Book Review

The Dream Hunter by Laura Kinsale


Title: The Dream Hunter
Author: Laura Kinsale
Publication Info: Berkley 1994
ISBN: 0425207625
Genre: Historical: Other

I mentioned to Candy recently that I was reading Kinsale’s The Dream Hunter and she said that she was looking forward to hearing my opinion, since she had problems with it. Yesterday we discussed it at length, which turned into something of a tandem review:

Sarah: What was your problem with The Dream Hunter? I’m getting frustrated with it and want to know your reasons for irritation. The language is beautiful but I want to knock the protagonist’s heads together.

Candy: One word: Heroine.

Six more words: I wanted to choke a bitch.

Sarah: HA! You crack me up. Seriously.

I liked her a lot when she was a male running around the desert, and I’ve been able to sympathize with some of her motivations, but what I don’t get is how Kinsale is writing one big mis after another. It’s camped out on the border of flawed characters right before moving into stubbornness for stubbornness’ sake.

So what made you want to smack a bitch?

Candy: Yes, I liked her when she was in pants as well. Once she was in England, she went beyond headstrong into DOWNRIGHT MENTALLY ILL. Seriously. She made me cringe so hard. And the misunderstandings do pile on, don’t they? The thing is, they’re character-driven. It’s not like, “Oh, she won’t talk to the hero because…because she just won’t!” Zenia is a headcase, and what she does is absolutely convincing—and really, really maddening.

I really like Arden, though. I wish he could’ve found himself somebody healthier and more appreciative of him.

But this is from reading the book 10, 11 years ago.

Sarah: You know, I agree. But I think the Character-Driven Big Mis is easier to take because I know why it’s happening. i.e. she’s a nutjob because she was forced into one life by her mother, then was forced into another life by Arden’s mother, and really never figured out who she was. But it’s all very subtle – and certainly she was horrifically abused as a child so that her actions toward lunacy make sense.

But when she’s screaming at Arden that she bundles her daughter up to her ears and then heats up the room because she’s afraid of losing her after she thought he was dead, you’d think he’d get a clue. And you’d think that he would understand how alien she felt, English in the desert, Arabic in England, and cut her a break. He’s a bit of a self-absorbed butthead, in the sense that he can’t understand that she feels just as he does, and he KNOWS that, but won’t remember it at crucial moments.

His knowledge, actually, bugs me. He knows Bedouin customs, and he knows the marriage laws are different. Why hasn’t it crossed his doofy mind that she would worry that he would put her aside? He’s more English than he thinks, because he can’t believe she’d even think of such a thing, and she’s more Arab than she thinks, because she can’t get over fearing that he’d reject her.

Candy: Oh, man, I totally forgot about that scene. Ooof.

The thing is, Arden has been abused, too. And he reminds me in a lot of ways of a lot of intensely shy, intelligent, self-conscious people I know who were raised by stern, overbearing parents: he’s inordinately sensitive to some cues, and completely oblivious to others.  Most of them seem more likely to pick up cues of disapproval than cues of approval/love. Honestly, it’s the same problem with Zenia, too. I’ve seen this over and over in real life with various friends of mine. And it’s a credit to Kinsale that she renders this so convincingly and instinctually.

Damn, I really need to re-read this book. Maybe not now, because I’m not feeling up to diving into the bowl of dysfunction that’s Zenia and Arden, but I’m really curious to see if my impressions have held true over the years.

Sarah: It’s certainly a bowl of fucked-uppedness. And I can’t figure out if my feelings of frustration with the characters are the point of the story, because I have to admire them for the multi-facetedness of their emotional misery, or if I’m frustrated because I think their actions disagree with their motivations as characters. Pardon my blasphemy, but did Kinsale get some of their actions wrong, or am I just frustrated along with the two of them?

A heaping spoonful of empathy on the part of either one might help, and I have to downgrade the book in my mind every time I see them come close to a resolution and then notice that I have a good half-inch or more of book to read so no, it’s not a real resolution. It’s temporary or at least a conduit to yet another conflict, and I feel like I’m reading a soap opera where the tension is beginning to seem sustained just for its own sake. No happiness for either of you! Ever! Neither character has any room for vulnerability, and I can understand that, but at the same time, there are moments of great kindness and empathy on each of their parts, but not at the times when it would be most useful. Since I know from previous scenes that it’s within their capabilities, seeing yet another inch to go with more bullheaded obstinancy on either part makes me nuts.

To quote a character from the tv show How I Met Your Mother: “You like him, he likes you, happiness doesn’t have to be so hard!”

But given that I just read her diatribe on conflict and wussiness in romance reader’s expectations, I have to wonder if I am prejudiced against the conflict. The piles of little things working against them create a complicated, tangled agony, and really, at some point, there has to be a break where she can just listen to him, for the love of God. As the agony continues, I’m with you on the smack-a-bitch lineup.

Candy: And regarding Kinsale’s diatribe about conflict, and whether or not TDH represents wussiness on your part because you find it uncomfortable: I don’t think it does. I certainly don’t think it does with me. I’m one of the most masochistic readers I know. Pain? Angst? Mistreatment? Misunderstanding? FULL-ON DYSFUNCTION? BRING IT, BEYOTCH. Two of my all-time favorite romances are Seize the Fire and The Windflower, and given what the heroes put the heroines through in those two books, I don’t see how anyone could accuse me of not enjoying conflict, or flinching away from a book because I’m a tender widdle flowah who wants nothing but hugs and puppies and kisses in my reading material.

But TDH is different. TDH feels GRINDING. TDH exhausted me. It’s like seeing a codependent relationship played before your eyes. And it’s so maddening because you feel like the characters should be smart enough to break out of those spirals of destructive, hurtful behavior, but they don’t.

I think the difference between this book and the others is that they had more external conflicts that helped break up the action and inject some levity, and also because there were more good times than bad times. I could get why Merry wanted to stay with Devon, or why Olympia stuck with Sheridan. But Zenia and Arden? They had a brief idyll in the beginning of the book, and the rest of it’s pain, pain, pain.

Sarah: If you were grading it, though, what grade would you give? I’d have to say at this point, C+. Big ups for amazing writing, and truly lyrical and evocative descriptions to the point where I’d linger over paragraphs of description and then want to skip the dialogue because someone was going to say something obstinately bullheaded and I’d get irritated with them. I even emailed Kinsale because I’m a dork like that – even though I am having all kinds of frustrations with the characters motivations vs. their actions, I am mollified by the quality of the writing that I want to keep reading it, even if just to roll around in the prose like a kid in the leaf pile.

But down I go when it comes for the unending conflict – you were so 100% right when you said, “The characters should be smart enough to break out of those spirals of destructive, hurtful behavior, but they don’t.” I keep returning to a point where I ask myself, “Should he/she know better than to choose this course of action when they demonstrated some ability to accurately interact with this character a moment ago? Is it consistent with their character or is this just throwing more angst in the big pot of woe for the sake of super-sized angsty flava?”

It’s like one of those arguments you have where both parties are nearing hysterical temper and start firing outrageously random verbal bullets because at this point it’s just habit replaying itself –  only it’s the TWO-THIRDS OF THE DAMN BOOK.

However, it’s still a testament to the quality of the book that I think about it that much. It’s not like I circle back and forth about the characterization of other heroines or heroes all the time that I’m reading. Kinsale’s characters are usually written at 500 dpi while the rest are at 72 or maybe 150, so I feel almost insolent criticizing them.

Candy: In terms of grade, I’m inclined to give it a B-. The writing and characterization are brilliant, but when it comes down to it, I didn’t really like Zenia, though Arden was a good deal more sympathetic to me—perhaps because he wasn’t so shrill, and perhaps because Zenia reminds me of the very, very worst aspects of myself writ large. And mind you, I don’t really need to LIKE the characters in order to like a book, but when it comes to a romance novel, I have to be invested in their happiness, and the dynamic between Arden and Zenia frustrated me too much for me to do that unreservedly. I can’t give it anything less than a B, though, because I had such a strong reaction to the characters, and because when I rooted for them, I rooted for them HARD. And because the ending just killed me with its sweetness, and gave me just a little bit of hope for the two of them. It speaks well of an author, that I talk about characters in such a way, and that I feel so frustrated with them precisely because they’re so alive to me.

And as for whether the conflicts were for conflict’s sake: again, it’s been a while since I read the book, but I remember that not being a problem with me. It didn’t feel contrived. And that, in a nutshell, is probably why that book captured me and maddened me at the same time.

Sarah: I’m resting at my final grade of C+, because, as you said, the writing was good and I was so invested in the characters, but I had a few problems with the ending, though it was indelibly sweet.

For one thing, what was her growth? Did she heal? Admitting that she had a problem, a big huge psycho problem, and that she needed his help? I felt the ending wasn’t solidified by enough foundation, and as you said last night, can I believe that they’ll last into neverending permanence? Not really. And with all the suffering, I wanted that reassurance.

In the end, I have to say, harshness towards the angst and the heroine aside, this was a marvelously written novel about two very flawed people who, despite being frustrating to read about, I rooted for. I wanted their happiness, even if it seemed they couldn’t be bothered to want it for themselves. It’s moving, detailed, vivid, and possesses some of the best descriptions and scenes I’ve read in awhile. But like any Kinsale novel, it’s not a book you put aside lightly. It’s an experience.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    dl says:

    Adore Laura Kinsale, but this is probably my least favorite…agree with your review.  Early part of the story is the best, the parts in England are frustrating.  I’ve not re-read this one…however, Seize the Fire and Shadow Heart are calling me for a re-read. 

    I heard she was taking a break and regrouping, any news of a new book yet?

  2. 2
    sherryfair says:

    This is probably my second-favorite book by Kinsale … exactly because of everything you guys hated. And so I’d give it an “A.”

  3. 3

    This is my least favorite Kinsale book, and I found your analysis intriguing.  I think you both highlighted some of the problems I experienced while reading it, and why it’s probably the only book of hers I haven’t bothered to re-read.

    If I was recommending Kinsale books to people, and I often do, I’d start with Flowers from the Storm and also recommend For My Lady’s Heart for the adventurous, and Midsummer Moon just for fun.

  4. 4
    dl says:

    Flowers From the Storm…YES!

  5. 5
    SB Sarah says:

    So which one should I read next, then? I’ve read Flowers from the Storm, and now The Dream Hunter. What next?

  6. 6
    Tonda/Kalen says:

    See, you all sold me on FLOWERS FROM THE STORM, so I ordered it from Amazon. I tried to read it. I gave up last night at p. 140. Just after the retchingly cute “kittens in the garden” scene (pun intended).

    I simply loathe the namby-pamby heroine. I’m simply sick to death of her hesitancy, her shrinking-violet syndrome, etc. Jeebus, lady, get off your duff and DO SOMETHING TO HELP HIM already.

    It’s clear to me that LK is a beloved author, and that she can WRITE, but FFTH is so not to my tastes. I gladly laid it aside and picked up Pam Rosenthal’s latest, THE SLIGHTEST PROVOCATION which I almost couldn’t bear to put down and go to bed.

  7. 7
    SandyO says:

    Dang I worship Kinsale.  She writes a book that Candy hasn’t read in 10 years and still has that strong of emotions about.  Maybe you do hate the heroine, but you remember her.  Which is more than I can say about most of the romances out there.  In fact the romance I’m currently reading, I have to stop to remember the heroine’s name.

    I remember Zenia.

  8. 8
    Ann Aguirre says:

    I liked the beginning of this book, but after she was outed as a woman, it lost some of its magic for me for many of the reasons stated here.

    On an unrelated note, if you’re feeling generous, click my name and give me an opinion; I need all the input I can get.

  9. 9
    Karla says:

    I got this book on impuse because of the mention of Hester Standhope – that’s it, through a little know historical figure at me and I’m hooked and now it looks like the heroine isn’t going to live up to Hester’s standards, so well I’ll read anyway and enjoy it for the writing if nothing else.

  10. 10
    Beth says:

    The Shadow and the Star, Sarah. It must be your next. You can dislike TDH or FMLH or Shadowheart or jaysus, any of them – but if you don’t fall in love with The Shadow and the Star, it’ll be positively intriguing to know why.

    Um, intriguing for me. Because it’s all about me. Duh. (Note as well that it’ll make me gnash my teeth and rend my robes, etc,  to hear a WORD said against the characters in TSATS.)

    PS: I worship TDH, and like sherryfair, for all the same reasons you hated it.

  11. 11
    SB Sarah says:

    Isn’t the Shadow and the Star a sequel? Do I have to read the first one?

  12. 12
    emdee says:

    I do love me some Kinsale and I too found this book to be oh so grating.  This is my next to least favorite of hers, my least fave being The Prince of Midnight.  I just could not get into that one.  My taste must be very different from everyone else’s because I adore Shadowheart in a big way.  Also very fond of FFTS and TSATS

  13. 13
    Sarah F. says:

    SB Sarah.  Either Seize the Fire because the hero’s so incredible.  Or For My Lady’s Heart, but that one’s in Middle English, so be warned.  Or I think you’d adore Midsummer Moon.

    But I have to admit that I didn’t grok The Shadow and the Star.  I know it’s a lot of people’s favorites, but I just didn’t GET either the hero or the heroine.  I think their romance was great and very true to character, but I didn’t understand either of them as characters.

    But God, STF and FMLH are on my “have to have no matter what” lists.  They’re incredible romances.

  14. 14

    I adore The Shadow and the Star and may have to read it again. It is a sequel of sorts to The Hidden Heart but I read them backwards and I rather liked it that way, knowing where the hero and heroine were headed in THH.

  15. 15
    Beth says:

    Don’t have to read The Hidden Heart before reading TSATS, not at all. In fact, in comparison to TSATS, THH kinda sucks. But then, in comparison to TSATS, about 98% of all literature sucks, so there ya go.

    TANGENT ALERT: What’s always confused me is the undying love for STF. I hated that book when I read it. And I mean HATE. Upon re-reading STF, there’s tons I love and my hate calmed down to occassional (and affectionate) exasperation. But it still always amazes me that so many people worship that book. It’s so totally clearly a case of Not My Cuppa Tea.

  16. 16
    Emma says:

    I must be the only one here who adored My Sweet Folly.  I *think* I read somewhere that it’s one of Kinsale’s least favorites because it was squeezed out as writer’s block was taking over, but I loved how atmospheric (nightmarish, intense, dark, haunting, amazing!) it was.  And of course, the prologue itself is worth the price of the book.

  17. 17
    Ann Aguirre says:

    I loved the letters. The rest didn’t measure up to those but it was still a good read.

  18. 18
    DS says:

    O/T but you just don’t hear about writer’s block the way you used to.  I remember Marion Zimmer Bradley writing about going through it at one point—she felt she cured it by pounding out one sentence at a time until she had the book finished.  But Kinsale and Elizabeth Neff Walker (Laura Matthews) are the only two romance writer I can remember mentioning it.

  19. 19
    philistina says:

    Kinsale’s books boast a richness of nuanced character development and literary denseness that few others in the genre have—which is why I’m so often puzzled or even pissed off by the endings.  What starts off as this rollicking, exotic adventure in The Dream Hunter devolves into Dr. Philesque clips of marital strife till finally an abruptly prosaic resolution is reached, with very little moments of true intimacy or union in between. 

    Same with FFTS: it crescendoes to a passionate intensity, and ends with Maddie and Jervaulx shrugging at each other.  “Oh, you’re still here.”  “Yeah.” “Okay then.”

  20. 20

    I’m passionately in love with some of Laura Kinsale’s books (TSATS, FMLH, Shadowheart) and mostly indifferent to the rest. 

    And I think that’s a good thing.  Because every one of her book is different, every character is different, every relationship is different.  If you know a family of ten kids, how many of them will you be friends with?  Chances are no more than half, realistically not more than a quarter.

    The dynamic is the same here.  The only trademark of a Laura Kinsale book is the quality of the writing and the intensity of the emotions she invokes.  The stories are nothing alike.

    So every time you pick up a new, or new-to-you LK book, it’s going to be an adventure. I might love it, I might not.  But I have never faulted her as an author for not delivering what she promises, because even though the story might not grasp me by the collar, it is still true to itself.

    I like that.  I admire that.  I plan to be that kind of a writer myself.

  21. 21
    Estelle says:

    The Dream Hunter, The Shadow and The Star and Flowers From The Storm are the only three Kinsale books I’ve put away and never plan on reading again.

    The Dream Hunter because of all you mentioned.

    The Shadow and The Star because I thought that it was one of the *worst* romance I’ve ever read. Poor Leda, she deserved better than Samuel.

    Flowers from the Storm because, like TSATS, it failed as a romance for me. I just never could believe in Maddie and Jervaux together.

    Still like many here i’m in awe of Kinsale’s talent. You may hate one of her characters but you sure do remember them! And the writing is always superb.

    I’d recommend Seize the Fire. Sheridan is one of the best anti-hero I’ve ever read.

  22. 22
    Madd says:

    I just wanted to say that I’m glad I’m not the only one that wanted to do Zenia bodily harm. She drove me batfrigginlooney!

  23. 23
    Robin says:

    I’m also one of those Kinsale readers who adores TDH—and My Sweet Folly and Seize the Fire.  Except for the mild BDSM (which I thought was the most compelling aspect of the book), Shadowheart was the only Kinsale novel that felt, well, rusty, to me.  MSF, which had incredible lows, also had, IMO, incredible highs, even beyond the letters.  I actually think it’s the most erotic book Kinsale wrote.  Midsummer Moon is also a great fave of mine, in part because I love the backward motion of the relationship.  And IMO For My Lady’s Heart is Kinsale’s best novel, technically speaking, featuring one of my favorite Romance heroes ever (and heroines, for that matter). 

    While I understand why some readers might not like Flowers From the Storm, the comment about Maddy being namby pamby (was that the phrase) almost made me choke on my coffee. She may be Kinsale’s most stubborn heroine, although the competition among her, Zenia, and Leda for that honor is pretty stiff.  Even Melanthe seems flexible next to those three ladies, IMO. 

    But a word in defense of The Dream Hunter (Candy, I wish you would re-read it and see if your thoughts have changed):  in addition to all the things Sarah and Candy hated about the book that I loved, there is what I think is the absolute brilliance about the way Kinsale brings Zenia around in the end. 

    I loved the way Kinsale used all of Zenia’s superstitutions, all of the conflicts she felt as a result of the way her mother “raised” her, to drive her back to Arden in the same way they drove her away from him.  Her understanding that she’s being haunted by her mother and her need to have Arden make the charm to protect her—I just thought that was so brilliant and so perfect for the novel, because it was 1) absolutely consistent with Zenia’s character, and 2) a perfect reconcilliatino of her dual identity as Selim and Zenia, and 3) it brought her and Arden full circle to where they had begun in the desert.  That Kinsale could take a heroine who so resisted happiness and make her choice of Arden to understandable and logical to me really made TDH a near perfect reading experience for me.

  24. 24

    I’m also a big fan of My Sweet Folly though I have yet to reread it.

    I, too, was frustrated with Zenia, though not to the extent of Sarah and Candy, I don’t think. I suspect that on a reread, I would have more sympathy for her. This definitely happened when I reread Flowers From the Storm—my frustrations with the heroine disappeared and she made total sense to me and I admired her. Kinsale’s books are certainly rich enough to reward rereads.

    All that said, I loved the time in the desert in TDH.

  25. 25
    Robin says:

    Kinsale’s books boast a richness of nuanced character development and literary denseness that few others in the genre have—which is why I’m so often puzzled or even pissed off by the endings.  What starts off as this rollicking, exotic adventure in The Dream Hunter devolves into Dr. Philesque clips of marital strife till finally an abruptly prosaic resolution is reached, with very little moments of true intimacy or union in between.

    I have an image of the top of Kinsale’s head being blown off after reading this comment, but I also find it interesting.  Although I disagree with the characterization of the ending of TDH (I think it’s one of the best Kinsale endings), there have been some awkward ones.  My Sweet Folly probably tops my list, in part because it felt as awkward as Folie and Robert seemed on that staircase, but also because it felt rushed and anticlimactic. 

    And yet, I think that some of the awkwardness of some of Kinsale’s endings (think of The Shadow and the Star, for example) may have more to do with the difficulty of shutting down this incredibly complex story with a reader-anticipated HEA.  And in a sense, I think Kinsale’s books perhaps demonstrate how very difficult it is to have rich and conflicted and multi-layered Romance wind up very neatly and nicely at the end (especially with page counts down as they are). 

    Perhaps this goes back to Kinsale’s comments about readers resisting conflict in Romance—i.e. that with more conflict comes more difficulty in tidying all the loose ends up in the end.  I have seen more than a few complaints about Kinsale’s novels that they don’t feel “romantic” or that the ending doesn’t provide a convincing HEA.  And that leads me to another question about how readers identify with Romance novels and their characters.  For example, does a reader who has to find the story personally romantic have different overall expectations for the genre than a reader who does not have this requirement?  And if those expectations are different, how do they impact Kinsale’s argument about the importance of dramatic license in Romance (i.e. that the novel is a stage upon which these larger and deeper conflicts are being acted out, and where the material circumstances are more symbolic than literal)?  In science fiction, for example, we routinely see the plot, characters, and actions of the novels as symbolic of other things (especially because sci-fi and fantasy are so often direct allegories).  But do we do the same in Romance?  And if we don’t, then why?  Is it simply that readers are being dumbed down, or conflict-avoiding, or too literal, or are there different expectations in Romance for many readers that makes such symbolic reading problematic?  Even for the reader like myself, who does not need to personally find a hero romantic and does not need to identify with the hero or heroine, I wonder how a genre that is so focused on female sexuality and identity and romantic love should or shouldn’t be read.  While there are some ways in which I agree with Kinsale about the importance of reespecting the unconscious drives of fantasy and the way fiction represents those drives in a non-literal way, I also am concerned about completely disassociating Romance from the material world, since so many aspects of Romance DO have literal significance, as well.

  26. 26
    Robin says:

    This definitely happened when I reread Flowers From the Storm—my frustrations with the heroine disappeared and she made total sense to me and I admired her.

    For me it was The Shadow and The Star.  It was one of the very first Romance novels I read, and it took me a full three times through before I actually embraced Leda as a strong and independent heroine.  I absolutely think that Romance has a distinctive paradigm, which is why it’ so difficult to convert people to the genre based on one or two books.  You have to learn the language of the genre, IMO, before you can really read it on its own terms.

  27. 27
    Keishon says:

    Of all Kinsale’s work, this is the book that drives me nuts. I can’t finish. It’s still an ongoing project.

  28. 28
    Kaite says:

    It’s clear to me that LK is a beloved author, and that she can WRITE, but FFTH is so not to my tastes.

    I’m with you on that, Tonda. I powered through Shadowheart, because it’s supposed to be fabulous, but my only thoughts about it can be summed up in 13 words: I just wanted to set the heroine on fire. All. Through. The. Book. For that matter, I wanted to set the hero on fire, too. One big, toasty, Italianate bonfire upon which to roast marshmallows.

    It’s not that it was boring, or that it was poorly written, it’s just that I’ve got enough torture going on in my real love life, I’d like to read books about people whose love lives DON’T suck big hairy ones, you know? And frankly, aside from the hot-Hot-HOT—OH, DAMN THAT’S HOT! sex, there was nothing about those two that was going right. Absolutely *nothing*.

  29. 29
    Gail D says:

    I may take this discussion off on a tangent. I am one of those who has enjoyed every one of Kinsale’s books (except I’m not sure I ever read My Sweet Folly—I think I was mixing it up with For My Lady’s Heart (I know, how is that possible?), but I’m not sure), some of course more than others, but loved all of them anyway.

    Some of them, however, were kind of painful for me to read. My older Kinsales are in the garage behind new sofas that have yet to be moved into the college dorms, so I can’t get to them to hunt, but one of them had scenes within a cult-like group that I found very difficult to read. I had to skim there, because it made me so very angry. Which is what the writer wants, right? To engage the reader’s emotions…

    Which is where the tangent comes in. There are authors who write books that are even more painful for me to read. They tend to be older contemporary romances—the ones with the very, very, very arrogant, even more alpha heroes. (Early Jayne Ann Krentz’s like Man With A Past and Call it Destiny, or Linda Howard’s, the titles of which I can’t remember)Those books make me almost shake with rage—I can feel it blowing the top of my head off—and yet some of them are so very satisfying at the end. Some of them aren’t—and those are the ones where I don’t think the hero has suffered enough. I want to see him Destroyed!

    It’s that emotional intensity that I always find in Kinsale’s books, that I’m looking for—and she always does it so well. I love that her characters are so different—and I agree with whoever said that Maddie was an incredibly strong character. She was a person of very strong faith, which some people can see as weakness—especially considering the Quaker beliefs of pacifism and quiet workshop. I found that inclusion of her faith fascinating and it made her character all the more real to me.

  30. 30
    Kaite says:

    But do we do the same in Romance?  And if we don’t, then why?  Is it simply that readers are being dumbed down, or conflict-avoiding, or too literal, or are there different expectations in Romance for many readers that makes such symbolic reading problematic?

    I think the answer is partly that Romance, at least to me, is much more personal, or at least feels like it should be, than the sci-fi/fantasy novels I grew up and teethed on as a junior reader, and that I enjoy now, as an adult. Mostly because I’m probably not likely to meet a unicorn in my backyard, but it is generally accepted by society that I will, one day, fall in love with (and have that feeling reciprocated) another human being. There’s an emotional distance, if you follow.

    I tolerate a lot more emotional conflict in a straight-out fantasy novel than I do in a romance novel. Why? BECAUSE of the emotional distance I can maintain. I can handle more…circumstantial conflict than flat out emotional conflict in a romance novel—ie, lovers who are threatened by an outside force, but maintain their personal connection and acknowledge it openly.

    Then again, perhaps because human relationships are not my forte, I find reading about very emotionally painful and difficult ones too close to the truth to entertain. At that point, it becomes a book that replays my worst moments and not a diverting fantasy.

    Maybe if I’d ever had a truly happy romantic relationship (hell, at this point, I’d settle for “enjoyable” or even “passably pleasant”,) I would be more likely to read and enjoy something as intense as Kinsale. But with all the scorched earth in my past, I just can’t tolerate it. Because then it’s not fiction, it’s reality, and if I wanted reality I’d just shut the book and be in it.

    I do, however, accept that there are those who like that sort of painful, tormented love story. I just wish they’d mark those books more clearly on the shelves—it would save me a ton of time and money!

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