"The Music of the Night" is a refreshingly idiosyncratic and well-written historical romance set in Venice during the Victorian era. The story is basically a revenge tale with a very unique and interesting heroine caught between two feuding aristocratic rakes. There is so much to admire about this book--particularly the unusual, evocative setting and the very unconventional, flawed heroine, but unfortunately the story runs out of gas with half of the book left to go. The good news is that the first half of the book is so good that it *almost* makes up for the relatively flat second half.
The heroine of the story is Sarah Connolly, base-born and gutter-bred, she has managed to fight her way out of the slums of London and gain enough polish and education to become a lady's companion. But Sarah cannot hide the history of her low-birth since it is written on her face in the form of smallpox scars (which any middle or upper-class child apparently would have been vaccinated against during that era.) Sarah is a compelling character--worldly and intelligent, but vulnerable to the malevolent attentions of the hero and his rival due to her status as a servant and her own lack of self-esteem.
The hero of the story, Sebastian Grimsthorpe, the Earl of Wortham, is a less developed (and therefore, less interesting) character, IMO. Sebastian is a typical gorgeous, decadent, hedonist nobleman until a personal crisis forces him to re-examine his life and his priorities. When his 12-year old illegitimate daughter is raped during one of his own debauched house parties, Sebastian is devastated and has her attacker (his former friend, Bertrand de Lint) brought to trial. When de Lint is acquitted of the crime and an attempt is made on Sebastian's life, Sebastian fakes his own death and heads off to Venice after Bertrand for some serious *revenge*. Unfortunately, Sarah gets caught in the middle of all this when she signs on to the Venice trip as a companion for Bertrand's mother, Lady Merrill.
The plot during the first half of the book is *so* compelling, with Sarah being lured into a romance with Sebastian despite her conviction that his intentions are suspect (to say the least), while at the same time fighting off the unwanted attentions of de Lint. Unfortunately, the story loses a lot of its momentum (and dramatic tension) during the second half of the book, although Sebastian continues to press forward with his convoluted revenge plot against de Lint. The conventional storybook ending seems rather mismatched with the darker, more mature tone of the rest of the book.
In summary, this is very original and richly written historical romance with a marvelously unusual setting and a heroine who definitely breaks out of the traditional "historical romance formula". The story is not flawless and there are some serious pacing problems with the plot, but it is refreshing to see an author who is willing to take some chances with her characters and settings.
Recommended, particularly for historical romance lovers who enjoy darker, more complex stories with genuinely flawed heroes and heroines.