Narrated by Kirsten Potter
In Beauty Like the Night, the sixth entry in Joanna Bourne’s acclaimed Spymasters series, the author turns her focus to Séverine de Cabrillac, sister of Justine (heroine of The Black Hawk) whom we first met when she was a very young child being taken away from revolutionary Paris by the man she now calls ‘Papa’, William Doyle, Viscount Markham.
Sévie grew up in England alongside Doyle and Maggie’s (The Forbidden Rose) children and among various agents of the British Service. Aged seventeen and fed up with being treated like a child, she ran off to join Military Intelligence – the Service’s less efficient cousin – where she made herself a formidable reputation as a spy; and on her return home after the war, she set up as a private investigator and has earned herself a name for being every bit as tenacious, clever and frighteningly effective as she was during the war.
Her reputation for getting results is not, however, the only thing about Sévie that leads Raoul Deverney to enter her bedroom late one night and to calmly demand the return of a missing girl and a missing amulet. Sévie is surprised – but not frightened – at waking to find a man bearing a knife sitting on her bed; she knows she is capable of defending herself, and equally calmly – and quite truthfully – says she has no idea what he’s talking about. As they converse, Sévie is sizing the man up, coming to the conclusion that he’s either mad or deadly – and is fairly sure he’s not the former. But something about him unsettles her, never more so than when he gently touches a hand to her cheek before he disappears into the night.
Raoul is familiar with the name de Cabrillac, and can easily believe that the fearsome young woman he encountered in Spain a decade earlier could have been involved in or responsible for the murder of his estranged wife. But could she also have kidnapped the woman’s twelve-year-old daughter, Pilar? His search of his late wife’s apartment revealed the words “amulet” and “de Cabrillac” scratched into the girl’s metal bed-frame, so clearly Séverine is involved in some way. The question is – how?
Sévie is not too surprised to encounter her late-night visitor again the next day, when she arrives at her office to discover it has been ransacked and he is sitting calmly in the middle of the chaos. She again feels slightly off balance in the presence of this man, and is annoyed at herself for allowing herself to be affected by him while at the same time intrigued to know what he wants from her. Instinct and the evidence of her own eyes tell her he is not responsible for destroying her office, but she is no more inclined to trust him than she was the night before, and this conversation, much like their first, is both pointed and guarded. Deverney introduces himself and then asks Sévie to help him to find the missing girl, but she is initially reluctant to become involved. Before long though, her empathy for Pilar – who must be alone and scared on the city streets – makes it impossible for her to refuse and in spite of the fact that she doesn’t completely trust Deverney, she agrees to help.
Ms. Bourne is a master storyteller and she has constructed a multi-faceted tale of murder, espionage and blackmail which sees our heroes on the trail of someone who will stop at nothing in order to protect his long-held secrets. She skilfully draws together her various plot threads while at the same time developing the most delicious, slow-burn romance between her principals; two people who are utterly captivated by each other but recognise the inherent danger in becoming involved with someone of whose motivations they’re unsure. Their interactions are thick with sexual tension as they try hard to resist the strength of their mutual attraction… and fortunately for us, it’s a fight they’re destined to lose.
I tend to be a hero-centric reader and listener, but when it comes to Joanna Bourne’s books, I find myself just as drawn to the heroines as to the heroes. Sévie is a wonderful heroine; tough, capable yet vulnerable and haunted by some of the decisions she made during the war, and Raoul is pretty much my favourite type of hero; clever, witty and coolly competent, he’s as ruthless and deadly as Sévie (possibly moreso) and as sexy as all get out. These two are dangerous, damaged and utterly compelling and Ms. Bourne does an absolutely splendid crafting their romance; they learn to trust, discover kinship and solace in one another and they’re just perfect together.
Listeners familiar with the other books in the series will also be pleased at the reappearance of a number of characters from earlier stories – especially William Doyle and Adrian Hawkhurst (Hawker), whose father/son type relationship is beautifully drawn and always a pleasure to revisit. I really liked that while both men are fiercely protective of Sévie and are naturally suspicious of her charming, enigmatic client, they are well aware that she can take care of herself and know that they have to let her make her own decisions and mistakes.
Because the events of Beauty Like the Night take place after the Napoleonic Wars have ended, its focus is slightly different – perhaps smaller – than the other books, but it’s no less enthralling and every bit as well written as one would expect from this author. The plot is engrossing, the romance is beautifully developed and the other relationships are equally well-written; historical romance is rarely better than this.
Kirsten Potter returns to narrate this instalment, and delivers another strong performance. Her pacing is spot-on and her differentiation, while generally subtle, is solid; and having a voice in the contralto range means she doesn’t have to lower her pitch too much to portray the male characters. As in the other titles in the series, she performs the narrative in her native American accent (which I always have to get used to) and the dialogue in British/French/Scottish or whatever other accents are required, and most of the time does a good job. But I had a number of issues with this aspect of her narration; several of these accents are inaccurate, inconsistent or ‘wobbly’ and I found them distracting as a result. For example, in chapter fourteen, Doyle is described as having adopted an accent that’s a cross between Cornish and Cockney… the Cockney is there (albeit from the Dick van Dyke school of cockney accents!) but whatever the other accent is, it isn’t Cornish. There’s an Irish character named O’Grady whose accent is non-existent, a Scotsman whose accent is definitely dodgy and I can’t even begin to describe what she’s done with Pax, to whom she’s given an accent that is a strange cross between cockney, country yokel and Scottish. I wish she’d referred to her portrayal in Rogue Spy, because he certainly didn’t sound like that there!
There’s no question Ms. Potter is an excellent vocal actress; she injects just the right amount of expression and nuance into her performances and expertly conveys the characters’ emotions, whether in the love scenes (which she does very well) or more perilous situations. But although I’ve enjoyed her work on this series, I can’t help wishing that a British narrator had been used throughout; that would have been the icing on a marvellous cake.
Beauty Like the Night is a fantastic addition to the Spymasters series, and if you’ve enjoyed the other books, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy this one. For me, the print versions win over the audios; not because the narration is poor, but because I’m always conscious that it IS a narration which makes a bit of a barrier between me and the story. But I’m well aware that it’s a matter of personal preference and I’m sure fans of Ms. Potter’s won’t be disappointed.
TITLE: Beauty Like the Night
AUTHOR: Joanna Bourne
NARRATED BY: Kirsten Potter
GENRE: Historical Romance
STEAM FACTOR: Glad I had my earbuds in
REVIEWER: CazBuy Beauty Like the Night by Joanna Bourne on Amazon