TBR Day. Lord of the Night / Susan Wiggs. 1993

With the annual RWA conference around the corner, this month's TBR theme is books that won or were nominated for an RWA RITA award. A list of past winners can be found here. I had no luck finding a comprehensive list of nominations, which is unfortunate as I'm sure some of those books also reside in my TBR pile. When I scanned the list of winners, though, I immediately remembered that I had Susan Wiggs' Lord of the Night on hand. In 1994 it won the RITA for Best Romance of 1993. According to Amazon, I bought this back in 2005, and I'm going to assume that I bought it after seeing it discussed on one of the old AAR message boards. If I remember correctly, this book had its lovers and haters. One big reason for the hate is the fact that the hero is 39 and the heroine is 18. In fact the hero, a widower, has 2 grown children.

Lord of the Night takes place in 16th century Venice and centers around Sandro Cavalli, who holds the title Lord of the Night-- he is captain general of the Night Lords of Venice, the city's police force. The book opens when he calls upon the artist Titian in the course of investigating a particularly gruesome murder. There Sandro finds Laura Bandello, naked and posing for the artist. Laura is momentarily alone when Sandro walks into the studio and Sandro is immediately bewitched by her beauty. Sandro is uncomfortable with his own reaction to her and as they talk it's clear that she doesn't fit into his own neat boxes for women. Laura is an artist. She models for Titian in exchange for lessons. She grew up in a convent and has no desire to take the vows. As she points out to Sandro, women have three choices: to be a wife, a nun, or a whore. She has decided to create a fourth choice for herself: become a courtesan and earn enough money to set herself up independently as an artist. Laura aspires to be admitted into Venice's Academy of the Arts which would lead to commissions and the ability to earn an ongoing living.

Sandro has come to Titian's studio because he needs to question the artist about the murder he's investigating. Laura becomes a part of Sandro's investigation which leads to numerous interactions between them. Sandro is distressed by his strong reaction to Laura. Laura, in turn, finds him attractive, but she owes a debt to the owner of a high-class brothel. Laura's services as a virgin are to be auctioned off at an upcoming festival. Despite Sandro's attempts to dissuade her, Laura is determined to go through with the commitment to the auction as she sees it as the only road that would allow her to become an artist.

In some ways, both Sandro and Laura are stock characters and the conflict between them is typical. Sandro is rigid and unyielding, but of course he has a core of compassion and honesty. Laura is beautiful, talented, wise beyond her years, and determined to walk a path normally not allowed to women. Laura softens Sandro, to the surprise of his friends and family. Naturally, it is Sandro who places the high bid when Laura is auctioned off. Then, when it becomes clear that Laura is in danger from whoever is committing the murders, Sandro whisks her out of town where they enjoy an idyllic time of loving and Laura paints and paints. But the murders need to be solved and their relationship comes to a head when Laura refuses to be set up as Sandro's mistress.

I admit that when I first got the book, I couldn't get past the opening chapters. Laura didn't strike me as "real" and other than some normal male lust, I didn't understand what Sandro saw in Laura. This time I kept reading. The villain became apparent early on, although there is an unexpected twist at the end. I still never really warmed up to Laura, although I appreciated her determination to stay true to herself. At the end, when Sandro realizes he wants to marry Laura, he cannot do so without losing his title or lands; class divisions were extremely strict. So with a little deus ex machina a happy ending is achieved. (There's a great definition of deus ex machina here at Wikipedia that describes exactly what happens at the end of the book.)

I would love to know what other books were nominated for Best Romance of 1993. I have to admit, I did not love the romance in this book, but I did enjoy the descriptions of Venice and its politics. I found the book engaging and easy to read, just a little too formulaic. And as I indicated, Laura's character didn't seem as believable as Sandro's was.

Here are the other 1994 RITA winners. I've only read the two by Jo Beverley. Both were far better books, in my not-so-humble opinion.

1994 RITA Winners
Best Romance of 1993Lord of the Night by Susan Wiggs
Best First BookA Candle in the Dark by Megan Chance
Best Contemporary Single TitlePrivate Scandals by Nora Roberts
Best Futuristic/Fantasy/Paranormal RomanceFalling Angel by Anne Stuart
Best Historical SeriesMy Lady Notorious by Jo Beverley
Best Historical Single TitleUntamed by Elizabeth Lowell
Best Long Contemporary Series RomanceDragonslayer by Emilie Richards
Best Regency RomanceDeidre and Don Juan by Jo Beverley
Best Romantic SuspenseNightshade by Nora Roberts
Best Short Contemporary Series RomanceAvenging Angel by Glenna McReynolds
Best Traditional RomanceAnnie and the Wise Men by Lindsay Longford
Best Young Adult RomanceSummer Lightning by Wendy Corsi Staub

Comments

  1. I've got this one lying in my own TBR - having picked it up when I was glomming Wiggs' historicals. Your plot description is certainly intriguing - although bummer about the romance :(

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    1. As you know, Wendy, Wiggs writes beautifully. There is a lot to like about the book, so I hope you get around to it one day.

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  2. The heroine frustrated me at times, but I was definitely one of the lovers of this book over at AAR. Love the setting and the story, and there was just something about the romance that worked for me even with all the stock elements.

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    1. I'm glad to know you were one of the ones who loved it, Lynn. It's funny how the very vocal discussion of this book stuck with me, although I no longer remember the particulars. But it's the lovers who prompted me to buy the book and I'm not sorry I did.

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  3. Phyl, I don't have this one in my TBR, and haven't read it. You know I'm collecting historicals by Wiggs at the moment... I have to pick this one up too. :D

    FYI: I love that you included a list of the 1994 winners: I read My Lady Notorious by Beverly, Private Scandals and Nightshade by Nora Roberts.

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    1. Hils, let me know if you can't find it. You're welcome to my copy. I doubt I'll re-read it and I only have room for so many books.

      And isn't it interesting to look at the older lists? They're good to use as authors release their backlists digitally. Still, I really wish we knew the nominees as well as the winners.

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  4. I have read this, two years ago and I must say I am a little hazy. I haven't read any of the others for this year. Have a book by Jo Beverley somewhere on my TBR but have never read anything by her. Must check it out.

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    1. Kathryn, Jo Beverley is one of my favorite authors. She has two well-known series, The Mallorens and the Rogues. If you can find them, they're worth reading. I loved My Lady Notorious.

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  5. 1994 is way before I started reading romance. I enjoy Wiggs contemporary stories. I'll skip this one, but do you have any suggestions for other historical titles by her?

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    1. Lynne, Wendy, who commented above, recommended Wiggs' Chicago Fire series to me several years ago and it's wonderful! It was reprinted fairly recently, so you might find copies available, and it is digitally published. That series and one of her contemporaries are the only books besides LotN that I've ever read. I keep intending to read more.

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