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!