I’m not sure how I ended up reading these two within a month of each other, but I couldn’t help but notice their similarities, so I thought I would review them together.
Word on the Web
To Love A Thief (winner of the 2006 Rita for Best Short Historical)
Read an excerpt here.
Mrs. Giggles, Rating: 96
Cheryl, AAR, B
Michelle Buonfiglio, romance Columnist, WNBC NY, 4 stars
Becky, Romance Central, Rating: 5 stars (What? This reads like a 3 star review at best)
Author Eloisa James loved it
Amazon, 4.5 stars after 23 reviews
Voices of the Night (this book is the 4th is Joyce’s 5 book Victoriana series)
Read an excerpt here.
Janine, Dear Author, Grade: A-
Mrs. Giggles, Grade: 86
Lynn, AAR, Grade: B
I Just Finished Reading, Jennifer B, Review: Very Positive
Amazon, 4.5 stars after 3 reviews
SAKURA of Doom, Review: mixed
Renee Reads Romance, Grade: B
AAR Thread, includes posts from Ms. Joyce
Both Thief (published in 2005) and Night (published in 2007) are Pygmalion stories. George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion was first performed around 1915, and the beloved film based on it, My Fair Lady (which I actually loathe), starring Audrey Hepburn, premiered in 1964. But you may recall that the story itself goes back to the ancient Greeks. Pygmalion was the sculptor who didn’t like women (he thinks they’re all slutt-ay) but falls in love with the ivory statue he sculpts. And then he gets the skin horse Venus to make her real.
Don’t get me started on how problematic the original myth is. But modern versions of this tale can be great fun. I think we tend to focus on the “extreme female makeover” part of Pygmalion stories, but there is always the concomitant transformation of the male figure, effected by his relationship with the female. Leave it to romance novelists like Long and Joyce to recognize how important the hero’s journey is, and to do it well.
Thief and Night are similar in that they both involve men of means rescuing impoverished women from the slums of London, on the condition that they allow themselves to be transformed into “diamonds of the first water”. In Thief, the hero, Gideon Cole, is a barrister with ambition to spare. He propositions the heroine, 20 year old Lily Masters (whom he meets when she tries to pick his pocket): help him make a certain indifferent lady of the ton jealous in order to win her hand, and he won’t have her sent to prison. In Night, Charles Crossham, Lord Edgington, offers to train “Maggie of King Street” in lady’s deportment and opera singing (she dreams of a singing career) in return for helping the jaded baron win a bet with his sister that he can pass a street urchin off as “one of them.”
The heroines have some similarities as well: they’re both intelligent, practical, wary, cunning, waifish, and virginal. They both have young charges: Lily takes care of her young sister, and Maggie is the maternal figure at the head of a small group of minors she protects from Danny O’Sullivan, an “arch rogue” gang leader who knows a terrible secret of Maggie’s and is determined to make her submit to his will.
Both of our heroes are bent on fixing problems caused by their fathers. Charles is haunted by his ancestors’ self-indulgence and decadence, and has been trying to rebuild the family estate after his father’s neglect. Gideon was left penniless thanks to his late father’s gambling habit, and he has had to scrape for everything he has. Not satisfied with his upper middle class life, he wants to marry into a titled family and hob nob with the best of the ton.
Neither man is looking for a relationship out of the deal, but of course they both get more than they bargained for. Despite their external similarities, the men themselves have quite different characters: Charles is world weary and serious while Gideon is an uptight workaholic, and their resistance to love stems from different sources. Charles mainly wants to focus on rebuilding his estate, and thus has no need or time for love, although this internal barrier crumbles pretty easily. For Gideon, falling in love with Lily presents a bigger problem, as it would mean abandoning his every goal. The latter’s conflict was more compelling for me as a reader.
These books sound so similar on paper, don’t they? But they read so differently, it’s amazing.
Night, set in 1860, is unusually dark for a romance, the setting being very meticulously drawn and so important as to serve almost as another character in the story. From Maggie’s Chelsea we have squalor, slums, constant threats of violence from criminal gangs, bad smells, sooty air, abandoned children. Even Charles’ aristocratic world feels dark, crumbling, closed in. As they arrive at Edginton House, it “hunches” “isolated” on a hill, the gates creak open, the coach wheels rattle. A lot of the action in the story takes place at night, and there is a fairly constant and credible threat of violence — some of it carried out — to the heroine and her charges which creates the conflict that keeps Maggie from Charles even late in the book when they acknowledge their feelings for one another.
Thief, in turn, feels much more like your typical Regency romance. Where Thief excels is in its focus on the relationship between Lily and Gideon — no suspense plot to distract us from the fun. In Night, very little time is spent on the problem of effecting Maggie’s transformation. In contrast, the bulk of the action in Thief is spent on Lily’s education –walking, dancing, talking — much of which is conducted by a completely flustered Gideon. Both heroines are strong, and impress the hell out of the heroes by enduring what they have, but while Maggie is resolute (and sometimes defeated), Lily is also incredibly funny, and her interactions with Gideon sparkle with wit and humor.
Both men gain a valuable social education from these women, especially Charles, who is drawn much more into Maggie’s world than Gideon is into Lily’s. Charles’ admiration for Maggie and her faith in him help him to become a better person than he ever thought he could be. And Gideon’s love for Lily forces him to acknowledge where his values really lie. These books don’t require the heroine do her hair and put on a fancy dress to catch the eye of a hero to whom she has so far been invisible. Both women’s lives are dramatically altered, of course, but it’s Charles and Gideon whose worldviews and characters undergo the most radical change.
And how about the problem of class differences? In Night, it is practically (and kind of unbelievably) a nonissue, whereas in Thief, it is one of the main obstacles to the couple’s happiness.
I really enjoyed both books, although only To Love a Thief is a keeper for me. If you want that one, you’ll have to find it from a used book seller, as it appears to be out of print. Look for my giveaway of Voices of the Night next week after the current giveaway ends.