Book Review

Lightning Reviews: Laura Kinsale Part I

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

* * * * *

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.

Comments are Closed

  1. Renaesance says:

    Oooooh now I’m going to have to go dig up all my old Kinsale novels from the boxes in my parents attic.  They’ve been there “waiting” for me to have space to house them for years.  And Flowers from the Storm is one of my absolute favorite romances of all time you’ve gotta finish it dammit!!  I love they way the hero (can’t remember his name dammit) teases the heroine into being a little girly even though she’s a Quaker a little at a time. And the way she fights him even though she secretly likes having to wear pretty dresses 😉

  2. Kristie(J) says:

    I know EXACTLY what you mean with FFTS because I had the exact same kind of reaction when I tried to read The Hidden Heart.  And that’s a great and wierd way to describe it!!!!  And I did the same thing – I read to a certain part and then just couldn’t read any more – not because I didn’t love it. I did! But it just made me squirmy in a weird kind of way.  So I skipped to the end to make sure it was an HEA.

  3. Sarah F. says:

    I adore LK like a squealing fangirl adores Orlando Bloom.  There is not enough love in the world to express how much I worship at her altar of craftmanship and story-telling ability.

    Seize the Fire (I think) was the first LK for me and I just fell absolutely in love with Sherry.  And the penguin.

    The others are great, too, but her absolute best of me is For My Lady’s Heart.  I’m sure you’re going to get there, but I had to put a shout out for it now, because I woul dhave Ruck’s babies in a heartbeat, despite the secondary infertility—I’d find a way to make babies with him, dammit!  God, I love that man.  And I love LK for creating him and for writing an historical romance that’s actually, like, accurate.  That shows “love” in its fully messed-up medievalness.  And it’s in Middle English, for god’s sake.  How can you go wrong!?

  4. Sarah F. says:

    Yeah, sorry.  “…best FOR me…” and “would have”.


    We need an edit function.

  5. Beth says:

    Can I just give a guest bitch A+ to Flowers From the Storm, please? Because it’s beyond A+. I have had week-long debates with myself over whether I love it or Shadow and the Star more. Seriously. But anyway it’s excellent perfect brilliance impeccable omigod it’s impossible not to gush about it, and anyone who doesn’t see that is a fool, I say, FOOL.

    And you’ve reminded me that I have like 7 more Kinsale books to SBD about. I’ll have to get on that, yeah.

  6. fiveandfour says:

    Now we’re all racing out to scour the internet for old Kinsale books. 

    One of my favorite experiences of all time was (re-)reading The Shadow and the Star while in Hawaii – another aspect of the story that I think she got just right.  I mean, both the scenes set in England and the scenes set in Hawaii feel perfect, as if those characters were actually there in those places.

  7. Rosina Lippi says:

    I agree with Beth, FFTS needs an A+++ because it’s perfect. The perfect love story.

    But I understand what you mean, it is pretty tense.

    The scene where they finally have sex? Probably the Best Ever First-Sex Scene written from the virgin’s perspective. Perfect pitch.

  8. SandyO says:

    Yes Candy!  You got Leda right.  The people who complain about her drive me nuts.  She is my favorite Kinsale heroine.

    As for FFTS, I agree with Beth, it is perfect.  It might be beyond perfect.

  9. Dav says:

    A ninja.  O-kay.  If it was any other reviewer, I think that would be it.  But I’m pretty new to this whole romance thing, and I do believe that any concept can work if written properly. 

    But seriously, a ninja?

  10. Candy says:

    Yes, Dav, a ninja.

    I know how it sounds. Trust me. I cringe every time I have to tell somebody about the book. But it’s good. I swears it. On my precioussss, even.

  11. cassie says:

    I loved Flowers from the Storm, which I’d heard about on here.  Thanks!  🙂

    I’ve also read My Sweet Folly, The Hidden Heart and Uncertain Magic, all of which I liked to differing degrees and probably not as much as FFTS. 

    Will have to read the other ones on this lightning review (and probably the ones in Part II, as well).  I suppose if I can suspend disbelief for vampires, ninjas won’t be any more of a stretch, though it’s good to hear that Kinsale pulls it off.

  12. Ziggy says:

    Just to say I love these lightning reviews. They are much more helpful when trying to decide what to read next than trawling Amazon in a directionless way. Thanks to you, Midsummer Moon is now in my basket. Can’t wait to read it.

  13. Jo says:

    I think something is telling me to read Laura Kinsale as this must be the 4th positive reference to her books that I have read this year (and we’re only 4 weeks in). Charlaine Harris blogged about Shadowheart last week and intrigued me by stating that LK ‘writes extreme romance’. These reviews and comments have been helpful in giving me an idea of which ones to try – it might even be the ninja one if I can find it!

    I’ve just scrolled down to my word verifier and it’s ‘now12’. Okay, Okay I get the message – I’m off to buy me some Laura Kinsale.

  14. Ciara says:

    I loved FFTS and Midsummer moon. The heroine is absolutely hilarious in MM.

    Couldn’t finish Uncertain Magic though. Don’t know why. Maybe because it’s set in Ireland and I’m Irish. Don’t like reading books set in Ireland. Never seem that realistic to me.

  15. Darla says:

    I’d never even heard of Laura Kinsale until Berkley sent me the ARC of Shadowheart a couple months before it came out. 

    When I recovered, I immediately bought her entire backlist—new for all the ones still in print—and promptly buried them in the TBR pile.  A couple are still in there because I only get one first read, and they’re so intense, it’s not something I want to rush.

    For a while I bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t discovered her books sooner, that nobody had recommended her, even though they were recommending all sorts of romance.  But fate knew what it was doing—I haven’t been reading romance all that long, and if Kinsale had been among my first romance reads, I’d have had a helluva time finding any books to measure up, and it’s even possible that, not having much to compare them to, I wouldn’t have realized how amazing her books are.

  16. SB Sarah says:

    The thing about Kinsale, and this is not a criticism, is that she really does write Extreme Romance. I have to be in a particular mindset to read a book of hers, because I know it’s going to rip my heart out of my chest and hand it to me. There’s a lot of internal monologue in my head when reading her books: “OH, shit. No no no no no no nooo” and “Go back and read that again! And again! And AGAIN!” because it really is a full investment of my brain once I crack the cover.

    Not only do I have to be emotionally ready to do it, but I can’t be on the bus, which is where I do most of my reading. Read a Kinsale on the bus? I’d end up in Cleveland before I knew what was going on.

  17. Some of us were reading Kinsale back in the day,the original publications, when we’d want to grab strangers off the street and say “Ignore the cheesy cover and read this book!” 

    But I always want to have a little sign with the book like they have at Disney: “You must be this smart to read this romance” because I just know there are people out there who don’t get it, who were upset that someone had the ovaries to write a book with dialogue in Middle English and expect you to keep up.

    Their loss.  Thanks for the lightning reviews.  I hope new sales will encourage Laura to keep ‘em coming, and the publishers to realize what a gem they have.

  18. Suisan says:

    Oh lordy lord, I do love a Kinsale.

    I think I actually found Smart Bitches through my love of all things Kinsale. She linked to you on her message boards, or I searched, or something.

    I’ll freely admit to being sucked into her works by Fabio of the cover of Prince of Midnight. Grabbed me from across the bookstore, it did. I read all of the Fabio-period books with great delight, and then had to go back to find her backlist when I realized that Gryphon and Tess were referring back to a previous book.

    So the Fabios don’t bother me, but the one cover that makes me crazy is the pink gauzy thing for Seize the Fire.

    I will be gentle, because I really do admire all things Kinsale (I’d roll on the floor like a panting puppy if I ever met her in person.), but I have to say that Uncertain Magic does not work for me at all. The early scene where the heroine feels the horse’s labor pains in the pasture? I never got over hating that set-up. But I still liked the characters.

    Oh, the conflict. I still want to admire that book, just because I love her other works so much.

    Thank you, Thank you for putting up these reviews. Laura Kinsale is by far my favorite author. (And she even made Liaison a cheval somewhat plausable.  THERE’S a sign of true talent.)

  19. emdee says:

    I have tried 3 times to read The Prince of Midnight and I have never been able to get all the way through it. Don’t know why.

  20. skyerae says:

    Maybe it’s Nemo.  I’m only 30 pages in thanks to these reviews.  I went to the library and picked up the first Kinsale I could find.  So far so good except for Nemo.  I hate the whole tension building with the death of an animal thing.  I know he’s not dead.  He can’t be dead, you don’t fall in love with the animal in the first scene only to have him die.  But I still have to go through another 20 or more pages THINKING that he’s dead and I don’t know if I can stand it.

  21. Candy says:

    Skyerae: If it’ll help you get through the book: Nemo doesn’t die!

    But Kinsale is very good at putting you through the wringer that way. If it’s not the goddamn wolf, it’s goddamn something else.

  22. skyerae says:

    I knew it!  He had to be out there somewhere.  I’m such a sucker for animal characters, always have been.

    I don’t normally liked being put through the wringer unless it’s worth it.  I can’t stand the tension, I’m a wimp.  The book better be worth the tension and you all say it is so I persevere.

  23. Kerry says:

    I just read The Shadow And The Star, and I agree Leda can be seen at first glance as passive and prissy, but the beauty of Kinsale’s writing and plan that she is so much like Samuel—the same values he’s gotten from his sensei, she absorbed from Miss Myrtle and the ladies. Honor, respect, subtle thinking, propriety, kindness—they’re so much alike but they come from different cultures. And the dialogue! The whole book is so Oh. My. Awesome!

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