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REVIEW: The Hidden Heart by Laura Kinsale

Dear Ms. Kinsale,

For a first time effort, this one isn’t bad. Not as good as your later books that I’ve read but enjoyable and worth the time. It also gives the love story of Tess and Gryf who appear again in the perennial favorite “The Shadow and The Star.”

hiddenheart2┬áLady Tess Collier’s widowed father died in the Amazon jungle leaving her to the care of Mr. Taylor, an old family friend. But as Tess has vowed to her father that she’ll return to England and seek a husband and Taylor can’t leave to act as her protector and guide, he asks (and essentially blackmails) Gryphon Meridon (because of his blockade running for the South during the American Civil War) to not only sail her back on his ship but stay in London to watch over her til she’s married.

Gryf has no choice but to follow orders as he can’t afford to turn down the pay. He has a history of his own, being the sixth Marquess of Ashland. When he was twelve, his family was slaughtered by South Seas pirates leaving him with only their clipper ship and a crewmate. After a long torturous journey, he arrives in England to find that his title has been usurped and he has to run for his life. For 17 years he’s lived on that same ship. Now he finds that he’s accepted the job to screen suitors for the woman he has fallen in love with at first sight.

But that screening goes haywire and Gryf and Tess find themselves lost in the cut throat world of British high society where plenty of people will try to use them. When the dust settles, Gryf and Tess know they’re in love but lies, feelings of betrayal and grief separate them. Tess to marry a man who has hidden cruelties that will almost break her and Gryf to bury his anguish at sea.

Months later Taylor rescues Tess, an annulment is filed for and Tess goes out in search of the man she loves and who she thinks loves her. After finding him and sailing to Tahiti, they marry but Gryf is too wounded by past loses to fully commit and Tess is snatched by a villain from her past. When Gryf heads back to save her, murder awaits and a possible hangman’s noose. Can she save him and save their love?

The book is actually much better than the above melodrama would lead me to believe had I just read it and not the book. Flashes of your subtle humor are there along with the beginnings of the descriptive style that I love from you. A dip into wounded soul territory pads out the book for 20 more pages causing it to drag at the end a bit. I would have wished that Gryf would have realized earlier that life and love are too precious to waste but then the book would have ended too soon.

I liked that Tess didn’t go through London society acting like a wild Amazon hoyden just to create havoc. And that Gryf flipped through his complete collection of Jane Austen books before his first society dinner in years in order to bush up on his manners. I had hoped that the dark side of Tess’s marriage would have been told a bit more but we see enough to know it was awful. I think that you told more of the brutality of Tess’s first marriage in TS&TS. But when I read that, I just thought you were giving the “highlights” so to speak and that this book would delve into it on a first hand basis more. Especially where Samuel was concerned. I was also looking for Tess and Gryf to find Samuel by the end and rescue him as TS&TS relates.

The parts in Tahiti are fun and reading it on a rainy day makes me wish to be there right now. One thing that made me roll my eyes was when Tess first appears in the story after having come back up the River Negro. I’ve read a book called “Up the Orinoco” and there is almost no way she could arrive looking as good as she did (even though she’s described as bedraggled). That book put the fear of God into me about any flights of fancy to ever travel through the Amazon River Basin. No way, no how. The descriptions of prison life are enough to make eating baloney sandwiches while wearing pink jumpsuits sound like a party.

Still, there is enough to enjoy and like about this book (especially the legalities of how Gryf gets saved and the way Isadora finally breaks down his resolve to cut himself off emotionally) for me to give it a B. I also wonder how many frequent sailor miles these two rack up over the course of the story.

~Jayne

*This book is currently on sale for $2.99

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

11 Comments

  1. Dabney
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 09:39:49

    Thanks for this. I do love her later books–my favorite is “Flowers from the Storm.” I’ll check this one out.

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  2. Robin/Janet
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 11:46:25

    I have a soft spot for this book, perhaps because Tess is one of my favorite Kinsale heroines, in large part because of her secondary (but IMO very powerful) role in The Shadow and the Star. I love that we get to see her in both books, in such different circumstances but so clearly the same woman.

    I also LOVED the reunion scene between Gryf and Tess at the end. For me, Gryf is a softler, gentler version of Sheridan Drake from Seize the Fire, and watching him break down at the end of THH was so cathartic and emotionally moving for me. I always wondered whether a guy like Sheridan could ever truly be happy in life, but Gryf definitely seemed capable of that, and when we see him, years later in TSATS, it feels absolutely consistent to me, in part because I was so convinced by the resolution in THH.

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  3. Jayne
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 12:00:50

    @Robin/Janet: Her role in TS&TS is what made me want to read this book. I know it’s got more of a “standard Avon Historical from the 1990s” vibe going rather than being like her later books but I enjoyed it then and I still liked it when I did a refresher a few days ago.

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  4. Robin/Janet
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 13:47:50

    @Jayne: As you said, it’s pretty good for a first book, although I totally agree with you about Tess’s idealized appearance after her Amazonian journey. I’ll have to do a re-read of this, as well, since I picked it up on Amazon in digital recently. I remember not loving the scene on the ship when Tess was wearing Gryf’s shirt, but I don’t even remember why. Yeah, definitely time for a re-read.

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  5. Janine
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 15:35:26

    I liked this book, but it doesn’t have the emotional intensity of Kinsale’s later works. The reunion scene is wonderful, I agree. I read The Shadow and the Star first, and found both Gryf and Tess more compelling in that book.

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  6. Alyson
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 16:46:50

    “That book put the fear of God into me about any flights of fancy to ever travel through the Amazon River Basin.”

    :D I felt the same way about River of Doubt, about Teddy Roosevelt’s expedition.

    I’ve loved all the Kinsales I’ve read, but haven’t read this one. Gryf using Austen for an ettiquette manual sounds like the vulnerable, endearing moments I adore about her books.

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  7. LeeF
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 18:15:48

    OK, OK- I am loaded up on Kinsale- 3 waiting on my Kindle while reading books that are due back to the library. I love getting some classic romances for such a good price- thanks for the heads up.

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  8. SonomaLass
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 19:05:35

    This is a Kinsale that I haven’t read. The Shadow and the Star is a favorite, and I didn’t know Tess and Gryf had their own book! Thanks, Jayne.

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  9. Kaetrin
    Jul 19, 2012 @ 00:37:37

    I confuse this one and For My Lady’s Heart – too many hearts!

    I read Flowers from the Storm first (loved) and then The Shadow and The Star came out and I read that (liked but did not love) and glommed on her backlist which then included Tess and Gryf’s story. I remember enjoying it but not a lot else sadly. I have so many great books on my shelves and so little time for re-reads – but there are a few Kinsales that are on my list for that when I find the time.

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  10. Des Livres
    Jul 19, 2012 @ 00:59:31

    They have pink dolphins in the Amazon. Just sayin’.

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  11. Anna V
    Jul 19, 2012 @ 06:23:58

    And how I love that in Australia we can pay more for the kindle version than we would pay for the print version! That makes no sense whatsoever.

    ReplyReply

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