Book Review

Midsummer Moon by Laura Kinsale - a Guest Review by Carrie S


Title: Midsummer Moon
Author: Laura Kinsale
Publication Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca 1987
ISBN: 978-1-4022-1398-4
Genre: Historical: European

Midsummer Moon by Laura Kinsale - Print cover: a woman in a bluegreen gown being embraced by half-undone-shirt dude in front of a window with a huge full moon outside I believe that the best word to describe Midsummer Moon is “adorable”, and I mean that as a compliment.

It dances right on the edge of being hopelessly twee, but there's a grounding element of emotional truth that makes the stakes real and powerful.

Lord Ransom Falconer…oh, excuse me.  I was about to tell you the plot, but we have to pause for a moment to truly appreciate the name “Lord Ransom Falconer”.  Done?  Then let's proceed.  Lord AwesomeMcCoolname is known for being rigorously dutiful and self-controlled.  He goes into the countryside to find and recruit an inventor, Merlin Langbourne.  He wants the inventor to come back to his estate so the inventor can make weapons for use against Napoleon and also be protected from Napoleonic kidnappers.  To his astonishment, not only is Merlin a woman, she is a severely absent minded and hopelessly naive slightly mad scientist.  She has two cranky retainers, who yell at her a lot, and she opens her own front door, and she keeps a pet hedgehog in her pocket.  Lord McCoolname is helpless against her powers.

So there's plot, and things happen – for some reason every one takes turns getting knocked out with chloroform, and someone might be a spy, and there's secret passages (not a double entendre), but what's important to the story is simply this:

1.  Will Merlin be able to build a working flying machine?
2.  Will Ransom ever pull himself to together to accept Merlin for who she is, accept that her dreams and goals are crucial to her happiness, and admit that he is afraid of heights? 
3.  Will the hedgehog survive? (SPOILER:  Yes, it will.)

Midsummer Moon Digital cover: A close up of the shoulder of a dude in a tux with a hedgehog peeking out of the breast pocket This book is all about characters and scenery.  Merlin is a great character, but honestly she is so severely naive and absent minded that I was a little worried about her mental health.  She has no notion of the rules and mores of society and no concept of relationships between men and women, sexual or otherwise.  Merlin is really only able to focus on one thing at a time, and that's usually her inventions.  Even by the end, when true love has struck, it's quite clear that if you remove Ransom from her life, she'll be sad, but if you come between her and a “three-sixty-fourths-inch Vaucanson helical pinion gear” she will be PISSED. 

As for Ransom, he is so dedicated to being in control, and he's never, ever in control.  Sometimes it's funny to watch him try to be in control and sometimes it's sad and sometimes it's just a bit much (Dude, TELL HER YOU'RE AFRAID OF HEIGHTS!).  He is the most hapless alpha male I ever saw.  He and Merlin are a fun couple because she deflates all his self-importance and refuses to get wrapped up in the drama that Ransom feels surrounded by.  He runs around yelling, “Merlin!  Dearest!  You are held captive!  The Horror!” and she's all, “Yes, Dear, but I know you'll save me.  Have you seen my book on integral calculus?”

As a romance, I found the book a little odd.  It's clear that Ransom is crazy about Merlin, but it's not as obvious that Merlin is crazy about Ransom.  She's likes having him around, she appreciates the fact that he is a reliable rescuer, she sees deep into his tortured soul, and she likes the sex, but really she just wants to go invent stuff.  They will clearly be very happy together but I'm not convinced that it's a love story for the ages.  Beyond the romance, the story is enchanting, with flying machines and ballrooms and ruined castles and moors and village fairs.  The supporting cast of characters is lots of fun with many varieties of eccentricity being represented. We have the shiftless brother who just wants approval, the fallen woman who has a heart of gold, the cranky old retainer, a child with a stutter, a mysterious person of unknown origin, and more.  The crowd scenes are a lot of fun!

How much you like Midsummer Moon will depend on your mood.  If you are in the mood for a book in which the main character likes to invent stuff and has a cute pet hedgehog, then this book will be a definite winner.  Although the book isn't intended as steampunk, it does have a certain steampunky goodness to it, what with Merlin and her flying machine and her obsession with gears.  I know we have many fans of the web comic Girl Genius on our site, and my guess is if you love Girl Genius you'll love Midsummer Moon, and vice versa. 

And if you haven't read Girl Genius, clear your calendar, starting right away, and go check it out.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks. Note: the ebook is on sale for $2.99 this week!

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Lynne Connolly says:

    But it all happened! I used to think that Kinsale’s books were so outlandish, they were made up, but they weren’t, and I found that even more delicious. There were gliders in the Napoleonic wars, and telegraphs, but they weren’t useful and the inventions were taken no further. There was even an inventor called Merlin (a man, sadly). John Joseph Merlin who invented inline skates (really!)
    It’s why I love her books. One of the reasons, anyway. Mad skills in historical research.

  2. 2
    Liz H. says:

    I love Kinsale, but so many of her heroines or heroes are just that slightest bit disconnected from reality, and I’ve found that I need to be in the right mood to read one of her books or the frustration overhwlems me. My coworkers don’t really appreciate it when I grab them by the shoulders and shake, demanding “Why? For the love of god why?!”

  3. 3

    I love this book.  My favorite of hers, which is saying quite a lot.

  4. 4
    hapax says:

    You had me at “hedgehog”.

  5. 5
    SonomaLass says:

    This quirky book, with its absent-minded inventor heroine, is on my keeper shelf. I need to get a digital copy for easy re-reading, because it never fails to make me smile.

  6. 6
    FairyKat says:

    I am afraid this book was a DNF for me. She had me at the hedgehog, and lost me at the rohypnol-ite.

  7. 7
    Lizbeth says:

    I loved this book – and the hedgehog was a bonus!  In general I find Kinsale’s quirky characters and her somewhat unusual story lines to be a breath of fresh air, especially in a genre that tends to have plots focused on getting the girl through her first London season.

  8. 8
    Susan says:

    This was a good read, but the main characters exasperated me.  I have found that, although I generally like Kinsale’s books, I don’t like them quite as much as hope to. I’m often left vaguely unfulfilled after the conclusion.

  9. 9
    Laragrey says:

    I adore the hedgehog (I like how it seems to be the unifying element—no matter what, everyone loves the hedgehog!), and I like Merlin and Falconer as characters. I plowed my way past Merlin’s absent-mindedness, the “salt”, and all the wacky plot stuff..and then came the dreaded SPOILER SPOILER READ NO FURTHER IF YOU HATE SPOILERS

    “Now that you have a concussion, I’m going to lie to you and tell you we’re married For Your Own Good” plot twist. I *hate* that particular trope with a fiery passion, and tend to lose all interest in any hero who tries it. I finished the book, but it’s not a reread for me. I have “Flowers in the Storm” and “Shadowheart” for that.

  10. 10
    cleo says:

    Hmm. I admit I’m intrigued – hedgehogs AND flying machines?  I already have one fave romance with a hedgehog and brilliant oddball heroine – Kleypas’ Love in the Afternoon – so I may have to add this to my collection. 

    So, just how angsty is this one?  I’ve only read one other Kinsale (The Shadow and the Star) and it was super angsty with a side helping of WTF (but in a good way).  How does this one compare? 

  11. 11
    CarrieS says:

    I’d say mildly angsty.  Lord Ransom has angst but let’s face it, he’s hanging out in a castle with a flying machine being constructed in the ballroom and a hedgehog and spies so it’s hard to get too worked up about the angst.  For real angst, you want Flowers in the Storm, which has even more angst than Shadow and the Storm but without the WTF. 

  12. 12
    Susan/DC says:

    I’m with Lizbeth in that I find Kinsale to be a breath of fresh air.  Her books generally cannot be confused with those of any other author, even if there may be shared tropes or characters (even shared hedgehogs, although I think “Midsummer Moon” came before the “Love in the Afternoon”).  I’ve liked certain of her books more than others, and some of her books are challenging reading, but she’s one author I recommend wholeheartedly, even knowing that she’s not to everyone’s taste.

  13. 13

    I am a die-hard Kinsale fan…love her for all the angst, the quirks, everything. Like another commenter said, in a sea of identical plots – Kinsale’s books are a breath of fresh air.

    Nice job with the review, my fav was this line:

    He runs around yelling, “Merlin!  Dearest!  You are held captive!  The Horror!” and she’s all, “Yes, Dear, but I know you’ll save me.  Have you seen my book on integral calculus?” 

    Yep, that pretty much sums Merlin and Ransom up.

  14. 14
    sweetsiouxsie says:

    GEEZ!!! Now I have to find my collection of Kinsales! They are in a box in the house, not the shed. I have read some of them, but I didn’t want to read them all right away because I like to savour them since she writes only one new one every so often. I just love her writing style with the damaged alpha males and unusual, sometimes quirky females! This should be a good one!!

  15. 15
    Clarabella says:

    Um, I didn’t like this book. It’s not often I give up half way through but I just found it really really annoying and incoherent. Such a shame for me, as it obviously makes a lot of people happy.

  16. 16
    Ellen_behringer says:

    This is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  Her amazing characters do require you to dispel any countenance of reality but….well….it’s all amazing….from the dusty hoarded estate of Merlin to the aristocratic halls of Ransome’s castle….Sigh…..

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