounter blossoms into something very interesting. The love scenes are numerous and varied and become more emotional as the story continues.
The Music of the Night is an excellent example of what a talented writer can accomplish if they choose not to follow the pack.