Back in the old days when Fabio was on every romance novel cover, I couldn’t resist making a purchase when I saw his windblown hair and open shirt. On this particular cover, Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm, he’s holding a few assorted wildflowers in one hand while the other is held out to the reader (with the requisite windblown hair and open shirt).
I had to check twice to verify that what I was reading was indeed a romance novel. Flowers from the Storm was simply a romance novel unlike any I had ever read.
By the time I finished the book—which took me longer than a normal romance novel—I felt worked over, the emotional journey it took me on draining me as much as any physical exertion. So of course I was on board for more Kinsale.
Her books are not easy, quick reads. Don’t read them when you can only give half your attention to the story. A Kinsale story is meant for when you are ready to turn yourself over to the experience.
Kinsale doesn’t explain anything; no information is given in easy terms or lazy language. You need to pay attention to every crumb spread throughout the book. For example, in For My Lady’s Heart, the heroine has been living with the threat of assassination for more than half her life, always looking over her shoulder. She never has any big proclamation of her love for the hero, either in dialogue or in inner monologue, but by the end of the book, there is no doubt in the reader’s mind that she loves and trusts the hero beyond anything. How? Because she sleeps when he’s around. This woman who lived most of her life with one eye open and never slept for more than a quick light doze sleeps hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep when she’s with the hero. After that revelation, any big love declaration would have been anti-climactic.
Kinsale’s research is also impeccable, and her world-building is first rate. You feel the bumps of the carriage ride, taste the sea air as you travel by ship, feel the dust coat the bottom of your skirts.
But where Kinsale shines, truly shines, is in her characterizations. Her characters are works of art. No, that’s not quite correct. Art implies static, something to be studied. Kinsale’s characters vibrate with life from the first moment you meet them on the page. There are no archetypes here. Her characters just are, showing new dimensions with every subsequent reading of her work.
And her unique plots: A story where the hero has a stroke? Or is a ninja? What about an assassin? Describing some of the plot points in a Laura Kinsale novel, for any other writer the story would fall into the ridiculous.
Are all of Kinsale’s books brilliant? Not at all, and I adore her for that. With some authors, you know you’ll love every book they write because every book they write is so similar to every other. Not Kinsale. Each book is its own journey, every character unique and whole, nothing about them a copy of any you have seen before in another Kinsale book. With every book you will find a new world never before experienced, and as with every new experience, sometimes it doesn’t work.
Laura Kinsale is a great writer. Notice I didn’t say a great historical romance writer. I didn’t say a great romance writer. I said a great writer, one who deserves to be studied, her words parsed out to learn how one person can create such majesty with words on a page. If there wasn’t such a snobbish attitude about genre fiction in general and romance in particular, Laura Kinsale would be lauded in literary circles.
And I am so grateful that I fall for Fabio’s hair and shirt combo, since it introduced me to the gorgeous prose of Laura Kinsale.
Danielle Monsch is a Romantic Geek Girl Writing in a Fantasy World. Besides torturing her poor, poor editor about her latest story, Dani likes to read manga and watch anime, debate the merits of DC vs. Marvel, and geek out over the latest and greatest romance novel offerings. Catch up with Dani on Twitter @DaniMonsch