My False Heart

A Woman Scorned

 
Beauty Like the Night by Liz Carlyle
(Sonnet, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-7434-1054-8
***
What are the chances that a reviewer in the same month will be assigned two books whose plot centers on the efforts of a governess to help and heal a mute child? Not very great, you say. Well, it happened to me! Last week it was Jaclyn Reddingís White Mist. This week, itís Liz Carlyleís Beauty Like the Night. And whatís the likelihood that both books will go along swimmingly until the end, when a less than satisfying denouement keeps each from receiving an unqualified recommendation? But thatís what has happened.

Obviously, despite their similarities, the two stories are markedly different in many ways. While Redding brought two strangers together on a Scottish isle, Carlyle offers a tale of young love rediscovered.

Helene de Severs has earned a reputation as a teacher of difficult children so she is the perfect candidate to try to help Ariane, the six year old daughter of the Earl of Treyhern. Only after she accepts the position does she discover that the earl is in fact Camden Rutledge. Ten years ago, when she was seventeen and he was eighteen, the two had been in love. But the daughter of his fatherís mistress was not a suitable candidate for Camís hand, and Helene was sent away to school in Switzerland. Despite this history, Helene decides to accept the position. Perhaps she can lay the ghosts of the past.

Cam is astounded when the woman he knew as Helene Middleton descends from the coach. His first response is to send her away immediately. How can the daughter of a courtesan be a suitable governess for his child? His second thought is that Helene is a beautiful as ever and that he still responds to her as he had in the past.

Cam has made duty his life. He dutifully married the daughter of a rich merchant to restore the family fortune and he dutifully struggles to recover the Rutledge reputation after the death of his notorious and wasteful father. He is dutifully planning to marry again, to his young cousin, Joan, thus joining their two properties. The arrival of Helene threatens to make him forget all about duty.

The most touching part of Beauty Like the Night are the flashbacks to and memories of the past. As Cam and Helene recall those halcyon days of their youth, we see two people who are two halves of a whole. Cam needed Heleneís daring and unconventionality; Helene needed Camís stability and good sense. Living amongst uncaring and selfish adults, the two created their own world, only to have it shattered. Is it to late to restore what was lost?

In fact, the barriers that Carlyle erects to create and sustain the conflict seem a bit flimsy. There is Camís proposed (but not finalized) betrothal to his cousin. There is their now greater difference in status. There are Camís assumptions about the life Helene has led since their separation. Considering the fact that the two catch on fire at the slightest touch, the conflict seems a bit forced.

Carlyle writes so well and her characters are so well done that it is easy to overlook this fact. Cam, in particular, is a fully realized creation, a man who was charged as a child to be ever responsible and who is in danger of becoming rigid and domineering were it not for Heleneís arrival. Carlyle draws the secondary characters quite well, especially Camís younger and troublesome brother Bentley and Ariane, who will not talk but who knows more than anyone realizes.

While Carlyleís first two books had a number of original elements, Beauty Like the Night is much more predictable. Judging is always comparative, and I really think my response to this latest book is colored by the expectations raised by Carlyleís earlier work. Yet if Beauty Like the Night does not quite meet the high standards set by My False Heart and A Woman Scorned, it remains a quite acceptable romance.

--Jean Mason


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