Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Prince of Romances!

by Anna Campbell

If you're a denizen of Romancelandia, you would know that one of the most beloved authors in the genre, Laura Kinsale, releases a new book in February 2010 called LESSONS IN FRENCH.

If you don't know, clearly you're trapped under a rock with a brutish shapeshifter who won't let you check your favorite blogs on the Internet until you admit your destiny is to help him save the world from Satan's flesh-eating incubi!

It's my great pleasure to interview Laura here on Thursday, 4th February, so I hope you'll all pop over and say hello.

In the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to look at one of Laura's older books in preparation for the Dishies talking about LESSONS IN FRENCH closer to its release date.

In the early 90s, I hadn't read historical romance for quite a while. The genre was quite hard to find in Australia after the boom and bust of the 80s romance market. I'd been reading Harlequins and sex and shopping books and mysteries lots of general fiction and nonfiction. My list of favorite books still included older historical romances, but I'd just lost interest in the genre because I'd been disappointed with the books I COULD buy here. Remember, this is well before the Internet was available to help me discover great books I otherwise wouldn't hear of. I wasn't even writing historical romance at the time - this was back when I was trying to get Harlequin to publish me as a Presents writer!

Then one fateful day I walked into a bookshop in Coolangatta, one of our seaside resorts, and discovered a wall of American historical romances by authors I'd never heard of. I still think the angels were guiding my hand that day. Because I bought two books to while away my holiday afternoon. One was by Loretta Chase and one was THE PRINCE OF MIDNIGHT by Laura Kinsale. Both authors still hit the list of my top three romances. (Just for interest's sake, the other book is A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS by Eva Ibbotson.)

By the way, this is the cover of the Avon edition I bought (and still own - it's the one I read for this review). Doesn't that take you right back to the days of Fabio and his flowing hair and manly chest?

The moment I started THE PRINCE OF MIDNIGHT, I was hooked. I ended up ordering the rest of Laura's books from the U.S. - and remember, this meant actually writing to the publisher! I knew I'd entered a rich universe with a writer unlike any other.

It's always slightly frightening returning to a book you remember with such love, but the minute I picked up THE PRINCE OF MIDNIGHT this week, I immediately understood why I'd fallen so instantly in love with Laura Kinsale's writing.

Here's the first paragraph:

The lad had the deep, burning eyes of a zealot. S.T. Maitland shifted uncomfortably on his wooden bench and glanced again over his wine across the murky depths of the tavern. It was damnably disconcerting to find that measuring stare still fixed on him, as if he were up for admission to heaven and not particularly likely to get in.

Just in those few words, you get a taste of Laura Kinsale's extraordinary style. The concrete reality of her settings and her characters - you can picture those people and that tavern. The wonderful world-weary tone of the hero, ex-highwayman and would-be painter S.T. Maitland. The slightly ironic edge to the voice. The complexity of the vocabulary and sentence structure. Whenever people start banging on about how banal and pedestrian romance novels are, I always mention Kinsale. 'Banal' and 'pedestrian' are the last adjectives you apply to her work!

The 'lad' is actually Lady Leigh Strachan who seeks the help of the famous Seigneur du Minuit to avenge herself on the truly horrible villain who has killed her family and stolen her home. That's another quality of Kinsale's writing - the stakes are always breathtakingly high and when you talk tortured characters, she wrote the manual. More than that, she describes the consequences of what these people go through in heart-wrenching detail. Nobody gets off with easy, sentimental solutions in a Kinsale!

Leigh travels alone across Europe to find S.T., but when she does, he's not the dashing, invincible figure of legend. Instead, he's a man who's damaged, alone, betrayed, deaf in one ear and suffering from assorted other physical ailments that make him an unlikely avenger.

But S.T. finds salvation in his quest to help Leigh. It's a difficult, erratic salvation, but nonetheless, her refusal to let him get away with his usual charming tricks makes him confront his past and the man he is. Falling in love is no easy journey for him, nor is it for Leigh. It's magical to watch their gradual, rocky rapprochement as the book continues along far from predictable paths.

I dare you not to fall in love with S.T., like every woman he meets in the progress of the novel. Laura Kinsale does a great line in wounded romantics as heroes. Trev in LESSONS IN FRENCH falls into this category (although LIF is much more lighthearted than TPOM) or one of my favorites of hers, Sherry in the brilliant SEIZE THE FIRE. These men are usually gifted beyond normal, but they've learned to mistrust their gifts and even more, their essential charisma. Self-doubt and self-deprecation are strangely appealing qualities in a Laura Kinsale hero!

Not only the ladies find S.T. irresistible. S.T. has a pet wolf called Nemo who's an essential part of the story and some of the most compelling scenes in the book involve S.T. training horses everybody else has given up on. Of course, Leigh is in many ways a wounded creature too when she comes into his orbit. The same patience and kindness he shows his animals helps him to bring her back from a black hell of hatred and revenge.

And the ending? Honestly, the last 40 pages of so of this book are absolutely breathtaking. They break your heart, then leave you smiling at the end. I closed THE PRINCE OF MIDNIGHT with a great, misty sigh of happiness and the urge to re-read every other Laura Kinsale on the bookcase!

59 comments:

  1. Anna

    What a wonderful post I have heard so much about Laura Kinsale and I have some of her books here that I have picked up (two last week)
    Flowers From The Storm
    Seize The Fire
    The Dream Hunter
    The Hidden Heart
    Uncertain Magic
    I need to get reading some of these and I will be ordering Lessons In French and obviously need to keep looking for more
    Thanks Anna

    Have Fun
    Helen

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  2. Hey!

    What a wonderful title..."Lessons in French"!!

    I finally bought "Flowers From the Storm" because it's on a lot of people's top ten romances lists.

    Helen...congrats on your win! Lucky undies, indeed! :o)

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  3. Okay Anna, you've sold me! Not just LESSONS IN FRENCH but the back list as well!
    I'm looking forward to your interview.

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  4. Can't wait to read Lessons in French. Great post, Anna!

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  5. What a wonderful post, Anna. You may talk glowingly about the wonderful writing of Laura Kinsale, but that review was delicious! You certainly know how to use our language brilliantly and expressively yourself!

    And, you're a wicked woman - I didn't read much historical romance (other than western historicals - which I love!) until you and our other Bandita historical authors got me hooked. You then turned me on to Loretta Chase and now I can see I shall have to seek out Laura Kinsale too. The TBR mountain is already groaning and the Amazon pigeon just passed out!

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  6. Your review makes me want to reread Prince of Midnight, Anna. But first I'm going to read Lessons in French, which should arrive at my door this week. I am so excited about a new Kinsale after all this time!

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  7. I'm in love with it already and all I read was your review! Now I have to go do a backlist search and everything.
    Enablers I tell you, all of you just keep feeding my addiction.

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  8. I've been hearing such great things about Laura Kinsale and I cannot wait to pick up one of her books! Thanks for the great post, Anna.

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  9. Ack, I missed all the fun here last week! Had to finish an important school project (which i have finished last night, thank God!) and didn't have the time to check here regularly. But I'm sooooo happy to be back again!

    I've first heard of Laura Kinsale over at RBTB a month or so ago when we were talking about the not-kick-ass heroine. It was so much fun and I instantly fell in love with only so much as the synopsis of LIF. I'm so looking forward to its release!

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  10. Anna, what a lovely blog! I must admit, although I've read some of Laura Kinsale's books, I've never read THE PRINCE OF MIDNIGHT. I will be getting it ASAP! You know how I love a tortured hero! *G*

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  11. Anna! Thank you for such a wonderful summary of an "oldie." Someone mentioned Loretta Chase in the comments, and if Lessons in French is as charming as her work, I'll be very pleased. That's just what I want it to be.

    Laura Kinsale

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  12. Wow, with just one paragraph you've gotten me hooked. Now i want to go out and find The Prince of Midnight. ^^ I'm going to have to look for Lessons in French as well. Wallmart i've discovered has quite a nice array of new releases and is sure to carry it once it's out.

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  13. Morning All!

    Anna, thanks for another wonderful blog. I haven't read The Prince of Midnight since it was first released. A second helping sounds just right for this cold, wet winter day.

    I'm looking forward to your interview with Laura on February 4th!

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  14. Hi Laura! Thanks for stopping by. We're all very excited about your upcoming visit with us on Feb. 4th.

    I've read an advance copy of Lessons in French and I can say that it is indeed very charming. I'm looking forward to buying my own "keeper" copy once it hits the stores on Tuesday.

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  15. Helen, you have so much reading enjoyment ahead with that list from Kinsale!

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  16. PinkPeony, hope you enjoy Flowers From the Storm. It's one of my all-time favorite books.

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  17. Hi Kandy! (waving)

    Hope you enjoy Lessons in French. I found it absolutely delightful!

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  18. Hi Maria! Thanks for stopping by!

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  19. Wow Anna, I must go out and get some Kinsale, what a great review. I must admit I have not read any of her books, but now I am really looking forward to getting to know her writing.

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  20. What a wonderful post, Anna. You may talk glowingly about the wonderful writing of Laura Kinsale, but that review was delicious! You certainly know how to use our language brilliantly and expressively yourself!

    VAnna, I eagerly anticipate the 24th of every month just to be able to savor Anna's delicious reviews.

    Revive that Amazon pigeon and send him on his way. You have a lot of terrific reading to catch up on!

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  21. Janga, I can't wait to hear what you think of Lessons in French!

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  22. Dianna said; Enablers I tell you, all of you just keep feeding my addiction.

    Ahh, our work here is done. :)

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  23. Thanks for stopping by, Beth! Kinsale has a lot of wonderful books out there. Hope you enjoy them!

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  24. Deb, hope you enjoy Laura's books!

    LisaK, we missed you last week!

    Jedisakora, Walmart has been doing a pretty good job of stocking romance lately...at least mine has. Hope you don't have any trouble finding Lessons in French.

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  25. *crawling out from under my rock* Well, here again, is an author I did not know of, Like Heyer, I hang my head in shame, but to my defense, I only came to the romance genre in the last couple of years, amazing considering my advanced age.

    S.T. sounds like a hero right up my alley, Anna, you know I love those tortured, damaged, deeply passionate, talented men.
    Your review has made me hungry for more.
    Thanks again for opening my eyes to someone 'new'...to me, anyway.

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  26. Anna, I've never read The Prince of Midnight, and now I must. Thanks for the wonderful review.

    OK, 'fess up. Which Loretta Chase was it? Lord of Scoundrels? Knaves Wager? That little peek into your writing/reading past was fun!

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  27. Helen, I'm still shocked you've never read her. You've read EVERYONE! ;-) I think you'll love her. See if you can find the Shadow and the Star too - it's one of my faves. Hey, and congratulations on winning the day 4 prize in the Bandita invasion! I loved your posts.

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  28. Jen, you'll love Flowers from the Storm. It's very interesting to read compared to more recent books. Definitely a big roast dinner of a book! And keep the tissues handy. I always cry when I read it. Did you see I reviewed it for RNTV?

    http://www.romancenovel.tv/2008/10/23/anna-campbell%E2%80%99s-review-of-flowers-from-the-storm-by-laura-kinsale/

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  29. Hey, Kandy, really surprised you haven't read her either. She's amazing. It's a completely different universe to any other romance writer I know.

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  30. Thanks, Maria. Are you already a Kinsale fan? You strike me as someone who would be! I'm so glad we've got a new book to look forward to.

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  31. Anna, the Amazon pigeon has written me a formal letter of complaint now he has to go all the way to Cambridge in the UK to deliver your overstuffed parcels. He's seriously thinking of joining the union! Or getting pigeon towed. Hmm, sorry about that! I'm always really delighted when people who aren't historical fans become historical fans - there's such a wealth of talent in the genre and some amazing new voices coming out at the moment too. Laura Kinsale is in a class of her own. Looking forward to hearing what you think. And by the way, thank you for saying you loved the review. I had so much to say about this one, it just flowed!

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  32. Janga, I knew you'd be a Kinsale fan! She's so dark and delicious, isn't she? And man, she puts those characters through a tough time! Samuel in the Shadow and the Star breaks my heart every time. It's wonderful to have a new Kinsale to look forward to.

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  33. Bwahahahaha, Dianna. Welcome to the dark side! I'm so glad the review persuaded you to try Kinsale. She's absolutely extraordinary. And hey, it's better to be addicted to books than beer. Hmm, looks at towering TBR pile, and says she's not 100% sure about that.

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  34. Hey, thanks for swinging by, Deb. Grab a Kinsale and grab a box of tissues! They're a really emotional read! Thanks for saying you enjoyed the review.

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  35. Lisa, what a pity the dreaded real life interfered with your attendance at our invasion. We had a ball! Seriously, if you get a chance read the vignettes and the continuations. They're hilarious! All our winners were very worthy of their prizes.

    Great news you're looking forward to LIF. I've been crazy about this coming out ever since I heard a rumour about a year ago. Any day now!

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  36. Gannon, thanks for saying that about the blog. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. It was actually the easiest review I've ever written - the book itself is so rich, there were a million things to talk about. Hope you enjoy POM! You'll adore ST. I sure did ;-) And LK does tortured heroes like nobody else!

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  37. Laura, wow, lovely to see you! Clearly, you can see I'm a fan. Really looking forward to our interview early next month.

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  38. Jedisakora, I've noticed SourceBooks are doing some of the old titles too - that cover at the top is from the new release of TPOM. You can see just why I was hooked right from the beginning, can't you? And it only gets better! I love the complex interaction of her characters - it makes the story so rich.

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  39. PJ, I have all the LKs on my keeper shelf but I hadn't re-read this one either. I didn't want to see if the magic had gone. Clearly it hadn't! I love the way she writes - it's so evocative.

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  40. Beth, you really astonish me - I think she'd be right up your alley. And Flowers from the Storm regularly hits the top two or three spots on best romance EVAH polls. It's an amazing story. Definitely pick her up - you'll love her! Thanks for saying you enjoyed the review - as I said, this one kinda just wrote itself.

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  41. Awwww, PJ, I'm blushing here. Actually it's been wonderful, both here and at RNTV, to revisit some of my favorites. I'm always so busy trying to cut down the TBR pile, it's wonderful to go back to the classics now and then. And honestly, you don't get much more classic in romance than a Laura Kinsale.

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  42. Drew, I 100% guarantee that you will end up a Kinsale junkie. I say that knowing your tastes after our discussions. Seriously, run and get her backlist! You'll love her. Hmm, any moment now I'll offer you a money back guarantee. I must stop myself before I become so rash ;-)

    And congratulations on your win at the Bandita invasion. Your entries were brilliant!

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  43. Vanesssa, don't you think that was amazing? After that long break and a lot of disappointments, I could have just given up on the genre all together if I'd picked up something so-so. And I've got to say both Kinsale and Chase influenced my writing, even if just to show me how great a historical romance could be in a brilliant writer's hands. The Chase was The Lion's Daughter, her first single title. It's a big, long feast of a book with a cast of thousands and gorgeous witty writing. And most of it is set in Albania of all things!

    I can't believe you haven't read Kinsale. Seriously, you'll love her!

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  44. Anna said The Chase was The Lion's Daughter, her first single title. It's a big, long feast of a book with a cast of thousands and gorgeous witty writing. And most of it is set in Albania of all things!

    Wonderful book! It's one of my favorites from Chase!

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  45. PJ, it's interesting looking at the differences between those older books and the newer ones. These BIG romances from the 90s are longer and have more characters and often take place in exotic locations. The Prince of Midnight, for example, starts in France. I think there's some wonderful romances being written now, don't get me wrong. But it really felt like I was sinking my teeth into a big juicy steak when I read this Kinsale. And there was so much historical detail too.

    As an aside, I remember visiting Osterley Park in 2004. It's the setting for a really pivotal scene towards the end. And even though I'd only read POM once years before, I remember looking at the chairs that get a mention in the story and getting a thrill. Those were ST's chairs!!!! And re-reading it now, I could exactly picture where each moment was taking place. There's something magical about that.

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  46. I think there's some wonderful romances being written now, don't get me wrong. But it really felt like I was sinking my teeth into a big juicy steak when I read this Kinsale. And there was so much historical detail too.

    I know what you mean, Anna. You don't find many books of that type being published these days. When I do find one it's exactly like you describe, "sinking my teeth into a big juicy steak." I remember feeling that way when I read Meredith Duran's debut, The Duke of Shadows in 2008.

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  47. I've got that on my TBR pile - Sarah Mayberry recommended it in the strongest terms ;-) Must drag it out and read it.

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  48. Terrific review, Anna. I've not read Laura Kinsale either, but am already planning to buy Lessons in French based on all of the positive buzz it's been getting. Looks like I need to look into her backlist, too! Can't wait until your interview on the 4th!

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  49. Andrea, it was such a treat for me to have the opportunity to interview one of my favorite writers. Thanks, Dishies! You rock! Glad you liked the review - definitely check out the backlist as well as Lessons in French. I think LIF is going to get LK a whole new raft of admirers!

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  50. Anna,
    I've never heard of sourcebooks. Thanks for pointing out the site too me.

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  51. Jedisakora, Aunty Cindy (Loucinda McGary) with the Bandits is published by Sourcebooks. And they've also done some really beautiful Georgette Heyer reissues. Well worth checking out! Oh, dear, this mightn't be good for your credit card... Snort!

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  52. Anna,
    My credit card has already had a nice workout this week at waldenbooks (Mine is sadly closing and they had books 65& off. I believe i bought $57 worth of new books there) so i'm putting this one in my to-read pile and saving the site. ^^ Bunnies get cranky if mommy doesn't have money to buy their veggies.

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  53. Hmm, bunnies or books? Now, that's a hard decision. How sad your local bookshop is closing!

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  54. PJ said...

    Ahh, our work here is done. :)

    uh huh, only you guys aren't done, that is the problem, you just keep putting temptation in my way and I can resist anything but temptation!...LOL

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  55. Anna Campbell said...
    Bwahahahaha, Dianna. Welcome to the dark side!-----Hmm, looks at towering TBR pile, and says she's not 100% sure about that.

    Exactly so! Someday I am going to gather all of my books in one room and take a picture. After you all tell on me to those house cleaning people and they come over to clean up my act, I will be a millionaire from all my books that were sold.........and then I will go get more books..LOL

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  56. Dianna, do you think they might classify us as hoarders? Snort! I got organised over Christmas and put some of the books in the bedroom in the dressing room. Yeah, right, that really makes a huge difference!

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  57. Thanks, Dishies and everyone, for a great day discussing a truly great novel. Don't forget to check round on the 4th Feb for my interview with Laura Kinsale.

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  58. I love the older cover on your edition of Prince of Midnight. I get very attached to the cover of whatever book I'm reading. Love the curve of the horse's neck and the strength implied in the rider's control over the animal.

    I haven't read Laura Kinsale yet...but there's always tomorrow...

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  59. Julia, Julia, Julia, read her. I'm pretty sure she'll be right up your alley from what I've seen of the stuff you like. Yeah, I think that old cover really has clout - it's certainly the cover I think of when I think of the book. And the blue is really beautiful in the flesh, even in this old, worn-our version.

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