Helene de Severs grew up with a mother who had three husbands and numerous lovers. In an attempt to escape her mother's scandalous reputation, she had carved a niche for herself in the fledgling field of psychology in Europe. After studying at a prestigious girl's finishing school in Switzerland, she took the opportunity to attend lectures and work alongside experts in this new area of medicine. She has used the knowledge she gained to find work as a specialized governess dealing with troubled children whom society has given up on, and has been incredibly successful with her teaching methods. Having just returned to England after a lengthy stay on the Continent, she is offered employment working with a young girl who has not spoken in the three years since her mother died.
Camden Rutledge is a quiet, proper and serious man who has felt responsible for his entire family, especially his younger sister and brother, for most of his life. Cam has poured his heart and soul and years of hard work into pulling the family back for the brink of financial ruin thanks to his father's indolence. He even entered into a completely miserable marriage of convenience to save the family estate. The marriage ended when his wife died leaving a child who had apparently seen something so traumatic that she would no longer speak. All the doctors who have examined the little girl believe that she is either mentally impaired or deranged, but Cam refuses to believe them. When Cam's father keels over dead while debauching the child's governess, who wasn't worth her pay anyway, Cam is left to seek someone who can truly help his daughter, Ariane, and is lucky enough to find Helene.
Cam's father and Helene's mother had once been lovers, so the two had first met when they were teenagers. They became the very best of friends with Helene often cajoling Cam into accompanying her in acts of juvenile mischief. They thoroughly enjoyed each other's company, and slowly their relationship blossomed into the beauty of young love. One night, Helene was upset, and Cam sought to comfort her. Unfortunately, their mutual desire ended with him compromising her virtue instead. Cam had always planned to marry Helene, but in spite of their comparable social stations, his father did not see her as a worthy match. Their parents cruelly ripped them apart by sending Helene away, leaving them both completely heartbroken. They had not seen each other in over a decade until they were brought back together by the special needs of Cam's child. Sparks immediately begin to fly, but they have both suppressed their great passion over the years for fear of becoming like their parents. Over time they slowly realize that the flames of their love never died, but they will have some obstacles to overcome before they can experience happiness. Cam has an understanding with his aunt that he will eventually marry his cousin, and Cam being the proper gentleman that he is, has never broken his word. Also, neither Cam nor Helene realizes that danger lurks in the shadows of the quiet country estate, for little Ariane was witness to a dark secret that she can remember only in her dreams.
Beauty Like the Night is a beautifully written love story with the added bonus of a mystery. I believe that most, if not all, of Liz Carlyle's books combine these two elements, and she does a wonderful job with both. I really enjoy romances in which the hero and heroine either begin as friends or develop a friendship before marrying. In my opinion, Ms. Carlyle is masterful at writing these friendships and bringing to the story a sense of warmth and deep intimacy that goes far beyond the physical realm. She also writes a good mystery. If I spend most the story trying to solve the mystery and figure out who the villain is, while suspecting characters who end up being innocent, then I know the author did a good job. Such was the case with Beauty Like the Night. The romance was truly romantic, because Cam and Helene had been the best of friends and had experienced the beauty of young love before being cruelly torn apart. They then had a second chance to rekindle both their friendship and their love. The mystery was truly mysterious, because I did suspect other characters besides the real villain. Also, though different scenarios came to mind, I never fully figured out what Ariane had seen that caused her to stop talking until it was revealed in the story. Cam's brother, Bentley's psychological complexities added additional intrigue to the story as I tried to figure out what drives him to do some of the things that he does.
Aside from history, one of my main interests is psychology. I was fascinated to find a historical novel that made use of psychology. Until reading this book, I hadn't even realized that psychological treatments similar to what we use in modern times were even practiced in that era. Ms. Carlyle even made mention of a real historical figure in this fledgling field, Philippe Pinel, along with some factual information on his practice. I was very impressed with her use of such an unusual topic in a historical romance, and the care that she seems to have taken in researching it. Ms. Carlyle has a truly intelligent writing style that is borne out by the fact that I was able to learn something new from reading her work. I have seen a few reviewers who were critical of the psychology element as being anachronistic, but my own research bears out it's accuracy.
The characters in Beauty Like the Night are incredibly well written from the hero and heroine to the secondary characters. Camden Rutledge just made my all-time favorite romantic heroes list. On the outside he may be quiet and serious, but on the inside he has the heart of a poet and burns with passion. He is thoroughly masculine without being arrogant or self-centered. Cam is loyal and faithful even when those around him are not, and he is a hard worker who takes his responsibilities very seriously. His undying devotion to his daughter and his belief that the so-called experts are wrong about her condition only make him more appealing. Even his cat, Boadicea, adores him, and he talks to her often. I think that Ms. Carlyle's use of children and pets always brings great warmth to her characters and stories. Helene was a wonderful heroine, the perfect foil for Cam's reserved nature. As a teenager she was a nearly reckless free-spirit, but even in her more mature adult form she still exhibits that lightheartedness accompanied by a newfound strength of character. I loved that she is strong and worldly enough to so deftly handle men who make unwanted advances, and later showed her spunk and spirit against the villain. She also impressed me as a woman who had made a career for herself in a society where there were few options for women. I really appreciate Ms. Carlyle writing slightly older heroines who have been able to find a niche for themselves outside of marriage or the usual historically limited professions for women.
Some key secondary characters were surprisingly well fleshed out. Among them was Cam's daughter Ariane, who was an incredibly intelligent and brave little girl. The author does a wonderful job of letting the reader inside her thoughts and feelings even when she cannot speak, and keeping her insights and actions on an age-appropriate level. Reader's are given an introduction to Cam's sister, Catherine, who is light, breezy and full of life, while obviously being strong and capable. She also seems to go against the female stereotype of her time, being more comfortable on horseback or handling estate duties than doing interior decorating. In my opinion though, the most intriguing and well written of the secondary characters is Cam's brother, Bentley. Underneath his alternating facades of the seductive charmer and the rebellious, indifferent rakehell is a young man full of fascinating complexities. I was truly impressed that the author was able to write a supporting male character with such depth who didn't overshadow Cam. It is obvious that Bentley's story is far from over, and readers are given a glimpse of the hero he will eventually become.
Liz Carlyle's books contain many interconnected characters, but she considers her stories to be more of a "community of characters" than a series. That said, there are two characters from Beauty Like the Night who continue on to future books. Catherine Rutledge Wodeway becomes the heroine of her own story in No True Gentleman. Likewise, Bentley Rutledge becomes the hero of his own story in The Devil You Know, but prior to that is also seen in A Woman of Virtue and No True Gentleman both of which will likely add more layers to his already complex character. Beauty Like the Night was a wonderful book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I would highly recommend it, and it has definitely earned a place on my keeper shelf. Ms. Carlyle is a very talented author, and I am looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.
Note: Ms. Carlyle's didn't used to officially consider her books as series, but recently she began grouping them together on her website. Beauty Like the Night is now listed as book #1 in the Rutledge Family series. However, I would advise readers that Ms. Carlyle's character web is very complex, with past and future characters popping up throughout all of her books. With this in mind, it is my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by beginning with Ms. Carlyle's first book, My False Heart, and continuing to read them in their publication order. The entire backlist, in order, can be found on her website.
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