Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale

So I finally read a book by Laura Kinsale. I'd read so much about her and how she pushes the boundaries, yada yada yada, so of course I needed to read one. I went on All about Romance and this got a fabulous review by none other than Lisa Kleypas, so I went out and bought it. Wow man, wow. She really does push the boundaries of the typical romance novel (this almost didn't have a romance novel feel to it), but what I liked and respected more than that was the fact that she respects the romance reader's intelligence. She didn't rely on shortcuts or stereotypes to spell things out or move the story along, instead allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. One actually has to read carefully. But it's worth the work!

The hero of this book, Samuel, lived through horrific sexual abuse (don't worry, only hinted at)as a child before being rescued and going to live with a wealthy aristocratic English family in Hawaii. He is taken under the tutelage of their Japanese butler, and learns the ways of the Neen-jah. Sorry, Ninja. Samuel has a strong sense of guilt and shame regarding himself and his past. He is highly uncomfortable with his sexuality and wants nothing more than to provide a sheltering haven of chaste love for his foster sister, Kai. His world is rocked when his path crosses with Leda Etoile, an orphan raised by an aristocratic spinster now living in borderline destitution, during a London trip for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. I will now gloss over lots and lots of stuff and just say a forced marriage and a return to Hawaii results. Will Samuel get over Kai and his past and love and live HEA? Well, of course, it's a romance novel, but I was worried there for awhile.

It was just that rocky. I was initially very uncomfortable with the whole Kai subplot. I do not want a romance where the heroine is the hero's second choice. And I was going there for awhile--Leda believed Samuel was in love w/Kai, Samuel believed Samuel was in love with Kai. But without telling me straight out, Kinsale did make me understand that, while Samuel loved Kai, he didn't lurrrve her. Similarly, I was also concerned for awhile that what Samuel only lusted after Leda. But there are clues that he is in love with Leda, long before he realizes it himself. One has to read the dialogue and his actions very carefully. Kinsale lets the reader fill in what is unsaid. Neither of these characters are in touch with their emotions at all. They are products of their upbringing as well as Victorian repression, and were realistic and consistent within that setting. At times Leda seemed a cipher, but within the context of being a Victorian maiden raised by an older "lady" who clung to already faded notions of gentility and proper comportment, her insistence on propriety seems realistic. Actually, as a orphaned young lady without the protection of money or family, her reliance on and love for etiquette, even if tiresome, seems like a means of self-defense. She desperately wishes to remain respectable and safe, yet barely has the means to do so. Her self-image is all she has. She is a survivor, and she had quiet strength and sometimes, a spark of something more. They all don't have to be feisty misses, do they? And come on, I'm sorry, but hot blonde Ninjas rock.

In summation, this is an excellent read, and a definite change from the usual. It may be slow at first, but it definitely pulls you in. Good story, good characters, sexy sex. And great writing. I will now be reading Ms. Kinsale's entire back catalog. Next up, Flowers From the Storm. I also read Kiss Me,Annabel by Eloisa James, which was a pleasant read. If you like James, you'll like it. However, she's walking a very fine line with some of these characters, concerning likeability. The next title is to be called "Taming the Duke," but I highly hope Imogen gets a smackdown, hopefully by Rafe (fingers crossed). Will I ever get back to "Blow Me Down?" I just picked up 10 for $10 at the Used Bookstore, so either "Flowers from the Storm" or a double shot of pointy stakes by Rosemary Laurey is up next. Sorry, virtual pirates.