REVIEW: “Beauty Like the Night” by Joanna Bourne


Beauty Like the Night
by Joanna Bourne

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Severine de Cabrillac, orphan of the French revolution and sometime British intelligence agent, has tried to leave spying behind her. Now she devotes herself to investigating crimes in London and finding justice for the wrongly accused.

Raoul Deverney, an enigmatic half-Spaniard with enough secrets to earn even a spy’s respect, is at her door demanding help. She’s the only one who can find the killer of his long-estranged wife and rescue her missing fourteen-year-old daughter.

Severine reluctantly agrees to aid him, even though she knows the growing attraction between them makes it more than unwise. Their desperate search for the girl unleashes treason and murder. . . and offers a last chance for two strong, wounded people to find love.

Maybe it’s because I’ve come to expect more from J.B., but this latest instalment in her Spymasters series ended up kind of underwhelming. Something happened, then some other things happened, and in between there was a lot of intrigue and sexual tension, and then the story was over. In short, Beauty Like the Night represents the best that a formulaic Regency novel can offer without defying genre conventions. I feel that some of the previous books have been far bolder when it comes to putting new twists on the Regency, especially as one of Bourne’s hallmarks–the integration of sociopolitical factors from the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars–felt missing, or at least greatly diluted, in this one.

I probably would have enjoyed BLtN more three or four years ago, when I first picked up a J.B. novel. Now, having read the rest of the series, it feels largely derivative of her better titles, especially Rogue Spy or The Black Hawk. One thing I’ve noticed is how similar all of her heroines are. You could exchange Sévie’s inner monologues for those of her sister Justine or the completely unrelated Camille and see virtually no difference. Part of the reason is the abundance of

description.

I’m not kidding, the flowery language is everywhere. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing: If anyone has mastered the art of flowery prose, it’s Bourne. There aren’t any particularly cringeworthy metaphors, which is impressive when every other line is a comparison to leaves in the wind or a reference to classical canon. Still, the sheer amount of it is rather excessive: I found the style novel and even enjoyable in my first Spymasters novel, but it’s gotten a bit grating by the sixth.

Story-wise, it’s really nothing special. I was disappointed not to see Justine. It seems that Bourne is insistent on always writing out the heroines of other novels–while Adrian and Doyle get to play major roles in every book, the only times the leading women appear outside of their own books are Sévie (in her sister’s story), Justine (very briefly in Maggie’s story) and Maggie (very briefly in a couple of the other ones). Maggie and Justine’s reason for being absent through the entirety of BLtN just seem too contrived not to be an excuse to have them gone. Pity we didn’t get to see any sisterly interaction, especially when Justine’s one of my favourite heroines in the series. *shrug*

Alright, now on to my big high point of the book. (Low-key spoilers ahead.)

Pilar. Frickin’ Pilar. She is the reason I keep wanting to bump my rating up to 4 stars. Quite frankly, I’d gladly read a story about Pilar alone, who manages to be more compelling than either of the romantic leads and deliver the novel’s best plot twist. While Sévie and Raoul are running around picking locks and kissing, this girl is getting things done. Plus she’s a tough soul who grew up young, scrappy, and hungry, aristocratic blood be damned.

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Pilar book? I can hope.

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