Aug 25 2011 12:30pm

For My Reading Heart: The Brilliance of Laura Kinsale

Flowers from the Storm by Laura KinsaleBack 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.

For My Lady’s Heart by Laura KinsaleKinsale 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

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1. SuzanneG
Ah, Danielle...thank you for articulating how I have felt about Kinsale's works for years. She is my favorite author and I love that her stories are not interchangeable with her other stories or that of any other author. She is creative and really brings her characters to life, so much that they feel like real people, not just characters in a story. She is truly a wonderful and amazing author.
Danielle Monsch
2. DanielleMonsch
Laura Kinsale is one I can talk about for hours. I love a lot of authors (there are so many good authors out there!) but I am only a geeked-out uber-fangirl almost-stalker for Kinsale. She leaves all the rest of us in the dust.

We are not worthy.
3. SuzanneG
We're like Wayne & Garth with Aerosmith...(bowing down) "We're not worthy...We're not worthy". I agree 100%!
Danielle Monsch
4. DanielleMonsch
Should we take a road trip lip-syncing to some Queen? Rock Opera rules!
5. Vonda Sinclair
OMG well-put, Danielle! I'm a major Kinsale fangirl myself! NO ONE can write the way she does. It's magical! Flowers from the Storm is my favorite and so is The Shadow and the Star. Amazing!
6. SuzanneG
I'm ready to you think we can rent a 1976 Pacer (to make the vision complete, ya know)?
7. Karenmc
Excellent observations! I became quite giddy the other day when I realized that FFTS was available in ebook. Now I have it with me at all times on my iThing.
Danielle Monsch
8. DanielleMonsch
@Vonda - Always happy to meet another fangirl! I feel the need to spread the word on Laura Kinsale. While she did have a release last year with "Lessons in French", she hasn't had a consistent output since late '90's, and I want to make sure that those who are a bit young to have remembered her from that time are introduced to her now.

@SuzanneG - I don't see why not!
Danielle Monsch
9. DanielleMonsch
@Karenmc - I've noticed that a lot of her backlist has gone up on the digital sites, which is fantastic! I will say I wish she had better covers for some of them. I don't think they reflect the quality of the book itself.
10. Annabel Joseph
Me me me me me! I'm a Laura Kinsale fangirl! I actually found this post because in my uber-fangirl almost-stalkdom I subscribed to her Twitter feed. Yes, I will read anything she writes, even her tweets! The first LK I read was The Shadow and the Star, followed by Flowers from the Storm. HA! I have the same edition, with the cheesy Fabio cover. I read the back and thought, hmm, a hero having a stroke. Sounds lame. But about ten pages in I was completely hooked and it became one of my fave books of all time. OH, Jerveaulx. I want you. Then I read For My Lady's Heart and Shadowheart and then I started to hate her because no one should be able to write that powerfully. grumble grumble. No, I lie. I LOVE HER!!!! I've read all of hers and I can't pick my favorite. I have like, eight favorites. My current favorite favorite is Midsummer Moon, which seems to get better each time I read it. Thanks for writing this piece, Dani. I wholeheartedly agree with it all.
Danielle Monsch
11. DanielleMonsch
@Annabel - I'm such a fangirl that I giggled like a schoolgirl around her first crush when Laura Kinsale tweeted me! Then I had to call and tell my husband :)

For me, the "Favorite" is a tie between Flowers from the Storm and For My Lady's Heart and I would argue to my final breath there are no two finer books in the Romance genre.

Shadow and the Star and Prince of Midnight still slay me and leave me an emotional heap upon the carpet.

While not her best work, Uncertain Magic has this unusual mix of drama, humor and magic that I've never found in any other work and I find charming. If there was ever a book that could be said to have 'realistic magic', it would be this one.

And finally, My Sweet Folly. While I think that book on the whole had it's ups and downs and would not be considered among her finest work, those first several pages where you have the letter correspondence had such power that by the end, you were laid flat with heart racing over what was going to happen to these two.
12. Annabel Joseph
You know, I've been wanting to read My Sweet Folly again. That's one of the few I've only read once (as opposed to For My Lady's Heart which I've read about one jillion times).

I liked very much it the first time, and I'm sure I will find a bunch more things to love during the second read.
Danielle Monsch
13. DanielleMonsch
@Annabel Of course I mean it's a s0-so Laura Kinsale offering, which means it is about a thousand times better than anything I will ever write in this life.

It's all about context :)

I'm with you about re-reading some of her books that I didn't find as powerful as For My Lady's Heart or Shadow and the Star.

The problem for me is Laura Kinsale is not an author I can read every week, every month... heck, every three to six months! Her books are so powerful it's impossible to read them back-to-back. So once I've had a little time to absorb and get in the mood to read Laura Kinsale again, it's been long enough that I want to reread yet again my favorites.
14. Annabel Joseph
Yeppers. I know what you mean. But then when I read other stuff in between I'm like, yah, this is okay but this author is no Laura Kinsale.

I've read a few Jo Beverley's that came close, and one Judith McNaught. I haven't actually read as widely as I might have in the historical genre because so much of it just isn't up to par after LKs books. Darn you, Laura Kinsale! I hate you for ruining romance for me!

No, no! I love you!!!! write more!!
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