Beauty Like The Night
by Liz Carlyle, historical (2000)
Sonnet, $6.50, ISBN 0-7434-1054-8


Helen de Severs, daughter of an old legacy of aristocracy in France, arrives at England with her mother after her father lost his head to the guillotine. Her mother joins the loose crowd and hooks up with the debauched Earl of Treyhern, and this is how Helen meets very reserved, too-serious Camden Rutledge, Treyhern's son.

They both are teenagers, she exuberant and wild, he determined to stay sober and serious so that he will never be like his father. It seems inevitable that they will soon graduate from camaraderie and pranks to infatuation. Alas, they are never meant to be, and Helen leaves for abroad.

Now, years later, Cam is the new Earl. He has survived an unhappy first marriage (wife committed suicide - or so they think), but his daughter just won't speak. Doctors call poor Ariane simple and missing some screws in her head, but Cam refuses to believe that. He needs a nanny for her. A super nanny well-versed in child psychology, maternal and warm. Guess who is up for the job.

Yes, Beauty Like The Night is yet another take on the The Sound Of Music fable. And yes, the child suffers from an Unwillingness to Speak just like the countless sweet lil' girls in stories just like this one. And yes, it's all the Dead Wife's fault too. And to further adhere to the formula, there's this other nice guy who's courting Helen - guess what his fate is or who he actually is. Oh, did I forget to mention this Other Man is a rector?

But if the plot is strictly entrenched in deja vu, the characters sparkle. Or specifically, how the author deals with Helen and Cam's rekindled feelings. To Cam, Helen is his first love, the first girl to make him aware of his budding sexuality, and the first girl he gives his heart and soul to. Needless to say, Helen's rearrival into his life rekindles a lot of emotions he is ill-prepared to handle. The flashbacks to the past are beautifully written. There is one beautiful scene where Cam gives Helen her birthday present when everyone else has forgotten.

For Cam, Helen helps him through hard times in his dealing with a demanding mother and a negligent father bent on ruining them all financially. And for Helen, he is a symbol of constancy and sobriety she couldn't find in her mother or the lovers and consorts of the latter.

Alas, Beauty Like The Night is just too predictable, right down to its familiar take on psychology. Of course Helen is the only lady that can draw Ari out of her shell. At the same time she is Venus, Godiva, and Eve all rolled in one. Cam is Colonel Von Trapp all over again, sullen and reticent, scowling and trying not to smile.

I am also quite annoyed at the way poor Cassandra has to die for her sins while Cam's younger brother Bentley, who displays the same sexual promiscuity and debauchery (he even tries to assault Helen at one point in the story), gets a gentle rap on the knuckles and is elevated as Misunderstood Guy by the last page. Yes, the author takes pains to describe to me how Cam's coldness may have driven a spoiled woman who thrives on attention like Cassandra into her behavior, but still, it grates on me. The sexually promiscuous woman dies. The sexually promiscuous man is misunderstood. Bah.

Ms Carlyle, who displays an exquisite ability to create vivid characters and imbue upon them almost Byronesque romanticism, does Cam and Helen a great, great disservice by miring them in a story as predictable and trite as this one. Surely she can do better. An author who cheerfully acknowledges the Like father, like son and Like mother, like daughter aspects of her story when most authors wouldn't even get the irony (their works are Serious Works of Art, you know) can't play by safe rules. Not this sticking-100%-and-never-changing-one-single-bit safe, anyway.

Rating: 80


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