Tempted All Night, by Liz Carlyle.
Lady Phaedra Northampton is a proper English miss—but burdened by a dark secret. She’s buried her shame in running her wealthy brother, Lord Nash’s, households while hiding behind a sharp wit and dull wardrobe . . . until a reckless village maid’s disappearance pulls her into London’s seedy underworld.
A former mercenary and jaded spy-for-hire, Tristan Talbot, Lord Avoncliffe, now does little, and manages to do it scandalously. Though Tristan’s an out and out rogue, when his dying father begs him to delve into the secrets behind a notorious brothel—a perfect task for his talents!—Tristan can’t refuse. Is the brothel a front for a notorious Russian spy ring? Tristan is on the hunt—until his path collides with the oh-so-tempting Lady Phae.
Soon what should be a simple assignment becomes deliciously complicated . . . when deception and desire lead to an explosive passion—and deadly foes!
It begins innocently enough. Of course it does. The novel relies on your usual unlikely pairing—the “proper English miss,” in the form of Lady Phaedra Northampton, who happens to be “burdened by a dark secret,” and your resident ne’er-do-well, “a former mercenary and jaded spy-for-hire” Tristan Talbot, Lord Avoncliffe, who, according to the blurb, “does little, and manages to do it scandalously”—two sure-fire elements to a historical petticoated romance.
[#01] It’s very Seedy Underground London, what with rakehells and hellhouses and all sorts of compound words with “hell” in it. It takes SUL to a whole nuthah level, and, with that, angst. This is an angsty book set primarily in seedy places. There’s the infamous brothel, and there’s that “inn” where Phae and Tristan first get it on. It’s not quite a dark romance novel, but it’s rather, erm, gray. There’s very little ooh-happy-sunshine, be warned. And that’s refreshing.
[#02] The hero. I like how Tristan shows such respectable and admirable humanity. He is not the utter profligate he’s supposed to be, of course not. This is a tried-and-tested trope in the romance world, and I can assure you that it never fails to make me say Yay. One of the best moments in the novel was when Tristan’s keeping watch on his father-on-his-deathbed: it’s a quiet couple of pages, introspective, and you come away liking Tristan all the more.
[#03] I am aware that the treatment of the heroine’s sexual preferences—well, the very sexual preference itself—has caused a widdle debate in the Intarwebz. Me, I think that’s one of the strong points of the novel. Here is sexual diversity in a “mainstream” romance novel, at last. Not everything involving [mild bondage] has to be smut. In fact, the most characterization for Phaedra occurred in the sex scenes—at last, she’s not just a cardboard cutout with useless little adjectives. So, yeah, good for her.
[#01] Although it’s a compelling story, there’s not enough romance in it. A perfunctory romance in a novel that’s supposed to be a romance novel. It feels arbitrary that Tristan is attracted to Phae, because, after all, his reputation is at stake. At first I thought that the novel began slow. Now I realize that it felt that way because it took such a long time for the romance to get established, and even then, it was a mediocre attempt.
[#02] The feeling that each and every character you encounter in the novel has his/her own novel coming up. Yes, I understand that Zoe has her own book, but Tempted All Night sets her up so maniacally that it’s annoying—I mean, ma’am, I get it, we’re supposed to buy your next book.
[#03] I really don’t like it when the first glimpse we have of the hero is when he’s in bed with someone else. Annoys the bejeebies out of me.
[#04] The heroine is supposed to be this levelheaded person, all reasonable and whathaveyou. Supposed to be. Her characterization’s pretty much secondhand. She doesn’t have those introspective moments that tug at your heartstrings. For all her desire to be embroiled in all the hooplah, it seems forced because she doesn’t come off as a strong enough a character to go through all that. Again, the most effective characterizations of her were in those sex scenes, lemme tell ya.
[#05] Way cluttered plot. Just saying. That’s why the romance suffers.