A woman compelled. A man obsessed. A love that defies king and country. In the glittering world of Regency England, Anne Wilder plays a dangerous game. A widowed lady by day, by night she becomes a masked thief preying on society’s elite. She roves high above London’s black rooftops, compelled by phantoms from her past to take ever greater risks. Until her restless spirit led her into Colonel Jack Seward’s trap . . . where seduction may be her only way out. She’d played him for a fool, taking advantage of his hungry response to escape from his clutches. But as Jack hunts for the thief, his heart falls captive to a self-possessed widow. Torn between illicit passion and tender love, Jack is duty-bound to capture the audacious criminal, even if it means ripping society apart to do so. Now, he stalked her through the ton, never realizing the lovely widow who captured his heart was the same woman who roused his most violent passions.
Rating: C for narration and C for content
Originally published in 1997, All Through the Night is often described as being quite dark in tone for a historical romance and it’s easy to understand why. The hero and heroine are both emotionally damaged and their relationship – at the outset – is based on lust and sexual obsession rather than tenderness or love.
Anne is the respectable widow of Matthew Wilder, a naval officer who died in the Napoleonic War. He was an inexperienced sailor and yet somehow managed to land himself a commission, which resulted in his death and the death of almost his entire crew. Wilder was held in high esteem by everybody who knew him and appears to have been the perfect man and the perfect husband although it’s clear from the outset that Anne’s opinion of him differs from everybody else’s. She feels an immense burden of guilt over the fact that she could not love him as he wanted to be loved and, in his final letter, Wilder more or less told her he had gone to war in order to relieve her of his presence and the pretence of loving him.
In the years since her husband’s death, Anne has tried to assuage her guilt by establishing the Charitable Society for Soldiers’ Relief and Aid, a home for war veterans and the families of soldiers who died and now have nowhere else to go and no means of support. The home is in desperate need of funds and Anne uses her position as companion to a popular young débutante to solicit donations from members of the ton. The problem is that while many pledge money, many also renege on their promises.
But Anne is nothing if not determined and when people default, she simply steals the money or the equivalent in jewelry from them instead. For by night, Anne Wilder is Wrexall’s Wraith, a burglar who is renowned in society for “his” audacity in targeting the wealthiest among the ton.
Colonel Jack Seward was born in an Edinburgh workhouse and removed from there at a young age by Henry Jamison – one of the Home Office’s most powerful officials (and possibly Jack’s father) who raised and trained him, turning him into a spy and lethal killer. Jack has been detailed to discover the identity of the Wraith because it appears that “he” has stolen an important letter containing information which could be very damaging to the king. Jack must catch the thief and recover the letter.
Jack is stunned when he discovers the Wraith is a woman and even more amazed when he finds himself unable to forget her. He’s not a man who lets his personal desires rule him and certainly is not normally swayed by the baser emotions like lust, but the thief sparks something in him he’s never known and he is determined to pursue her, capture her, and bring her to justice. Among other things…
Not long after his first encounter with the Wraith, Jack meets Anne Wilder and is immediately attracted to and intrigued by her. Anne has the advantage of knowing that Jack has been given the job of apprehending the Wraith, yet even then and knowing the danger he represents to her, she can’t keep away from him, despite her best intentions.
There were a number of unusual elements to this story not least of which was the idea of a young widow living a double life as a cat-burglar! Anne’s relationship with Matthew is revealed gradually to have been less than idyllic, although not for the reasons one might think; the real reason behind her turning to thievery is bleak. There’s an element of gender reversal, too, because Anne’s disguise gives her the freedom to suppress her inhibitions and to be sexually aggressive. She also takes on other characteristics usually exhibited by men, because as the Wraith, she’s proactive, adventurous, and reckless.
On the whole, I thought the thriller element of the story was well handled and there was a strongly developed cast of supporting characters. But the whole thing seemed somehow joyless. There is very little humour and all the characters were either unhappy or unpleasant – or both. Even Jack and Anne don’t seem especially happy in their love for each other and, as a result, the romance doesn’t feel very… romantic. There is plenty of sexual tension between them and the sex scenes are hot, but I never got a sense of a deeper connection that didn’t relate to the fact that they’re both emotionally damaged and feel unworthy of love or affection. I could certainly buy into the fact that they are consumed with lust for each other; however, given they spend most of the book being wary of each other and hiding the truth from one another, I never felt they really got to know each other in the way I particularly enjoy and look for in a romance.
Producing an audio version of All Through the Night using a female narrator was going to be a difficult prospect from the start, principally due to the fact that the hero has suffered a throat injury. This means his speech is gravelly and husky and making it sound suitably heroic (and sexy) is something I’m sure would challenge the most accomplished of audiobook performers. That’s not to say Alison Larkin isn’t an accomplished narrator, because she is. I just don’t think she was the right choice for this particular audiobook.
In attempting to remain true to the stage directions, so to speak, Ms. Larkin has delivered one of the most unappealingly voiced heroes I’ve ever heard. I’m not blaming her precisely – I think she’s done her absolute best to voice Jack appropriately and as described in print. I’m blaming whoever was responsible for casting her in the first place. Her version of Jack sounds so unattractive that there were times I wanted to rip out my earphones and just give up. As for the love scenes – well, they were quite painful to listen to as she creaked and croaked her way through dialogue which should have sounded sultry and seductive and instead sounded like a rusty hinge. Any Doctor Who fans reading this, think of the noise the TARDIS makes and you have a rough idea of how Jack sounds. I can’t help thinking this book might have been better served by a male narrator.
I’ve listened to a handful of audiobooks performed by Ms. Larkin and, while I do have issues with some of her character portrayals, I don’t think her heroes sound masculine enough. She’s very good in the female roles and in what I’d term “character parts”, such as snobbish dowagers, arrogant young bucks, and old retainers.
Ms. Larkin has a deft touch with comedy and I often think I “hear a smile in her voice” because it’s light in tone and has a breathiness that brings what I can only describe as an impish quality to it. Although talented, her voice just doesn’t have the weight or gravitas a darker story such as All Through the Night really needs.