The Veil of Night, by Lydia Joyce

>> Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Veil of Night (excerpt) first came to my attention because I've "known" the author, Lydia Joyce, for ages, through her posts in a couple of the Yahoo groups I belong to. But that alone isn't enough to get me to buy a book. I got it simply because it sounded like something I'd enjoy.

In darkness, he awaits her...

Byron Stratford, Duke of Raeburn, walks in shadow. Spoken of only in whispers, he lives alone in his crumbling manor, a cold, enigmatic recluse. Rarely appearing by the light of day, he moves as a wraith in the night, answering to no man. He cares little for those who dwell outside and does not abide the intrusion of others, lest they discover his secret shame...

The Duke of Raeburn is the sinister man Lady Victoria Wakefield must confront if she is to save herself from her family's ruin. Little does she suspect that she will emerge from her journey into that night as his shining sun--or that the passion radiating between them will be their only defense against the true darkness threatening to destroy them both...
A very strong debut. My grade: a B+.

The Veil of Night is one of those increasingly rare books, one that is absolutely and completely character-driven. There are no dastardly villains (not even non-dastardly villains), no spy plots, no missing jewelry, no kidnapped relatives, no mysteries to be solved other than the characters internal issues. There's just two very well-drawn and fresh characters interacting, slowly peeling back layers and getting to know one another in depth.

Being so focused on the characters, the only way this would work is if the characters are good, and they were. This is probably the first book with this type of plot (heroine bartering herself in exchange for lenience for her brother's bets) in which I didn't get even a little bit irritated by her martyr tendencies. Why? Because she had none. It was so refreshing that she pretty much thought that her idiotic brother deserved whatever he got, but she just didn't want her family's reputation (and hers, especially), tainted by the scandal. Plus, Victoria was perfectly aware that the main reason she was agreeing to Byron's deal was that she wanted, needed, even, the adventure. She's... different.

And Byron was pretty fascinating, too. Both Victoria and he have secrets, but his is the most important. I thought Joyce's timing with this was flawless. At first it's a secret from both the reader and Victoria, but we readers soon start getting little bits and pieces of information. Slowly, slowly, until we have the whole picture. And this particular secret was such that it made perfect sense that Byron wouldn't want to tell Victoria, that even when he knew he should, when his mind told him he could, he would be afraid to actually do so.

It's a very luscious love story, with wonderful love scenes and one that is very romantic. I thought the ending was a bit too rushed, but up until that point, I think the romance was flawless.

The ambience was outstanding, too. It's a very claustrophobic book, mostly taking place inside a dark manor, with only a couple of characters other than the protagonists, and the author's writing style was key in creating this feel. In another book, it might have been a little overwrought, but here, the sentence structure, the often old-fashioned word choices, they all fit the story very well.

I also liked that Joyce included quite a few details that made me conscious that I was reading about people who were different from me... who felt different about issues like class, who ate different things, who dressed different. I don't think I've ever been as conscious of the fact that the heroine is wearing a crinoline. When she walks in the wind, it bangs against her legs, when Byron presses her against the wall, it flattens against her at the back and goes up in front. It was details like that that I enjoyed.

I've been checking out Joyce's site and it looks like her next book, coming out later this year, takes place in Victorian Venice. I'm so there!


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