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REVIEW: His at Night by Sherry Thomas

His at Night by Sherry ThomasHere is another new summer reviewer, Sunita, and her take on Sherry Thomas’ release, His at Night.

Dear Ms. Thomas,

When romance novel readers bring up their favorite books, yours are among the first and most frequently cited as exemplary works in current historical romance. Your prose is lyrical and distinctive, your characters are unusual, and I find that your voice has grown increasingly assured with each book. But while I have admired the two previous novels I read (Delicious is still in my TBR), I haven't really loved them. I could see the skill and quality in every page, but I felt distanced from the story and the characters; minor errors jumped out at me, which is a sure sign that I'm not wholly engaged. So I approached His at Night with a bit of trepidation. That trepidation turned out to be entirely misplaced.

You begin your novel by introducing us to your hero. The Marquess of Vere, an undercover agent for the Crown, is investigating Edmund Douglas, a wealthy diamond mine owner who is suspected of extortion. Vere and his confederates take advantage of Douglas’s brief absence from his estate to seek shelter there from a plague of rats which has been set loose in the house they have rented in the vicinity. Douglas’s young and lovely niece, Elissande Edgerton, is somewhat reluctant to invite them to stay, but she acquiesces.

When they first meet, Vere and Elissande are instantly attracted to each other. But Elissande quickly discovers what the Upper Ten Thousand already knows, i.e., by all appearances, Vere is a complete idiot. And Vere in turn realizes that Elissande is using the visit to entrap one of the eligible men of the party into marriage. When Elissande sets her sights on Vere’s brother Freddie, Vere moves to thwart her, only to be caught himself. At the end of their short stay, Vere has gained valuable evidence against Douglas, but he is forced to marry Elissande after being found with her in a highly compromising position.

By the time they journey to London to be married, Vere has realized that Elissande did not entrap him out of ambition but out of desperation and fear, and when they return to the estate to inform Douglas of their marriage, it becomes even clearer to him why she acted as she did. Nevertheless, he is furious at the outcome and in her presence he increasingly behaves less like the idiot the world and his brother believe him to be and more like the brilliant, unhappy, angry man that he really is. Elissande, in turn realizes that Vere wears as much of a mask as she does, and as she comes to know the man behind the mask she blames herself for her deception, which saved her and her aunt from their uncle at the cost of Vere’s freedom.

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers for a suspense plot which is integral both to the storyline and to the relationship between Vere and Elissande. As opposed to novels in which the spy subplot appears to be grafted onto a predictable romantic narrative arc in order to pad out the page length, the mystery in this book is crucial to developing the romance between the hero and the heroine. Vere and Elissande meet and then make decisions which shape their future together because of it, and they learn a great deal about themselves and each other as the mystery is unraveled. Douglas is a superb villain. You expertly convey how terrifying he is without taking him over the top, and the moments of sudden violence administered a real shock as I was reading.

In addition to the principal romance and the mystery, there is a secondary romance that should appeal to readers of Private Arrangements. Vere’s brother Freddie realizes that he has fallen in love with his recently widowed childhood friend, Angelica, but he has no idea whether she loves him and how to find out without jeopardizing their friendship. Their scenes are funny and quite sweet, and they provide a break from the intensity of the scenes between Vere and Elissande, as well as from the villainy of Douglas.

I said at the beginning of this review that I sometimes felt distanced from your heroes and heroines, even when I appreciated them. For me there was no such distance in this book. From the first time we meet Vere and Elissande, we understand how complex their interior lives are. The first few sentences of the book describe the gap between Vere’s appearance and reality:

The Marquess of Vere was a man of few words.

This fact, however, would astonish all but a select few of his numerous friends and acquaintances. The general consensus was that Lord Vere talked. And talked. And talked.

Similarly, the first scene with Elissande, when she is seeing off her uncle, signals the gap between her public and private selves and why it is so important:

Still smiling, she leaned in to kiss him on his cheek, controlling her aversion with an expertise that made her throat tighten.

He required this demonstration of familial warmth before the servants. It was not every man who disguised his evil so well that he fooled his own staff. One heard rumors of Squire Lewis's bum pinching, or Mrs. Stevenson's watering of the beer she provided her servants. But the only sentiment circulated about Mr. Douglas was a uniform admiration for his saintly patience, what with Mrs. Douglas being so frail-’and not altogether right upstairs.

At last he climbed into his carriage. The coachman, hunkered down in his mackintosh, flicked the reins. The wheels scraped wetly against the gravel drive. Elissande waved until the brougham rounded the curve; then she lowered her arm and dropped her smile.

There are other characteristics that emphasize what Vere and Elissande share, such as your choices for their escape fantasies. Vere imagines the perfect companion with a dazzlingly happy smile who takes on whatever role he needs at the time. Elissande seeks comfort from reality by reading from one of the few books she has managed to hide from her uncle, a travelogue of the Island of Capri. When they meet, each sees in the other the embodiment of their sun-filled, happy fantasies, which makes their subsequent disappointments that much more intense. But the fantasies also point to the way in which they will eventually achieve that happiness in reality. Vere and Elissande are damaged in similar ways, but their HEA is not the union of two damaged people. Rather, I believe in it because in spite of that damage, they have managed to remain people who are strong enough to embrace life and to create and share happiness with those they love.

I cannot end a review of a book by Sherry Thomas without talking about your prose. I have not always been swept up by it the way other readers have; I tend to like understated prose styles, and sometimes I found myself admiring your prose as something independent of the story, which diminishes my engagement. But this time I found that the beauty of your writing enhanced the story rather than competing with it. Sometimes it was just a sentence, at other times it was a series of scenes. The scenes of Vere and Elissande on their wedding night, and the scene where she is reciting excerpts from the travelogue to him, were all beautiful and almost heartbreaking in their poignancy. Their first conversation at dinner at Highgate Manor, and then her attempt to mimic his malapropisms during dinner after they were married both made me feel as if I were in the room.

I also liked the way that you integrated the historical context into the story, particularly the railways. Both Vere’s ability to sleep on trains (in contrast to his tendency to have nightmares everywhere else) and the way in which everyone hopped on trains to go from place to place, emphasized that this was a story set at the end of the 19th century, not the beginning.

I have one criticism about the context, and this is something I’ve found to be the case not just in your novels but more generally in historical romances. While I was too caught up in the story to catch possible historical anachronisms, I did notice that these characters were unmoored from other people. What I mean by this is that the geography and the technology of the time felt authentic, but the lack of a dense social network stood out. As a Marquess, Vere never seemed to concern himself with his estate or with an extended family. Even if he was apparently too stupid to run it, no one else seemed to be managing his vast wealth. I’m not talking about sequel bait characters, but rather the kind of world that, for example, Jo Beverley creates, or Georgette Heyer did. When I read historical accounts of the British upper classes of this time, one of the striking features is how intermarried and interconnected they are. People exist as members of families and kin networks more than as atomized individuals. I understand why Elissande’s family is isolated. But Vere and Freddie’s isolation makes less sense to me, especially since one of their initial attractions for Elissande is the power and wealth that their social position brings them.

Nevertheless, this is a minor point that didn’t detract much from my immense pleasure in reading your book. We readers of romance go through a lot of books. A few are wallbangers, more are okay but not great, even more are enjoyable, and some are more than that. When I’m reading a book that falls into that fourth and smallest category, I find myself saying “OMG, I can’t believe how good this is” with one part of my brain while the rest of it is saying “shut up and keep reading.” His At Night made me feel that way, and I thank you for that. Needless to say, this is an A read for me.

~Sunita

Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook | BN | Borders
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This is a mass market from Random House.

Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Jordan Castillo Price, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley.

21 Comments

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    May 25, 2010 @ 12:15:35

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  2. RRRJessica
    May 25, 2010 @ 12:57:33

    I was so psyched to see this book downloaded to my Kindle this morning. I have never been so happy to get a bill from Amazon.

    Can’t bring myself to read your review, b/c I want to be totally spoiled (don’t even know what the book is about). But bookmarking for later perusal!

    And welcome to the wonderful world of reviewing!

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  3. Meredith Duran
    May 25, 2010 @ 13:36:35

    The scenes of Vere and Elissande on their wedding night, and the scene where she is reciting excerpts from the travelogue to him, were all beautiful and almost heartbreaking in their poignancy.

    That scene with the travelogue — YES. It was utterly brilliant. In the middle of reading it, I started getting a rare case of “this-is-stupendously-beautiful” chills, and actually stopped and backed up and started reading the passage from the beginning again, just to wallow in the sensation longer. So, so glad you mentioned it. Time for a re-read!

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  4. Julie James
    May 25, 2010 @ 15:27:28

    I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of His At Night at RT and devoured it as soon as I got back from the conference. I really enjoyed the book–Thomas writes fascinating, complex, and real characters. That makes her two for two for me. (I loved Delicious as well.) I wonder which of hers I should read next…

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  5. hapax
    May 25, 2010 @ 15:29:31

    That is one seriously gorgeous cover.

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  6. Dishonor
    May 25, 2010 @ 16:05:24

    I’m reading it right now, and it’s steal-your-breath-away incredible. Also, was the moment where a rat catcher with a luxuriant mustache a nod to Judith Ivory’s The Proposition?

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  7. etirv
    May 25, 2010 @ 16:21:41

    Thank you, Sherry Thomas — you always delivers beautiful and compelling historical romances.

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  8. orannia
    May 25, 2010 @ 18:38:55

    Excellent review Sunita – thank you!

    I have yet to read a Sherry Thomas book…her earlier books sound very tempting, but I’ve just never picked them up. His At Night, however, sounds like the perfect book to try :)

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  9. cdouglas
    May 25, 2010 @ 19:22:04

    I read this in one sitting yesterday. I’ve been anticipating this book for a long time, and it surpassed all my expectations. I actually can’t really articulate well all things I loved about it, because it is still sorta stewing in my head. It is one of those books that makes me kinda mad I read it so fast and I will probably end up reading it again this week. It was just that good.

    I found the book to be really funny in some parts, while just emotionally devastating me in others. The plotting was just so good, and I loved the pace in which the characters were revealed not just to the reader but to each other. Those moments in their marriage when Vere’s role started to slip were beautifully done and gave me shivers. In a lot of ways, I think it might be her best book yet. It also strikes me as the kind of book that will make readers who haven’t tried her books, or didn’t dig her reunited lovers theme of the previous books, into new fans and as a total fangirl, that makes me extra happy.

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  10. Las
    May 25, 2010 @ 19:33:59

    Good grief, I’ve been looking forward to this book for ages and I had completely forgotten it would be out now until I came across this review. *facepalm*

    I’m going to buy it for my Nook right now and drop what I’m currently reading(not a bad book, just not Sherry Thomas). I read each her previous books with a huge lump in my throat…I just feel her characters so deeply.

    Thanks for the review, Sunita.

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  11. Sunita
    May 25, 2010 @ 20:02:46

    @RRRJessica: Thanks, Jessica! Now that I’ve started reviewing I probably won’t be able to stop.
    @Meredith Duran: The passages about Capri were just so well done. The scene where Elissande and her Aunt Rachel talk about how they each imagined Elissande’s life there were heart-wrenching.
    @Julie James: If you liked Freddie’s romance, he loses out to the hero in Private Arrangements. PA is a less polished book and has features that are red flags for some readers, but it’s well worth reading. But then again, so is Not Quite A Husband!
    @cdouglas: You just said what I was trying to say, far more succinctly!

    Thanks for the warm welcome, everyone!

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  12. Kaetrin
    May 25, 2010 @ 20:06:19

    My copy is in the mail so I read this review with one eye closed – thx for no spoilers!

    I think this one is written in linear format – by that I mean that it starts at the beginning and moves forward to the end, whereas her other books have jumped from now to before and back to now (er, hope that makes sense!). I have enjoyed all of Sherry Thomas’ other books but I agree with Sunita that they keep getting better. Not Quite a Husband was gorgeous and I felt more connected to that story than I had with the earlier two, as much as I liked them.

    I’m really looking forward to this one. I’m glad that Ms. Thomas is writing something a little different – the other books have been reunited lovers and with the flashbacks – which I liked but I’m glad she spreading her literary wings. She’s become an autobuy for me and I know I’m going to love this one.

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  13. Janine
    May 25, 2010 @ 20:46:00

    Welcome to DA, Sunita!

    ReplyReply

  14. Mitzi H.
    May 25, 2010 @ 21:16:42

    Great review….I can’t wait to read it!!!

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  15. KristieJ
    May 25, 2010 @ 21:57:03

    I couldn’t believe my luck when I spied this one in the goodie room at RT and scooped it up. I loved it. It had a Jo Goodman type feel to in that the characters we meet at the beginning aren’t at all what they appear to be. And that is high praise. I love this kind of writing. It keeps you involved and wanting to keep reading.

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  16. Rene
    May 26, 2010 @ 13:53:33

    @Dishonor

    I also wondered if the scene where Ellisande overhears Lady Avery talking about the couple caught in a compromising position in a wardrobe was a little hat tip to Tessa Dare’s Goddess of the Hunt. It made me smile.

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  17. lucy
    May 26, 2010 @ 14:06:51

    I wouldn’t have guess that Sherry Thomas’s first language wasn’t English, since I love her writing.

    I wasn’t even aware that she had another book coming out but I love her books and I cant wait till I can read this one too.

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  18. SonomaLass
    May 26, 2010 @ 15:35:40

    I have loved all of Sherry’s books so far. I’m skipping the review for now, because I have resolutely avoided ANY advance knowledge on this one. But I did want to say welcome, Sunita! I’ll be back to read this review in a few days.

    ReplyReply

  19. Dear Author Recommends for June | Dear Author
    May 28, 2010 @ 12:01:15

    [...] at Night by Sherry Thomas (Kindle link). Recommended by new reviewer Sunita and [...]

  20. Preeti
    May 30, 2010 @ 14:09:09

    I’m one of the folks who waited until I’d read the book to read this review. You captured the notable parts so well, Sunita. BTW, I, too, left the book wondering who/how/what re: Vere’s wealth.

    As opposed to her previous books, I was struck by how funny this one was. The compromising position scene surprised a laugh out loud from me. Really impressive writing.

    And, lastly, like other commenters here, I wondered how many tips of the hats there were in this book. Just the names Freddie and Vere bring Heyer to mind (or maybe Beverley?)

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  21. Stephanie
    Jun 06, 2010 @ 21:40:32

    This was my first book by Sherry Thomas and it was wonderful! I can’t wait to read the others.

    His At Night was a beautiful historical romance and I loved Vere and Elissande!

    ReplyReply

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