Damn, I can’t believe I haven’t done one of these yet for Laura Kinsale. (Or Patricia Gaffney. Or Loretta Chase. Oh, my review backlog weeps, weeps, I tells ye.) Anyway, be prepared for an ungodly number of As in a row. And maybe this can be a harbinger of good news, i.e. SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME THE LUCKY ONE HAS FINALLY BEEN PICKED UP KTHXBYE.
Hanyway. First up: The Early Years, Replete with Avon Ribbons
The Hidden Heart: This is Laura’s debut novel and holy crap, she does a great job. The hero, Gryphon, has suffered some pretty horrendous emotional trauma and is terrified of loving anyone again. Tess, the heroine, is one of the best Kinsale has created: strong without being annoyingly feisty, sweet, but not sickeningly so, and kind of an outsider because of her eccentric upbringing. It’s an old-school romance in that the hero and heroine are together—no, they have to separate!—no, they’re together—no, they have to separate!—no, they’re together again—but most of the other earmarks of old-school romances like purple prose and the hero raping the heroine are mercifully absent. The book’s dark core is lightened up considerably by flashes of humor. It should be illegal for an author to write this well for a debut effort. A-
Uncertain Magic: Roddy can hear the thoughts of people and animals, a trait that can make being around crowds an excruciating experience. People can sense that she’s different and are uncomfortable in her presence, and even those who love her and know her secret find it difficult to be with her. Then she meets Faelan, an impecunious Irish lord with a very dark reputation, and she finds to her surprise that his thoughts are completely closed to her. And what should an innocent young miss do when she meets a man with a reputation for rape, seduction and murder whom she cannot read at all, even a little? Why, she marries him, of course. Pff. This is, after all, Romancelandia.
Ah, pay my snarking no mind; I love this book with a muchness. I missed having Faelan’s perspective, but because of the way the story is structured and because so much of the plot hinges on solving the enigma of why Faelan’s mind is closed off, it has to be told only from Roddy’s POV. Now, if Kinsale would write the same story, only told entirely from Faelan’s perspective…. A-
Midsummer Moon: I love this book so much, it was the first Desert Isle Keeper review I wrote for All About Romance. It has two elements I normally hate in a romance novel: a really absent-minded heroine, and a tremendously autocratic, high-handed hero. But Kinsale makes it work beautifully. It’s a gorgeous, charming book about a duke trying to work with a brilliant scientist on an invention that may potentially win the war against Napoleon. The problem is, he falls in love with her along the way. And the other problem is, she can’t seem to remember what his name is half the time, much less take notice of him long enough to love him back. Also, lots of other things, including The Best Goddamn Hedgehog Sidekick Ever in the History of Ever, all of which Beth goes into quite nicely. See all that stuff she says about that book? Pretend I said it, only with more cussing, and less eloquently.A+
Seize the Fire: In this book, Kinsale takes every romance convention, stands them on their heads, makes ‘em do the Macarena and then blows them up (which is what should rightly be done to anyone or anything doing the Macarena). Sheridan isn’t noble, he’s a self-proclaimed coward, and he cheerfully and charmingly lies, manipulates and scams his way through much of the book. Olympia isn’t svelte and feisty, she’s overweight, shy and almost painfully naïve. You get to watch both characters transform each other through a series of wacky adventures—I want to use the word “Quixotic,” which would fit the heroine, but “picaresque” would definitely suit the hero and the overall tone much better. Kinsale pulls off the difficult feat of making the hero utterly sympathetic while having him perform unheroic deeds over and over again.
The ending is very unusual (no, the protagonists don’t die, so rest easy on that score). It’ll make you cry, and then when you read the dedication at the end of the book, you’ll cry even harder. This is the book I always recommend to people who claim they don’t like romance novels. Not that many people have ever taken me up the offer, probably because of the book’s Orgasm in Pink cover. A
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Thus ends a particular era of Kinsale; the next one is even more auspicious, because from there we move into some of her very best work, work I tend to think of (despite myself) as The Fabio Years.
The Prince of Midnight: Ahhh, the first of Kinsale’s Fabio books. Not that the stories were inspired by Fabio or anything, but the first edition features him on the cover. But even that monstrosity can’t dim the pleasure of a Kinsale novel. The hero this time is a retired highwayman with inner-ear damage, and the heroine is a woman seeking revenge for the death of her family at the hands of a weird cult. She recruits him as a hero for hire; unfortunately, the guy can’t even lean over without falling on his face, much engage in the acrobatics required. But that doesn’t stop him from riding out to save the day, of course. Deeelicious. A-
The Shadow and the Star: This book has a special place in my heart because it’s the first Kinsale book I read, and I couldn’t put it down. The protagonist is Samuel, whom we first see in The Hidden Heart in very harrowing circumstances. And (oh crap, this is going to sound terrible) Samuel is a ninja. That’s right. A ninja in Victorian England. Your head ready to a-splode? I know mine was when I figured out the premise. But you know what? Kinsale gets it right. No, I mean it. It’s good. Srlsy. She’s uncanny. Other authors have tried to depict Asian cultures (Patricia Gaffney and Mary Jo Putney tried their hands at different aspects of Chinese culture, for example) but Kinsale gets it right. Samuel’s sensei, and Samuel’s mindset after being trained by the sensei, all ring true in a way many authors are unable to achieve when writing about a foreign culture.
Also, the heroine, Leda, is often disparaged by other readers and reviewers as being too passive and kind of a priss, but they don’t get it: she’s rock-steady, steadfast and honorable, and exactly what Samuel needs to heal him and love him. A gorgeous book, and if you don’t love it—well, I don’t even know what to say to you. You’re just weird. And wrong. A+
Flowers From the Storm: The third and mercifully the last of the Fabio covers. This book features yet another Kinsale hero with a disability, this time a brilliant mathematician of a duke who suffers from what seems to be a stroke. The heroine is also extremely unusual: she’s a Quaker. This book got me interested in non-Euclidian geometry, and since I was studying factorials in high school math when I read this book, I was fascinated by some of the equations Kinsale provides. But you know what, I can’t in good conscience give this book a rating because I’ve never been able to finish it. Not because it’s not good, but because it’s so intense that I can’t take it—it’s like being tickled, only I’m not laughing. I’ve tried it twice before, and each time I had to put it down about halfway through and then sneak a peek at the ending to enjoy the HEA. I’ll give it a shot in a few weeks when I’m done with several other books I need to finish, and I’ll see if I can do it this time.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II, wherein I cover the books Kinsale wrote for Berkley.