Saturday, December 26, 2009

Laura Kinsale - The A Team

It's a good day, People. I'm wrapped in my Christmas quilt - sipping a Dark and Stormy - while the tree lights twinkle on a mild evening. Could anything make this day better? Oh, it appears I'm surrounded by piles of Laura Kinsale books, so yes!

After many requests from Mr Musacha I'm finally getting to my mass review of Kinsale novels. Since I've spent the last two months completely immersed in reading and rereading (and rereading) her titles it's about time I got around to saying a few words.

First off, there's no such thing as a bad Kinsale book. These things are like crack and just when you think you're free it's suddenly "holy shitballs I didn't notice that the first time around!" I really think it takes two readings to truly understand her characters and sometimes three. It's part of the crack - you're reading going WHY WHY WHY is this character doing that and then it finally comes clear at the end and you have to start reading all over again so as to analyze what you missed the first time around now that motivations have become clear. Ah, lovely!

Within the awesomeness, though, there is a bit of variation. So to divide the novels (and this post) up in a manageable way I'm doing A, B, and C Teams. (anybody else having a flashback to middle school sports?) So without further ado let's get started on the largest of the teams:

The A Team (listed in no particular order).

Flowers from the Storm - A rake of a Duke with mad math skilz suffers a stroke-like ailment resulting in loss of physical coordination and possibly his sanity. In the hospital, Maddy - who has a previous connection with the Duke through the mad math skilz of her father - becomes his nurse. When his family is ready to give up on him she believes he can recover and works hard to assist him in that.

I love these two characters and their relationship with each other. Kinsale portrays the helpless frustration of Jervaulx to such a degree that I felt my limbs stiffening in sympathy when he was trying to perform simple tasks. Further, Maddy's struggle to reconcile her Quaker upbringing with her feelings for the Duke (and his lifestyle) is easily understood and, more importantly, maintains a believable tension between our protags. It's easy to see how the two would see problems in a totally different way and so imagine completely different solutions for those problems. Watching them find a middle ground upon which to connect has brought me back a few times for a re-read.

This book also has one of my all-time favorite lines (quoted loosely): Christian smiled. This was something perfectly familiar - a woman who ought not but very likely would.

The Prince of Midnight - Leigh has lost her family and seeks the skilz that will help her exact revenge. To this end she seeks out the Prince of Midnight, a famous highwayman of the Robin Hood variety. Unbeknownst to her he has suffered a debilitating injury leaving him depressed and isolated. Despite his injury, and Leigh's obvious scorn, the PoM is determined to help her.

I love this book because I fell for the PoM right away - and damn hard - and couldn't figure out what the fuck was up with Leigh. How could she resist this guy? In fact, I was so hardcore fawning over this dude that upon the first reading I felt Kinsale was making Leigh start fights just for the sake of some tension. But that's the beauty of Kinsale, what is sometimes not clear right away to the reader becomes clear as you get to know the characters better. Leigh is way smarter than me! I was totally taken in by the image and the dream world that the PoM maintains but Leigh was one smart cookie. She knew what kind of man he was and the life he would choose over his declarations of love. But since this is the romance world and we know we're getting our HEA, rest assured that our hero comes to see the unsustainability of his dream world. [Spoilerish, highlight if interested: And I love what Leigh needs from our hero. When she asks at the end for him to give her joy again I had a huge smile. It seems like such a small thing but Leigh was so torn after losing her family and the PoM was just the person to revive her joie de vivre].

Seize the Fire - Olympia, raised in England, is the rightful heir to a small kingdom whose people seek independence from the monarchy. She's happy to abdicate her throne but wants to ensure the freedom of her people rather than a family member from taking over the throne. As luck would have it, an acclaimed navy captain has returned home and is her neighbor. She goes on a visit to ask for his assistance, little does she know that he's dead broke, not much of a hero and has no scruples about swindling a princess.

This book is 500 kinds of intriguing because our hero insists on acting decidedly unheroic. He's seen more battles than he ever wished to, knows them for the ugly things they are, and is suffering from PTSD. In fact, he spends most of his time trying to avoid trouble (like a revolution sponsored by the individual being rebelled against) which becomes difficult when Olympia, who is completely naive about the world, trundles after trouble with the innocence of a baby going after shiny objects.

One could argue that our heroine is not much better. She's pretty meek and her naivete makes her gullible but she has a goal and the ability to observe what is going on around her. She is so out of her element that she makes plenty of mistakes and learns slowly but when able she will try to seize a moment to her advantage.

I love this book but I find it a hard read. The weighty subject matter and the challenges our protags face (not least of which are internal) make my little heart ache at times. But the special chemistry between Olympia and Drake make it worth it and I can't stop reading because I just have to get to the HEA.

For My Lady's Heart - Lady Melanthe is trying to orchestrate a daring escape. She's playing her greatest enemies against each other, lying to them both and just trying to reach her home alive. The Green Knight is an accomplished fighter and admired by those around him. When Melanthe sets him against his liege lord he is torn between the loyalties he has set for himself. Banished by his lord, he now finds himself tasked with Melanthe's safe travel but he has no knowledge of her dangerous plans.

Getting to know the Green Knight is an especially compelling part of this book. He seems quite the simpleton compared to the complexity of Melanthe's life and history. But as we get to know him his life and history are as intriguing as that of Melanthe but in a completely different way.

There's nothing fantastical about this book but it holds the most fairy tale like aspect for me of all of Kinsale's books (even when compared to Uncertain Magic - I know, riddle me that!). The English dialogue incorporating Middle English whenever possible lends quite an atmosphere to the reading. Additionally, the Green Knight's code of chivalry puts me in mind of fairy tales and knightly deeds. And now I need to go dig out my copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for a reread.

The Shadow and the Star - Leda's got a bit of a problem. She's an orphan who was taken in for a gently-bred raising but now finds herself without money or the ability to find a respectable job. Luckily (?) an enigmatic gentlemen (who's done a little creepy night prowling) offers her a job as his secretary. She's aware of the endless opportunities for improper interactions and works very hard to avoid them (as she knows full well her erstwhile guardian would have expected) but Samuel practically thumbs his nose at propriety consistently making Leda uncomfortable.

Even if this book wasn't awesome in all ways it would still launch immediately to the A Team for the simple fact that our hero is a Whitey McWhiterson NINJA in Victorian England. NINJA! in Victorian. England. And it works! How is that even possible? Oh it is!

Samuel's history makes for an extremely hard adulthood. He has immense shame over his past and the way he envisions "making up" for something that is not his fault is a little bizarre. He's world-weary and completely naive all at the same time (and a ninja, don't forget that). Wonderfully contrasted by this is Leda. I've heard a lot of people don't care much for Leda as a heroine but I think she kicks all kinds of ass. Her determined straightforwardness and infuriatingly strict etiquette made me laugh out loud more times than I can count. On the surface this makes her pretty simple but like all good romances she's the perfect - the only - heroine that can match our hero. She's loyal, steadfast, observant, sympathetic, loving, honest, and surprisingly flexible when it comes to those around her. You wouldn't think it at first due to her Miss Manners attitude but it's absolutely true. I can see how these characteristics might not come through as the most exciting but if you remember Sammy from The Hidden Heart you know that Leda is exactly what he would need.

And that's my A Team. Check back for the B and C Team post and, in the meantime, find yourself a Kinsale novel to read; it's time well-spent!


  1. This is awesome!

    In the next section (the B team) it'd be awesome if you gave some brief comments about why the books failed to make the A team.

    Also, it seemed from your comments like The Shadow and the Star might have been your favorite. True or false?

  2. I very much tried to pick a favorite but it just ends up being like a carousel of "yeah but's." As in, do you think Seize the Fire is the best? Yeah...but then what about in the Prince of Midnight when Maitland just can't figure out what the eff is up with Leigh? Oh so is that the best one? Yeah...but then you miss out on the NINJA IN ENGLAND! You can see how it would just go on and on.

    Never fear on the B/C Teams, you shall have my reasons! :)