BOOK GIVEAWAY: Read on for a chance to win a free copy of Tempted All Night. The contest ends midnight on Friday, June 5 AEST.
I think I read a Liz Carlyle book once, and I mustn’t have liked it because I’ve avoided her books for some reason. So when I got a free copy of Tempted All Night at ARRC 09, it was a chance to reacquaint myself with Carlyle’s writing and see if I should start paying her more attention.
Tempted All Night didn’t immediately grab my attention, and I didn’t care much for the suspense plot, but some exquisitely written, finely balanced scenes between lovers Tristan and Phae had me alternately thrilled and in tears.
Tristan Talbot: hero in rogue’s clothing
Tristan Talbot, Lord Avoncliffe, is your typical historical romance rogue. He’s popular with the ladies—and not of the virginal kind—who generally see him as a frivolous, somewhat dim-witted, yet vastly entertaining companion. In truth, he’s a former mercenary whose past has jaded him to the point where he doesn’t care what society thinks and is quite happy to enjoy life’s amusements, much to the disapproval of his father, the Earl of Hauxton.
This isn’t an easy character to manage, but Carlyle does remarkably well. Tristan’s development from carefree bachelor to committed lover happens gradually and organically throughout the book. We see glimpses of Tristan in his various guises—as a carefree lover, as a spy, as a son, and finally, as a man in love. We see him struggle to do what’s right while remaining true to himself—or, at least, what he believes himself to be. This isn’t a rogue who turns into a Samaritan overnight, and thank goodness for that, because it’s those moments when we discover Tristan’s emotional depth that make this book so lovely to read.
Phaedra Northampton: woman with a tragic past
By contrast, Lady Phaedra Northampton is altogether much too serious. She’s on a quest to find a missing girl, the mother of Phae’s illegitimate niece, and she’s willing to take enormous risks to do it. What drives her is a mystery that’s slowly unveiled, though it becomes clear pretty early on that her reasons are tied to something that happened in her past. Carlyle drops enough hints that there’s no real surprise by the time we hear Phae’s story, but the revelation is still heartbreaking and made more so by Tristan’s reaction to it.
Brothels, villain sex, spy shenanigans
Phae and Tristan are thrown together when Phae witnesses a murder related to her inquiries about the missing girl and Tristan’s dying father, a man of great political influence who worked at the Foreign Office before he fell ill, begs him to investigate.
Tristan feels obliged to grant Hauxton’s request, discovering that, although he couldn’t stand his father’s attempts to make him into something he’s not, he can’t bring himself to disappoint the man on his deathbed, either. The conversations between Tristan and his father are fraught with tension and suppressed emotion, but having to keep up with convoluted Russian politics at the same time was a little too much to ask.
Tristan and Phae’s investigations lead them to a brothel that caters for unusual perversions—the kind that can be used to blackmail men of great influence. Most of their activities relating to the brothel and its occupants are completely unrealistic. And yes, while such brothels probably existed at the time, I’m not convinced this book needed to use such an extreme example of depravity combined with high-level political espionage. It just seemed too over-the-top and in-your-face to have kept out of the spotlight for so long, even with its grip on influential clients.
In the bedroom, Tristan and Phae discover that she likes to be tied up. This comes up out of the blue, and yet Carlyle explains it relatively well and without judgement. I’m not quite sure why mild bondage was needed in the story—perhaps as a contrast against the depravities that the bad guys engage in—but it turns out to be sensual and unexpectedly tender.
Some of the most emotionally intense conversations between Tristan and Phae brought to mind Kinsale and Goodman, and for me there’s no higher praise than that. Their internal conflicts are dark and tortured, not in any forced way but because of their fundamental assumptions about themselves.
…there was no denying the fact that an unmistakable melancholy lingered in her eyes if one but looked for it. No woman made the cold, hard choices Phaedra had made—not without a damned good reason…. And it took no great leap of logic to figure out what had happened….
Tristan wondered if the bastard was still alive to tell the tale. Not likely, he judged… Tristan would have been tempted to do the job himself. Not out of possessiveness, or even misplaced male pride—no, he had no right to those things. He would have done it because of what it stripped from her. Opportunity. Love. Hope—hope for something a little better than a clandestine tumble with London’s most arrant womanizer.
…for the first time in his life, he was almost ashamed of what he had let himself become. A lady’s last resort. A whore, even.
Yummy secondary characters
There are also moments, where Phae’s family intrigues are revealed, which slowed the pace of the story without adding anything useful. I’m pretty certain the details tie back to a previous novel featuring Phae’s stepbrother, Lord Nash, but as someone who hasn’t read that book, the back story was confusing and ultimately uninteresting.
Two minor characters stand out, however. Phae’s stepbrother, Lord Nash, is an impressive character in the few scenes he’s in, and I could tell that he’d had his own book (which, I have to add, I feel compelled to buy). As a brother, his character is written in a really beautiful way—protective but not overbearing and just someone who wants the best for his family and especially for Phae. That he has to cloak his concern without damaging her pride, especially when he realises that Tristan may or may not have compromised Phae, makes him just that much sweeter (in a totally manly and aristocratic way, of course).
Zoë Armstrong is the other minor character who shines in her scenes. Zoë is charming and fun and provides a foil for Phae’s sombreness. Yet she does it without being annoying, and Carlyle gives her enough depth, a certain darkness beyond her cheer, that makes me want to know more about her circumstances.
Yay or nay?
Although much of the suspense plot seems extremely fantastical, Tempted All Night is tempered by some beautifully written scenes between Tristan and Phae. When I least expect it, Carlyle pares back her writing and exposes each character’s deepest fears and longings, stretching out the romantic tension without contrivance. These were my favourite parts of the book, and I only wish Carlyle had been less heavy-handed with the external plot, which turned out to be distracting and rather predictable. I’ll be looking up her backlist for sure.
Tempted All Night is published in Australia by Simon & Schuster (Pocket). You can read an excerpt here.
KAT’S NOTE: I’m experimenting with a new style of writing reviews. You might have noticed that I’ve incorporated the plot into the body of the review rather than having a summary in the beginning. I’d love to know whether you prefer to have the summary first, or if this new style is easier to read. Let me know via comments, email or Twitter.
TEMPTED ALL NIGHT GIVEAWAY
For a chance to win a free copy of Tempted All Night, in 25 words or less describe your biggest temptation. The best answer (as decided by Wandergurl, Decadence and me) will win a copy of Tempted All Night.
Some rules: You must post your answer as a comment to this post. Multiple entries are fine, but please don’t flood the thread. By entering, you give us permission to quote your entry in future blog posts and articles. Overseas readers are welcome to join in.The giveaway ends midnight on Friday, June 5 AEDT and will be announced in this weekend’s Book Bizzo. The winner will have a week to send me their delivery address before the prize is forfeit.
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