Wednesday, June 19, 2013

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

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sneak Peak

I'm working under a couple of deadlines, so I don't have much time for blogging. Nonetheless, here's a peak at what I'm working on now. The first two pictures are the quilting on the quilt I started in February at my annual guild retreat (scroll down).

When my shoulders get tired from pushing that big quilt around, I work on this little wall hanging. Here's the background waiting for a few big and colorful flowers. This is going to be fun.