GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Harlequin Historical, 2010
WHY THIS NOVEL: I wanted to see how the hero’s poor eyesight was handled.
“Living in a gray world of silhouette, Lord Taris Wellingham conceals his fading eyesight from society. He has long protected himself from any intimate relationships.
Plain twenty-eight-year-old Beatrice-Maude Bassingstoke does not expect to attract any man, especially not one as good-looking as her remote traveling companion.
Forced by a snowstorm to spend the night together, these two lonely people seek solace in each other’s arms. The passion they unleash surprises them both. Then a new day dawns….”
One Unashamed Night begins with a carriage ride. It’s a public coach, it’s winter, it’s night, and one carriage wheel creaks more and more. Taris, the hero in this story, is the only one who notices because his fading eyesight has sharpened his hearing. Before he’s made up his mind if the creaks mean the wheel will break, it’s too late: the wheel breaks; one man is dead and the driver is badly injured. Taris and one of the two women in the carriage (of course that’s the heroine, Beatrice-Maude) go for help because at night, with the bad weather, it’s unlikely that help will come to them.
But on their way to the next village, Taris and Bea actually meet a rescue party. They tell Taris and Bea that there’s a barn nearby and they should seek shelter there while they go on to look after the other passengers. And so it comes to the night that gives this story its title.
Bea is a recently widowed woman of twenty-eight years. She was married with her husband for twelve years and is now on her way to London to start a new life. Her marriage was bad. Her husband drank, was a righteous prick and if Bea made so much as the wrong (in his opinion of course) squeak, he beat her. The last few years of his life he was seriously ill and Bea had to care for him. So now all Bea wants is to enjoy her freedom and finally live the life she dreamed of. After reaching the barn, she is mightily tempted to do more with Taris than just try to get warm again after being out in the freezing cold. He’s the most handsome man she’s ever seen while she considers herself plain, and who would know? Maybe there is more to love-making than she experienced in her marriage (which is nil).
Taris lives in a world of shadows. He knows that soon he will see not even them anymore. His poor eyesight is a secret only very few people know and he intends to keep it that way. He also likes to push himself, doing things like riding a public coach just to prove to himself that he’s not useless yet. The carriage accident is a disaster, of course, but because it’s night his handicap doesn’t show (too much) and he’s able to be useful for once. When later there’s the opportunity to spend the night with a woman who knows nothing about him and won’t see him again and realize his damage, he doesn’t say no.
Or course, fate (and Taris relatives) have other plans and Taris and Bea meet again. It’s a few months later and Bea established herself well in London. Her salon, rife with discussions about controversy subjects, is talked about in all of London and well received. She meets Taris again and although she thinks he sees herself beneath his notice (added along by his near blindness and the way he acted after their night in the barn), she’s still attracted to him. Taris couldn’t forget Bea either. The romantic conflict in large parts revolves around the idea that each thinks him/herself not good enough for the other.
Taris fears to be a burden to other people and even more so to Bea who nursed her sick husband for years and now yearns to live her life like she wants. Bea thinks there can’t be a future for them because of their different positions in society. Or course, it takes Taris some time to find out the truth about Bea’s marriage as it does Bea to find out what’s behind Taris’s lack of eye contact, for example, and the general air of arrogance that surrounds him. The romance itself seemed a bit bland to me.
There’s at least one situation when I didn’t quite get the motivation of the characters and there’s a mystery subplot that feels a bit unconnected and seems just to be there to get Taris to act at the end. Also, there are a few “fluffy” and tired romance elements like Bea dressing in colors and suddenly not looking so plain anymore (at least, it’s not as bas as every man who catches sight of her falls for her) or her becoming such a success so fast after living for more than ten years as a country bumpkin and beaten wife. So I half-expected the miraculous cure for Taris problem to show up at the end, too, but no.
On the plus side, these romance elements are tempered by darker tones when the story touches upon the rights (or non-rights) of women at that time or when Taris struggles to find a new sense of his identity in a life without sight. I also really enjoyed the way Taris fading eyesight was shown in the text, like here:
When he neither reached for it nor shook his head, she left it on her lap, the cap screwed back on with as much force as she could manage so that not a drop would be wasted. He had much on his mind, which explained his indifference, she decided, the flask and its whereabouts the least of all his worries. (17)
and what Bea made of his behavior.
Overall, I thought One unashamed Night a nice enough read although I wasn’t really captured by the story and the characters. So it’s very likely that I won’t read this one again but I can certainly see myself reading another novel by Sophia James.