Connie Brockway’s All Through the Night

Whenever I’m in a romance reading slump, the answer is to go back a decade or two. Brockway’s recently digitized historical romance All Through the Night (99 cents on Amazon, or free loan for Prime members) was a real treat. It was first published in 1997, and seems to have been a reader favorite. It was European Historical of the year at All About Romance, made it onto their list of top 100 romances for a couple of years, and got an A reviewThe Romance Reader gave it four stars, and a 99 from Mrs. Giggles.  Even Wendy the Super Librarian — who waited six years to read it — gave it a B.

Note: There are some spoilers in what follows.

ATTN features one of these ridiculous romance novel plots which succeeds on a strong core of emotional truth. Colonel Henry “Jack” Seward is a bastard and orphan turned England’s super spy (“the War Office’s premier agent”) under the tutelage of Jamison, a very bad man who is proud that he’s “taken a boy with the rudest of skills and molded him into this splendid, remorseless, and analytical being.”  Anne Wilder is a widow, a merchant’s daughter barely in society thanks to her marriage, a demure chaperone to Sophia North. When away from society, he’s the ruthless, but terrifyingly civilized “Whitehall’s Hound,” and she’s the daring, acrobatic, sensual thief  known as “Wrexhall’s Wraith.”

Anne and Jack meet in the first chapter, in the dead of night, as she creeps into a marchioness’s suite to steal something and he waits for her. He doesn’t realize at first the Wraith is female, and she lets him know in no uncertain terms with a lingering kiss before she escapes via London’s rooftops. For Anne, it’s just another daring step out onto the precipice that’s become her life, but it sets the terminally bored Jack — who already felt “the respect of one professional for another” —  aflame with desire and curiosity.

I actually didn’t love this scene while I read it, and if you plan to read ATTN, I ask that you power through it. It felt heavy handed when the author wrote without mentioning the thief’s gender in a very conspicuous way, made references to a “treacherous mouth”, and had the ice man melting under the thief’s — of course! — unpracticed but miraculously effective touch. But I am very glad I stuck with it, and reading it again for this review, I actually feel more affection for the overwrought scene.

The Wraith only steals from the wealthy, so Jack attends social events to ferret her out. As it happens, he strikes up a friendship with Anne Wilder, so the book runs on two rails. Jack is actually instantly attracted to Anne, but for the opposite reason he’s attracted to the bold Wraith:

She held him with a regard nearly masculine in its directness. Seasoned. Knowing. A touch of valiance. A portion of pain and much resignation. Hardly the eyes of a procuress… Rather, she gazed at him like a woman who sold her body might look at her buyer: with fatalism, submission, and a certain damning anticipation. It was an expression that said “Do it and be done.” And it aroused him.

While Jack is obsessed with the Wraith, it’s in his persona of Jack that Anne begins to fall for him. She finds him to be “refined,” a “gentleman,” a man of “delicacy and comportment” underneath the hard and scary exterior. This is interesting because it becomes clear that Anne is the real adrenaline junkie. Even when she first came out she “shone a little too brightly,” and she never really tires of stealing, of “these intense and empowering moments when she risked nothing more important than her life, when she belonged only to herself and the night and the cold distant stars.” If you don’t like the heroine-in-disguise trope, you still might enjoy this one, because what happens Jack discovers her identity halfway through and what happens later is just as exciting.

Both Anne and Jack have Things in Their Pasts that Keep Them From Intimacy. Jack’s story is probably more sad, and the flashbacks to his Faustian bargain pack an emotional punch. But I was even more interested in Anne’s relationship with her “perfect” husband, a husband who, it is very slowly revealed because Anne only slowly comes to see it, was far from perfect for her, and whose ghost haunts her in the worst way. It is partly for his memory that she steals, to pay an imagined debt she never really incurred. Anne’s growing awareness and even rage over this is one of the best things in the book. Jack’s motivation to stay loyal, after decades of serving Jamison, was a little less clear. The reader just has to accept that Anne snaps him out of it.

It was nice to read a historical romance about two non-dukes. The only reason either of them get to go to the big show is because they are useful, Jack to the War Office and Anne to Lady Sophia, who at first seems like a typical cardboard brainless beauty who serves merely as a counterpoint to our interesting heroine, but turns out to be much smarter and more ruthless than that. I also really liked Jack’s buddy, Giles Dalton, Lord Strand. He’s very attracted to Anne, yet he’s not some worthless rival, but rather a point of view character, a charmer who is subject to “self-defeating infatuations.” He’s a flawed man who still knows what goodness is. Of Anne, he thinks, “ultimately Anne belonged to someone he could never usurp, never wrest dominion from: herself. She was so uniquely and wholly her own creature.” (Giles finally got his own book, No Place for a Dame, this year, but sadly, the reviews have not enticed me.)

I haven’t read any other Brockway (As You Desire, another romance reader favorite, is in my TBR), but her style in this one is very dramatic, in action and emotion. It’s the kind of book where even in quiet scenes, when behavior and voice are very modulated, strong emotions and desires barely kept in check are percolating underneath. Some books are great with restrained emotion, and others are great with the big angry lusty scenes, but this is the rare book that does them both superbly. Reading it was kind of like listening to 90s grunge: tons of contrasting dynamics, apathy and angst, rawness and complexity, stop-start pacing. I really loved Brockway’s writing, but I’d guess it is not to everyone’s tastes:

She suddenly realized she’s been staring at him and, disconcerted, glanced away. His intense stillness was not the result of camouflage. Nor did she sense that he achieved it by drawing in on himself, burying the essence of himself so deeply it couldn’t be found.

On the contrary, she felt as if she were looking at a man whose soul has been caught in a hurricane, each layer ripped from him, piece by piece, until his soul had become diffused, so thin as to be imperceptible. 

He was neither darkness nor light, but he was perpetually haunted by the potential for both. A twilight man, existing in some slender moment of glimmering darkness. My Lord, she realized, I have never seen him in the daylight.

When I think of my favorite romances, it’s always scenes that stick out, and in this one, there are many: one is the very erotic scene when Jack puts Anne’s disarrayed hair up for her. Another is the scene when Anne, as the thief, breaks into Jack’s bedroom, wakes him, ties him up and sexually teases him, only to fly out through his window. They chase each other through London, and kiss passionately while she holds a gun to his stomach. Another is the ballroom scene when Jack, mid-dance, figures out who Anne really is. And then there’s what happens after he forces her to marry him: “I hunted you, I tracked you. I trapped you. And now, by God, I’m going to keep you.” The scene when they consummate their marriage: he realizes that pleasure and punishment are so warped together for Anne that she has to feel powerless to climax, and she realizes at the same time that she really just needs him. Practically every scene was memorable.

If you make it through the masks and rooftop escapes and near death chases, you might be able to take the ending, which involves no less a personage than His Majesty, George the Third, King of England. I find that in the hands of a skilled writer I can go along for just about any ride, and I actually kind of miss this brand of zaniness in historical romance.

Finally, the brief epilogue is fantastic. Not a baby in sight, and I guarantee you’ll never be happier to read the words, “Say goodbye to all you hold dear.”

13 responses

  1. What a great post! When I was reading it, I winced at the excerpts and nodded your head at all the qualifiers. But like you, I totally fell for this book, against all my expectations. Now I want to read it again. And oh, the ending. I know there were complaints, but I thought it was perfect.

    Like

    • I actually ended up rereading it while writing the review. I never do that, but I kept getting lost in the prose. I think I liked it better a second time because the OTT aspects weren’t so surprising. I thought the ending was surprisingly practical, yet still very moving. Definitely reading some more CB.

      Like

  2. I read this novel quite a few years ago and enjoyed it at the time. It hasn’t resonated for me, strangely enough, except for the opening scene! But your post was great and brought it back for a little mental re-visit.

    Like

      • Tee hee. The spinster has her ways … I think Miss B. will have to see how the next KA goes. The owl of Minerva only flies at dusk; and so, one’s judgement is not clear until a reader has a number of an author’s books under her belt.

        Like

  3. I’m intrigued by your first sentence. Going back can work for me, too, and I wonder if that is because when we read older books we’re choosing those that have stood the test of time in some way (i.e. books remembered with love by readers who have been around the genre a lot longer than we have) or whether there is really something different about older books. Probably some of both.

    What would the difference be? I was thinking maybe more willing to take risks/be OTT, but surely not in the age of Kristen Ashley! Maybe a different kind of risks? Maybe because they were often longer, they can do more (though longer isn’t always better)? Like richer character development?

    I read As You Desire and liked but didn’t love it, but it did make me want to try more of her older books (I started My Dearest Enemy because I love epistolary fiction, but I got side-tracked).

    Like

    • I like your idea that the older books we choose have stood the test of time, because they have literary qualities that we still value. I think that’s true for this one.

      I think some of the older books are are still popular because they were groundbreaking for the time, or invoke romance readers’ fond memories of reading past for whatever reason. I would put Dara Joy’s Knight of A Trillion Stars, or Christine Feehan’s Dark Prince, or A Knight in Shining Armour, by … er… in that category.

      One thing I come back to again and again is how less risk-taking the genre seems to me now, despite the fact that last night I read a recently published book in which the hero likes to be tied up with rough rope. I could be totally wrong, and my sample is probably self-selecting, but I pick up an older book and it’s got, like this one, two non-noble protagonists, or another one I just read where the hero and heroine rape each other. Anything could happen! It’s like the canvas was larger before anybody had a really fixed idea of what the Romance Genre was. Probably wrong, but that’s my first thought.

      Like

      • What you’re saying about risk sounds about right to me–though it’s always dangerous to generalize about the genre, and there are always exceptions. I feel like certain KINDS of risks are allowed/common today, in which case, are they really risks? For instance, a romance might explore power dynamics in a pretty “extreme” way, but it’s all in a narrow band (the alpha hero). Of course, maybe that was always true. But I do feel newer books, however good, are less likely to SURPRISE me.

        Like

  4. I was nodding my head along with you from the first paragraph Yes, yes yes. Going back to find some of these older romances will pull you out of a slump! LaVyrle Spencer and Mary Stewart to name a few that have did just that. Not all but some of these romances have stood the test of time well. This was such a great post because it brought back memories of this wonderful story. I really enjoyed this one and My Dearest Enemy is my personal favorite. Liked a lot but didn’t quite love As You Desire set in Egypt where the hero pines away for the heroine but she doesn’t know it. Forgot what you call that (am actually blanking out). It’s so great to read posts like these. Nothing wrong with the romances of today but some of them just don’t hold a candle to the earlier stuff. More risky and daring back then while today er good luck with that (j/k). Hope you explore more of these older romances, Jessica. Might be a few that I missed. Thanks.

    Like

    • Thanks Keishon. I think I read Morning Glory on your rec, and loved it. Also I think you recommended Simple Jess, which was also great. One author I really need to read is Mary Stewart.

      Like

      • I would love to claim Simple Jess but that wasn’t me. I haven’t read Simple Jess. I did read and enjoy Courting Miss Hattie. Have you read that one yet? I also got an email from eReaderHQ that Kathleen Eagle’s book, Sunrise Song is not available in ebook. Big Eagle fan here and she wrote some of the best contemporary romances.

        Like

  5. Wow – thanks for linking to my review! This is what happens when you blog for a few years – you kind of forget what’s lurking in your archives :)

    What I find interesting about this book is, that while it’s a favorite for many, it had very little staying power with me. Even rereading my review, I recalled so very little of it. The only thing about this book that did stick for me was the ending. I love the ending. In fact, to this day, I’m half convinced the ending is why this story is on so many “best of all time” lists.

    Like

    • I am with you on the ending. One of the things I loved about it was that it looked like Anne was being cornered and forced to do something by the bad guy, but she outwitted him and saved the day.

      Like

Prof's Progress

... on making sense, one word at a time

Bkwurm.com

Bkwurm: /book*worm/ n. a person devoted to reading and study

VacuousMinx

Blog in Progress

Nyssa Harkness

Media and Cultural Studies with a focus on Genre Fiction, Gaming and Creative Society

Shelf Love

live mines and duds: the reading life

Love is the Best Medicine

Harlequin/Mills and Boon Medical Romance Authors

Blue Moon

Audiobook reviews and book reviews. Occasional opining.

specficromantic

reviews by a speculative fiction romantic

Centre for Medical Humanities

News, updates and insights from the Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University

Miss Bates Reads Romance

Miss Bates is the loquacious spinster from Austen's Emma. No doubt she read romances ... here's what she would have thought of them.

Badass Romance

heroes, heroines, and books that demand to be taken seriously

bad necklace: not quite pearls of wisdom

mala, media, maladies, and malapropisms

Thinking in Fragments

but making connections too

Tales from the Reading Room

A Literary Salon Where All Are Welcome

momisatwork

thinking about teaching, learning, home and family

Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Fit and Feminist

Because it takes strong women to smash the patriarchy.

Fit Is a Feminist Issue

(previously known as "Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty," but we're not "almost fifty" anymore.)

Heloise Merlin's Weblog

Virtual people read books, too!

Victoria Janssen

Just another WordPress.com site

Bblog Central

Your source for book blogging.

Insta-Love Book Reviews

Deflowering romance - one book at a time

A Striped Armchair

Bookish thoughts from a woman of endless curiousity

Sonomalass's Blog

Another day in paradise

RR@H Novel Thoughts & Book Talk

Featuring Author Interviews and Commentaries

Something More

my extensive reading

The Romantic Goldfish

"Cheapest mother fucking goldfish on the planet"

Shallowreader's Blog

...barely scratching the surface of romance literature, reading and libraries

Joanna Chambers, author

Historical romance

THE DAILY RUCKUS

ROYALTY, ROMANCE NOVELS, AND A LITTLE RUCKUS

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,469 other followers

%d bloggers like this: