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REVIEW: For My Lady’s Heart by Laura Kinsale

For My Lady's Heart by Laura Kinsale

It’s Not Easy Being Green – For My Lady’s Heart

This review might be a little shorter than usual, because all I really have to say about For My Lady’s Heart is “it’s awesome.”

Thanks for reading! See you next week!

Okay, I should probably say a little bit more than that, but this will be a little short because FMLH is a really dense, complex book and so I had to choose to either talk about it literally for ever, or to focus on the few things I thought I could discuss within a reasonable wordcount. FMLH tells the story of the wandering knight Ruck and the enigmatic Princess Melanthe. The book opens with Ruck escorting his probably-mentally-ill wife Isabelle to Avignon, where she intends to pledge herself to a nunnery. There he sees a mysterious woman in green (Melanthe) who later bails him out after Isabelle gives Ruck’s armour, horse, and money to an evil Bishop. The story picks up thirteen years later, when Ruck has remodelled himself into a nameless Green Knight in memory of Melanthe, who he has considered his liege ever since their meeting over a decade ago. Melanthe, meanwhile, has been widowed and is now returning to England – fleeing the murderous politics of whichever bit of Italy she had been living in. Intrigues, plagues, tournaments and murders ensue.

I don’t really have much more to say about the plot, because this is a very intricate book and I don’t have anywhere near the space to do it justice. It’s not that the story is complicated as such, just that there is an awful lot of context behind everything which – in the book – is woven into the flow of the narrative but which in a review would wind up coming out as “and then this because this, which because this, which because this and this and this and stuff stuff stuff.” Kinsale does a remarkable job of evoking a very specific sense of world without resorting to infodumping, and you get the real sense that this book isn’t just set in the generic past but at an actual time in an actual place (specifically, in the North-West of England some time in the 1360s or 1370s). I’m not sure I’ve ever read a novel (except perhaps Wolf Hall) that so well evoked a historical period without making it either unrecognisable to a present-day audience or descending into pastiche. Throughout the book it is very clear that these are not modern people, that their concerns are not modern concerns.

This sometimes means the book must walk a difficult line, because fourteenth century attitudes are pretty damned reprehensible in a lot of ways. Early on, Ruck reflects on his first marriage, and mentions that when he returned from the war and found his wife had undergone a transformative religious experience that meant she no longer wanted to have sex with him, he’d just raped her for about a week until the screaming got on his nerves. Later, when it is revealed that Isabelle was burned at the stake for heresy, Melanthe suggests that she deserved it for failing to do her duty as a wife. This is only remotely palatable because the book is at once so grounded in its period worldview and so aware of that grounding. The narrative voice is careful to neither judge the characters for their attitudes (which, while unacceptable to a modern audience, are entirely appropriate for their day) nor to condone them.

For My Lady’s Heart creates its sense of world better than most mainstream Fantasy novels I’ve read. Even compared to heavyweights like George R. R. Martin the book has a ring of authenticity that you seldom see in genre fiction. It comes from little things – like the fact that Ruck and Melanthe marry by swearing vows to each other in private because, well, you could do that back then – and from big deep-seated things, like the way that God and the soul and Heaven and Hell are treated as absolute facts of life by pretty much everybody (Ruck in particular dwells intensely on the concepts of sin and religious duty). And of course there’s the fact that half the dialogue is in Middle English (albeit slightly modified for a modern audience).

The other thing that struck me about For My Lady’s Heart was that it was one of the few books I’ve read as part of this project where I was really able to identify with the hero. In a lot of genre fiction there is a sharp division between the characters you’re supposed to identify with (the heroines in Romance, the male protagonists in about 90% of all other genre fiction) and the characters you’re supposed to fancy (the heroes in Romance, about 70% of the female characters in about 90% of all other genre fiction). A lot of the heroes I’ve encountered so far have read far more as fantasy figures or objects of desire than as characters in their own right. I should probably stress at this point that this is in no way a complaint, because that would be inordinately hypocritical given how badly female characters get treated in most of the other books I read. But it does sometimes present a barrier to identification, because it’s hard to put yourself into somebody’s head if all they think about is how much they want to shag the heroine (I had pretty much exactly this problem with Rhys in The Iron Duke). I didn’t have this problem at all in FMLH. In some ways I’m not sure why, because Ruck spends an awful lot of time thinking about how much he wants to bang Melanthe (although to be fair, I kind of think anybody would because she’s completely awesome), but I think the basic difference is that his desires are fully consistent with his personality. He’s established from the outset as an extremely sexual person who has been forced to live celibate because he believes that if he doesn’t he will literally go to hell, so it seems entirely reasonable that his desire to bonk the princess would weigh on his mind a tad.

I think it helps a lot that Ruck and Melanthe, between them, tick pretty much all of my “will never get tired of reading about this” boxes. I absolutely love characters who cling to their unswerving codes of personal honour in the face of a reality which fails to live up to their standards. I absolutely love characters who are so mired in lies and intrigues and betrayals that they have almost forgotten what truth and loyalty look like. I absolutely love it when you get both types of character in the same story and they wind up killing each other/learning valuable lessons about life and friendship/getting it on. It’s kind of how I imagine Ned Stark/Tyrion Lannister slash fic would be, although strangely nobody seems to have written any. So, yeah, it all just kind of worked for me. Ruck’s fear for his immortal soul and his struggle to keep to his principles in the face of danger and temptation acted as a powerful counterpoint to Melanthe’s fear for her physical safety, and her gradual lowering of her defences despite her instincts. The love story is integrated seamlessly into the world, the characters, and the wider conflict, so that when the two of them do finally get together it feels not only like a romantic payoff, but also like a genuine victory. Their marriage about halfway through the book represents a turning point not only because they – well – start shagging, but also because it is the point at which Melanthe begins to free herself from her past, and Ruck begins to reclaim his.

Reading For My Lady’s Heart was, for me, something of a melancholy experience. The whole book is shot through with a terrible sense of time lost or wasted, of mistakes and regrets and the spectres of the past. Ruck spends the first half of the book haunted by a wife who – unknown to him – has been dead for thirteen years. Melanthe spends it haunted by Gian Navona, the Italian nobleman who has sworn she will marry no other man. They wander an England haunted by the memory of the Black death, and when they arrive at Wolfscar, Ruck’s family home, it is the ghost of a castle. A castle that is finally restored to him by a king who is himself a shadow of what he once was. It felt to me as if the past – history itself, if you like – was like the marshlands which Ruck and Melanthe struggle across in the first half of the book: something vast, empty and impersonal in which one could easily drown and be lost forever. Ruck could easily have ended his days as a nameless knight in an empty castle. Melanthe could have fallen back under the sway of Gian Navona and never been seen again. They come together in the middle of all of this emptiness, and cling to one another with a passion that seems born, in part, out of a fear of drowning.

It is only in the closing chapters that the characters face a real threat in the present (although death by water remains an important theme). The sudden appearance of Gian Navona casts both Ruck and Melanthe adrift. Where in the earlier love scenes the reader floats easily in and out of the heads of both characters, the moment they are separated the text becomes rigorously single-viewpoint. When Ruck confronts Melanthe and Gian on the road, neither she nor the reader has any idea what he is thinking, and I at least found the sensation remarkably alienating. Suddenly we see him as he must always have appeared to his enemies – a terrifying armoured killing machine of whose intentions we cannot be certain. And we experience the same alienation when Ruck starts to receive cryptic messages from Melanthe and – having once trusted her implicitly – is now unsure if she means to save or destroy him. Strangely, the characters remain separated for almost the whole of the end of the book, reuniting only at the end of the penultimate chapter. Even more strangely, the epilogue doesn’t feature Ruck and Melanthe at all, instead focusing on Melanthe’s maidservant Cara and her reunion with her sister.

It’s surprising quite how well this works (or at least, I was surprised by it). Ruck and Melanthe’s story, ultimately, is one of escape. Escape from the past, from memories, from old fears and old enemies. At last they seem almost to escape from the text itself. In the closing pages of the final chapter, they are at last free to move forward, no longer defined by the events of the past thirteen years. And so we are free to leave them, and to turn our attention to other characters and other stories, knowing that whatever awaits Ruck and Melanthe, it will be of their own choosing.

So umm. Yeah. For My Lady’s Heart. It’s awesome.

Everything I learned about life and love from reading For My Lady’s Heart: If somebody tells you they’re a eunuch, don’t take their word for it. If somebody tells you they’re sending your wife to a nunnery, don’t take their word for it. If somebody tells you they’re sending themselves to a nunnery, don’t take their word for it. If somebody tells you a book has a dragon in it, don’t take their word for it. Confessionals make good sex manuals. Minstrels make good servants. Herons make good eating. Everybody looks good in green.

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57 Comments

  1. Sarah Frantz
    May 17, 2013 @ 12:23:46

    I love that you love Melanthe. Most readers hated her when the book came out. I just adore her. Almost as much as I adore Ruck. I love his poetry, I love his commitment to her, reluctant though it is, I love how Gawain is woven through this story, I LOVE that it’s so obviously not modern that everyone absolutely believes they’re not lying when they swear on the Bible. I adore this book SO MUCH.

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  2. Blythe Gifford
    May 17, 2013 @ 12:37:50

    When I die and go to Writer Heaven, I will be reincarnated as Laura Kinsale. Delighted you liked this one because it got a bum rap when it came out. (Language too Middle English – long story.) You’ve inspired me to pull it off the keeper shelf, although may that’s not such a good idea. I write 14th century, too, and rereading it might just cause me to hang up my quill!

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  3. Keira Soleore
    May 17, 2013 @ 13:04:44

    I love, love, love this book. I adore medievals and I adore Laura Kinsale, and this is book nirvana–one of the most perfect books ever written. Reading this book makes Shadowheart suddenly so much more understandable.

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  4. mari
    May 17, 2013 @ 13:11:40

    Humph. Maybe, maybe I’ll give this one another try. You do make a strong case for it. But I think Kinsale is a writer of extremes. You either love her, or hate her. Except for Flowers in the Storm, which is absolutely the best romance I have ever read. But I have seriously disliked everything else she has written.I mean its like wall-bangerish territory for me. Just too different for me I suppose. I have to be in the mood to want to try something new and with romance…..well,
    I just want more of the same.

    Anyway, thanks for the different perspective.

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  5. Lammie
    May 17, 2013 @ 13:55:35

    I have not read this book, and after reading this review I will definitely do so. I am really enjoying reading these reviews – as someone who has recently come back to reading romance novels after about 25 years, it is nice to be able to catch up on older good books.

    Your point about finally being able to identify with a male character is also interesting, and not something I had considered before.

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  6. Susan
    May 17, 2013 @ 14:01:12

    Another Friday review. Yay! It’s absurd how much I look forward to these. Thanks for doing them.

    Yet another book I haven’t read, but I did buy the ebook last year so I’m itching to start. But–aargh–I’m right in the middle of a mil sf series and want to finish that first. So many books. . . .

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  7. AJH
    May 17, 2013 @ 14:18:55

    @Sarah Frantz:

    This might be naïve but I’m really surprised people didn’t like Melanthe. Maybe I read too much grimdark fantasy but cynical, jaded and not terribly sympathetic is kind of how I like my protagonists. I agree she’s not ‘likeable’ in the fluffy sense but she’s terribly hot and admirable. And I really enjoyed reading a heroine who was damaged (if you’ll forgive the term) in the way heroes tend to be damaged. She’s lived in a dangerous environment, she has difficulty trusting people, she’s had to learn to be ruthless and heartless, and Ruck has to sort of bring her out of that. I thought it was a genuinely fascinating dynamic.

    Re adoration: yes! Me too!

    @Blythe Gifford:

    I guess I’m not surprised it wasn’t a big hit because it’s a very unusual (and, to my mind, very remarkable) book but I am genuinely surprised the language was such a turnoff. I’m aware it’s a personal call but, for me, it didn’t get in the way. And weirdly I found it way less intrusive than some of the arbitrary pseudo-historical tis-ing and thee-ing I’ve sometimes run across, particularly in fantasy (although, now I think about it, Heather and Brandon get a bit high-falutin for no apparent reason in The Flame & The Flower).
    I think it’s well worth getting down for another look – it’s a wonderful book.

    @Keira Soleore:

    I genuinely think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read in any genre. If my house burns down, I’m grabbing my copy before I leave. It’s probably a good job I don’t have a cat because it would be doomed.

    I’m trying not to over-gorge on Kinsale but I’m definitely interested in reading Shadowheart. I spent the first half of FMLH quite confused because people had told me Allegretto was the hero of the sequel and I was like … what … is the hero of book 2 a eunuch, how terribly progressive.

    @mari:

    I think that’s an entirely fair assessment. I totally get that one of the pleasures of reading genre fiction is repeated variations on a familiar theme. That sounds a bit dismissive now I write it down but, actually, I totally love that stuff myself. I sometimes get this urge to read really thick travel fantasy, which is just about a group of people who walk across a map in pursuit of a macguffin. And the great thing about genre fiction, in general, is that it encompasses a wide range of reading experiences, and they’re all valid, but there’s definitely no denying that ‘more of the same’ is a big part of the joy of being a genre reader.

    @Lammie:

    I hope you enjoy it. I really loved it but, as Mari says above, I can see why it might not be quite what you were looking for if you were in the wrong mood for it.

    Wow, that was quite a leave of absence – I imagine the landscape has changed a heck of a lot. One of the big advantages of being a newbie is having an excuse to just careen enthusiastically through the back catalogue, reading wildly at whim.

    I genuinely don’t think not being able to identify with the heroes is a problem per se. I’m quite happy to identify with heroines (especially if they’re as cool as Melanthe) but it was quite arresting to read a romance in which the hero felt as developed as the heroine.

    @Susan:

    Totally my pleasure, I really love writing them and following the discussion.

    Also welcome to my world – too many books and nowhere near enough time has kind of become a lifestyle choice ;)

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  8. Deljah
    May 17, 2013 @ 14:24:18

    I bought this book several months ago and read it in prep for this review. To me, this book was just okay…3 out of 5 stars. I bought it in a post Flowers From the Storm glom, and when I started reading it, I thought “omg, AGAIN with the religion!” Religion was such a strong component, like in FFtS, that I felt a bit overwhelmed and done in by it. Authentic? Probably, but I wouldn’t recommend reading these two in close timing for this reason, and it’ll be a long time before I read Shadowheart, which I also bought.

    Another similarity to FFtS was the big role the king played in saving the day for the hero. I could go on about other similarities, but anyway…

    As to this book, I liked Melanthe better than Ruck. I understood her better. I did not understand why he pledged himself to the unknown Melanthe in such a life-binding way. I could *see* the reasons but did not understand them. As a result, I felt a bit distant from him for part of the book.

    This book was long, maybe a bit too long, and the romance was not very “swoony”. I only really swooned once, lol. I felt a stronger sense of love and its role as motivator (for a number of characters) than a prevalent sense of romance. I feel that Ruck and Melanthe desperately needed an epilogue, and I was unsatisfied with the epilogue that was included.

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  9. Susan Reader
    May 17, 2013 @ 14:34:43

    It’s been years since I read it, but IIRC Kinsale has an essay in “Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women” that argues readers identify with the hero in romance as much as with the heroine, and she’s (almost) always written complex heroes who make it possible.

    Put me in with those who think FMLH is a terrific book! I remember being blown away by the use of language, the little bits of humor in amidst the angsting…and so much more.

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  10. Deljah
    May 17, 2013 @ 14:45:46

    PS – All of the intrigues, plotting, scheming, assassinations, wars, jousting, political marriages, double-crossing, etc, etc reminded me of Games of Thrones (the show, not the books, which are tbr).

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  11. Blythe Gifford
    May 17, 2013 @ 15:06:18

    @AJH The story goes that she wrote the book and had it “translated” into Chaucerian English by a scholar, then “translated” it back. Not sure of the truth of that myth, but some people were, uh, put off by that.

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  12. Lynne Connolly
    May 17, 2013 @ 15:12:18

    I had the awesome privilege of meeting Laura Kinsale at the recent RT Convention in Kansas City. She’s such a lovely person, but I was pretty tongue-tied. I talked to her about this one and Shadowheart and Flowers From the Storm, and I listened to the wonderful narration from the audiobook that’s due out. She told me what she was working on now, but I don’t think I should go into details. All I can say is that I can’t wait!

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  13. Shaheen
    May 17, 2013 @ 15:16:31

    Congratulation on your by-line! Your reviews have become a highly anticipated Friday treat.
    I haven’t read this, as both Kinsale and medieval romances tend to be a bit hit and miss for me – sometimes excellent, too often bombs. But your enthusiasm (and the low kindle price) have persuaded me to give this a go.

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  14. Little Red
    May 17, 2013 @ 16:19:08

    Wow! I need to read this book.

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  15. AJH
    May 17, 2013 @ 17:36:58

    @Deljah:

    Omg, you did homework? I don’t know whether to be impressed or feel bad for you. Sorry the book wasn’t quite your thing – I can totally see why, but it pressed a lot of my buttons. I can see how the religion thing could be wearing but I’m just really into religion as a theme, and I can’t really imagine something set in the 14th century in which religion wasn’t hugely important. But, equally, I hadn’t just read another heavily religious historical (I’d just finished The Iron Duke) so it was also a refreshing change of pace.

    I agree that Ruck as a person is hard to understand because he’s subsumed himself into this ideal of chivalry that not only doesn’t exist today, but that didn’t really exist in his world either. Even the poem from which he takes his name is exploring and deconstructing the chivalric ideal that Gawain is supposed to embody. Basically, I think to get into Ruck as a character you have to be quite into the abstract notion of chivalry – which for various weird reasons I am. His actions don’t make psychological sense because it almost feels like he’s textually trying to turn himself into a fictional character. I agree I’m not making a very good case for this as being romantic, but I found it wildly fascinating and … actually … quite romantic. Because I’m clearly strange.

    And, by the same token, I also agree it’s not really ‘romantic’ in the expected sense and that love is a much greater theme and presence in the book. Oddly enough, I often think love isn’t that romantic, so the lack of romance didn’t particularly bother me. But if that’s what you were reading for I could totally see how it would be a bit of a downer.

    PS – And, yes, it did strike me as being like GoT actually, but far far shorter. To be honest, I’ve given up on the books at this stage, because it feels like an interminable historical chronicle of an imaginary place and everybody I cared about is horribly dead. I love the TV show though. It’s like all the fun and none of the effort – and has a much more sensible release schedule.

    @Susan Reader:

    At the risk of sounding like some crazy Kinsale-stalker, I have actually read this. Again, I wouldn’t presume to speak for her but she expanded on these ideas a few articles back. I think in the original article she referred to the heroine as a potential ‘placeholder’ character, which I understand some people thought was dismissive. But I think what she was articulating in the article and in the comments was a fluid space of identification, allowing the reader to move at will and to preference between hero and heroine in a non-gendered way. Which is pretty complex and awesome, frankly.

    And I did actually get something like this from FMLH – it’s honestly the only romance I’ve read so far where the hero and heroine have felt equally balanced, simultaneously inviting identification and admiration.

    @Blythe Gifford:

    I did notice in the acknowledgements, it says there’s a version of the MSS in which the Middle English dialogue wasn’t modernised and that’s probably the source of the rumour. I have no idea, of course, but I can’t help but feel that doing a 3-part Babel fish translation on it would just leave with you with nonsense, whereas all the dialogue is very coherent and feels very organic to the setting.

    @Lynne Connolly:

    Oh yes, I was nosing about her website the other day and I listened to the audio clip from Prince of Midnight. It sounds fantastic. Honestly, I’m kind of super-excited about this because I do kind of like listening to audiobooks when I play videogames (and how tragic do I sound now). Also the voice actor is the guy who does Dude!Hawke in Dragon Age 2 so I could theoretically be listening to him read Kinsale while also having him rant about the Templars in Kirkwall. So that’ll be fun.

    @Shaheen:

    I know, yay! I’m so chuffed :)

    I hope you enjoy the book – as you can see from the comments above, mileage may vary.
    Also I think I responded particularly positively because there’s a lot of things in it that I’m just into: religion, chivalry, language, swordfights, scheming Italian princesses, fabulous frocks.

    @Little Red:

    You do :)

    Though if you hate it, I’ll feel super bad.

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  16. Ducky
    May 17, 2013 @ 17:49:13

    Reading this book years ago I vividly remember one character from it – that teenage assassin Allegreto. I found him really intriguing at the time.

    Thanks for another lovely review – I do so look forward to them.

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  17. Caz
    May 17, 2013 @ 18:10:38

    This is yet another book which needs bumping up my TBR pile. I’ve come to reading romance novels fairly recently – in the last five years or so – so I have a lot of older titles to catch up on, of which this is one. It sounds fabulous – I read a lot of “straight” historical fiction, too, so am always pleased to find a historical romance that is strong on the history as well as the romance. And I think that also helps when it comes to being able to accept things which may be unpalatable to a modern audience, but which are historically accurate and speak to the mores and conventions of the age.

    Anyway – fabulous review!

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  18. Maili
    May 17, 2013 @ 18:21:20

    @Ducky:

    I vividly remember one character from it – that teenage assassin Allegreto

    That’s what I remember the most about this novel as well. He has his own story, hasn’t he? Shadowheart, I think? I’m still too afraid to read it.

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  19. Ducky
    May 17, 2013 @ 18:35:04

    @Maili:

    Yes, I haven’t read it because one of my friends told me the heroine of “Shadowheart” is really unlikable and not worthy of Allegreto and by far less interesting than him.

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  20. msaggie
    May 17, 2013 @ 18:39:46

    Thanks so much for this lovely review of For My Lady’s Heart. It is a superb book, but because it’s so different from what romance readers tend to expect (in terms of the character of the protagonists, plot, language, time, place, religion), those who don’t enjoy it tend to have specific complaints about why it didn’t work for them. I think Ruck is one of my favourite heroes. His mindset, being so governed by religion, is authentic to the time FMLH is set in. The sequel Shadowheart (where you do see a cameo of Ruck and Melanthe and their children) has Allegretto as the hero, and remains authentic to the portrayal of a protagonist who is a product of his time, and very much in fear of hell.

    I loved the little details and subtleties in FMLH which reflect how differently and opulently the nobility lived their lives in medieval times. Ruck was no peasant – in the feudal system, he was a wandering knight, and thus had some stature in the social ranks of that era – but even then, his wonder at sugar sticks, and an orange really struck me when I first read the book. These are things we take so much for granted today, so available in Sainsbury’s or Walmarts, but in medieval times, these were luxuries which were difficult to get even if you had money. And the other thing that came through was not just the religiosity of the characters, but the superstitions they clung to, even ruthless assassins like Allegretto. Part of this was because there was no remedy for the Black Death, no antibiotics, and thus illness was viewed as a curse from God, and if prayer could not save you, you had to cling to some hope in relics and whatever others felt could work to prevent illness.

    I am amazed you did not mention the white gyrfalcon – what a pet to have! I don’t remember any other main protagonist of a romance who has a gyrfalcon as a pet, and it is another subtle detail in this book, as in medieval times, certain birds of prey were reserved for particular classes of the nobility. I loved the scene when she hunts. I feel a re-read coming on – thanks again for reviewing it and I hope many new readers will love it as much as we do!

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  21. Deljah
    May 17, 2013 @ 19:13:24

    @AJH – I’d had FMLH in the tbr and your pending review bumped it to the top. I’m glad I read it, but doubt I’ll ever re-read it. I probably will re-read Flowers From the Storm at some point.

    I don’t mind religion as a key element in stories – even when it seems to be an actual character in the book. It sometimes helps me identify with the other characters. I think back to back reading of two Kinsale books so heavy with religion was the issue. I’ll attempt Shadowheart in a year or two, lol.

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  22. Becca
    May 17, 2013 @ 22:12:06

    My all-time favorite romance novel. It’s perfect. Just perfect!

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  23. PeggyL
    May 17, 2013 @ 23:32:20

    I intended to remain lurking, but…

    @msaggie: I haven’t read many medievals, but my absolute favourite has to be Uncommon Vows, which features (cause it leads to the meeting of the hero and heroine) a bird of prey. Now a re-read is in order.

    @AJH: I’d like to echo many and say that I enjoy your reviews very much even if I haven’t read all the novels reviewed. Please keep them coming.

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  24. LisaCharlotte
    May 17, 2013 @ 23:34:12

    This is the only Laura Kinsale I’ve been able to finish. I thoroughly enjoyed it and really enjoyed the Middle English. I’ve tried to read Flowers from the Storm and it just made me feel anxious and I’d put it down. I also tried the one with the scientist heroine? Hedgehog? It really didn’t work for me. It’s been quite a while and my vague recollection was that the heroine was silly or the set up was.

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  25. Ali
    May 18, 2013 @ 00:19:46

    First, I love your reviews! Second, I love Laura Kinsale. The second I finished FMLH I hunted frantically for the rest of her books and find few others on my keeper shelf so satisfying as her backlist. She is, to me, the Dorothy Dunnett of historical romance. I’m always a bit sad when no one mentions The Prince of Midnight, which aside from FMLH is my favorite. FFtS is fantastic too but there’s a great deal of fuss over The Shadow and the Star and it is among my least favorites. That said, frankly even her worst is quite a bit better than the best of most so, there’s that.

    I think you are absolutely spot-on about the sense of time and place, and the way the language weaves itself so seamlessly into the dialogue I think it would feel more strange for it to NOT be written in Middle English. I think I’m going to have to log off and go read this again, right now.

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  26. Estara
    May 18, 2013 @ 03:06:26

    I’ve enjoyed some Laura Kinsale, and I bought this book when … I think… there was a discussion on DA years ago about the best romances of all time and this was recommended so highly. Although I took an Old English class at university (mostly we talked about the Venerable Bede and Caedmon’s Hymn) which intrigued me because old High German and it have so many similar sounds and words still, I never really went and learned Middle English (so even what we read of Chaucer was a bit too much for me).
    Ergo, I bounced hard off the dialogue and didn’t finish the book – I’d say I just didn’t want to work that hard in my recreational reading ^^.
    I’ve enjoyed reading Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival in a German prose translation, though, and if you should find an English version of that (I don’t know if it’s been translated), you’d get a great look at real knight training in the 13th century, because he wrote from his experience, even as he set it in Arthurian sagas (I’ve always loved the names, Parzival’s great love is Kondwiramurs and the man who trains him is Gurnemanz).

    Oooh, there’s a translation, but I presume of the poem form – also it’s pretty young:
    Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival with Titurel and The Love-lyrics, trans. Cyril Edwards (Woodbridge, Boydell Press, 2004).
    When I check the pages at Amazon, it seems he’s not going for rhymes (good) but basically translates the poetic images into English, which should make this almost as readable as if it were a prose translation. Oh Oh and from the excerpt I read Parzival’s father was called Gahmuret ^^.

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  27. Kaetrin
    May 18, 2013 @ 03:06:56

    I loved this one too. I loved the power dynamic between Melanthe and Ruck. It was the first romance novel I recall reading (it was a long time ago now) where the heroine was socially superior and more powerful. I am looking forward to revisiting it when it releases on audio later this year (I think).

    Flowers From The Storm is my favourite (& first) Kinsale but I love quite a few. Shadow heart is another good one IMO (though I liked FMLH better), again because there is a really cool power dynamic. IIRC, Allegreto doesn’t mind a bit of pain with his sex and the heroine is the sexually dominant partner. Which even now, I think, in romance is fairly rare.

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  28. AJH
    May 18, 2013 @ 04:44:13

    @Ducky:

    I understand that Allegretto is the hero of Shadowheart which, as I say, confused the hell out of me because I spent the first half the book convinced he was a eunuch. I’m looking forward to reading his book.

    Glad you’re enjoying the reviews :)

    @Caz:

    To be honest, I’m not in a particularly strong position to judge historical accuracy but FMLH just felt right to me. Maybe if an actual historian read it, they’d be all ‘he’s wearing the wrong sort of chainmail.’ That said, from my position of absolute ignorance, it felt very specifically set in the 1360s, rather than generically when there were horses and swords.

    Again, from a background of reading historical fiction, it might work really well for you because, as we were discussing above, it’s arguably not romantic in the genre sense. It’s definitely a love story but that’s a slightly different thing. I think I responded well to it because of my fantasy background and also because, being new, I have fewer genre expectations.

    Glad you liked the review :)

    @msaggie:

    I think I hadn’t quite cottoned on to how different it was from people’s expectations until I started reading the comments. I mean, for all I knew, all Medievals were like that. And I can completely see why it might not work for some people, but I did really love it – for the many of the reasons you describe. I was genuinely impressed by the way religion was woven through the book – and that it was seen as having real power, and a genuine reality. I think looking back on that stuff, it’s remarkably easy to see and present is as quaint superstition, rather than part of the way the world worked for those people.

    Forgive me the tangent, but it reminded me a bit of HBO’s Rome. There’s a bit in the first season where Attia is desperately scheming for something to happen and she goes off and sacrifices a bull. And you’re sitting at home thinking ‘well, that won’t help’ but, of course, within the context of her world, that’s absolutely the thing to do when you want something to go to plan.

    I agree that a lot of the little details – like the rarity of commodities that we take for granted in the 21st century – really helped to create a sense of, for want of a less loaded term, authenticity. I was nosing about a chronicle once and I found a recipe for Rose Petal Pie, which I diligently translated and tried to make. And, i’faith, it did totally suck. It was a real insight into just how depressing the 14th century was.

    I did intend to write something about Gryngolet but I just couldn’t find a way to fit her into the review. She was very cool and the hunting scene is excellent – and, again, resonates beautifully with the poem.

    @Deljah:

    I didn’t mean to imply you were a religion wuss :) I can see how reading two similar books back-to-back might have made it a bit of a slog.

    @Becca:

    It’s definitely going on my keeper shelf.

    I need to make that shelf…

    @PeggyL:

    Thank you for coming out of lurk :) I’m really touched you’re enjoying the reviews, and don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

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  29. AJH
    May 18, 2013 @ 05:09:48

    @LisaCharlotte:

    I think from what people have said, and my own quite limited experiences, Kinsale does write very very different books, both to other books and to each other. So I can imagine having quite distinct reactions to individual texts.

    Having said that, scientist heroine with hedgehog sounds awesome ;)

    @Ali:

    Thank you :) Dunnett is actually on my frankly epic tbr pile as well. Help me.

    I will definitely be checking out the rest of Kinsale’s back catalogue at some point. I’ve heard the audio extract of Prince of Midnight which is up on Kinsale’s website, and it sounds great actually, and the voice acting is superb.

    I think I agree that it would have felt a bit jarring if the characters spoke in modern English, given that they do think or act like modern people, and the world itself is so distinctly Medieval.

    Enjoy your re-read :)

    @Estara:

    The Venomous Bede – sorry that’s an old joke, but it’s how I always think of him.

    Middle English and Althochdeutsch actually have a lot in common – and, frankly, as I’ve always seen it, Middle English sounds like Welsh had sex with German. I think it you were interested in doing so you can flow pretty easily between them, especially if you work aurally. Ironically, the modernised spelling of the dialogue in FMLH might have been what threw you off – I think if you’d seen it as it was originally spelled you’d have felt right at home. And despite being written at the same time (or so we’re told), there’s actually quite a significant variation between Chaucer and the Gawain poem (the Gawain poem is quite aspirational its spelling and style, whereas Chaucer is a bit more rooted in some nascent notion of Englishness, whatever that means – though, again, I could be talking out my arse here).

    That said, I do completely understand why you might have found the dialogue a deal-breaker.

    Yes, there are definitely translations of Parzival knocking about. I have read it, but that was years ago. And, yes, I remember the names being excellent – although falling for someone called Kondwiramurs is probably really problematic when it comes to, y’know, romantic poetry and … well … in the bedroom.

    @Kaetrin:

    I, too, will be re-visiting the audiobook. Eeee!

    It’s actually the only romance I’ve read in which the heroine is socially more powerful than the hero, and you’re right it makes the dynamic really interesting because once her retainers bog off, Melanthe has to very much rely on Ruck to protect her. But, at the same time, she could technically have him killed when they get back to civilisation. There’s a lot of reversals in the power balance which, again, sort of reinforces the instability of their world.

    I need to read more Kinsale urgently – and Shadowheart sounds amazing. You know how much I like things that switch things up a bit.

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  30. CD
    May 18, 2013 @ 08:58:10

    God, I love love LOVE this book. I would run over my beloved cat Tina to save it from a fire. Even though I also have an ebook version. In fact, I would buy this book in every single bloody format it comes out in over the next 70 years. To me, it is simply perfect – there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that didn’t work for me in this book.

    “Basically, I think to get into Ruck as a character you have to be quite into the abstract notion of chivalry – which for various weird reasons I am. His actions don’t make psychological sense because it almost feels like he’s textually trying to turn himself into a fictional character”

    That’s a fantastic way of putting it. What I loved about what Kinsale did with Ruck’s character is that she made it makes sense – made it both believable given his backstory and personaliy but also preserved that quality of the mythic archetypal Green Knight. In some ways, that’s how I see the genius of Kinsale with FMLH as a whole: the way she manages to fuse those two, almost diametrically opposing qualities: you see the hard headed, ruthless/bloody political maneuverings fused with the mythic, troubadour tales of chivalry and romance (in the original sense of the word). In some ways, I think that is why this book works so well for those who also love fantasy, because it has that same hit of immersion/belivability combined with almost child-like wonder that you reach for whenever you read great fantasy.

    It’s interesting what AJH says about the sense of melancholy throughout the book – to me, that has a great deal to do with the sense of the wonder fading, along with great quests and chivalric deeds. And dragons.

    Talking of which, there WAS a bloody dragon – as I said: I ne haf nought lied to thee about the dragon. That scene when they met him is one of my favourite scenes in the book. I keep reading it aloud because I LOVE the feel of the language. I went to a university where they forced English literature undergrads to learn Old English in their first year because they are sadistic. One of my uni mates, after getting over being pissed off about that, used to read out some of the texts to us and it just sounded absolutely amazing – almost delicious. No idea what the hell it was on about but wow, the sounds…

    PS. In case Laura Kinsale is lurking, I will not detail the frankly filthy fantasies I have had over the years involving Ruck in a confessional box. I’d have invited Melanthe along as well as she is one hot lady wench, but I’m too afraid that she’s have me skinned alive afterwards. Even in my fantasies…

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  31. CD
    May 18, 2013 @ 09:01:51

    If you love FMLH, I would highly highly recommend most anything by Roberta Gellis – especially ROSELYNDE and THE ROPE DANCER. The ebooks are now as cheap as chips so no excuses. They don’t have that mythic feel that FMLH has – I really haven’t read another book outside fantasy that does – but reading it, you feel completely immersed in another world, with people who completely inhabit that era.

    ROSELYNDE has a similar dynamic in some ways to FMLH – the too honourable (and poor) for his own good knight and a scheming amoral political player/heiress for a heroine. What is interesting is that Simon IS honourable and chivalrous, but in the way that honour/chivalry was defined at that time (12th century). In other ways, he behaves as a knight in those times would – he rapes and plunders on crusade, he sleeps with serving girls and prostitutes while in love with Alinor (although that was more about f**king for the flag), and hits Alinor when she goes too far for him. However, it works because you are so immersed in that era that you no longer judge the characters by modern standards. Also, because Alinor is by far the scarier character – that girl goes after what she wants and doesn’t let anything stand in the way. And she wants Simon. Here’s a review although I don’t agree on the love story – I thought it was fantastic.
    http://seakat.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/seakats-cbr5-review-2-roselynde-by-roberta-gellis/

    THE ROPE DANCER is the only medieval romance that I’ve read that features commoners (a minstrel and a street entertainer) as the hero and heroine. Again, it had that feeling of low fantasy in the sense of having a bunch of adventurers on the road being accidentally caught up in the convoluted schemes of their betters. BTW, it also has a really REALLY cool dwarf. Can’t find a review (it’s that old) but trust me…

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  32. CD
    May 18, 2013 @ 09:42:58

    Just to touch on Kinsale as a writer – I think the main thing about her books is that she really does take risks: sometimes those risks pan out, and sometimes they don’t. Often in the same book. And I think that which one works for you (or doesn’t) is very personal to you.

    For me, FMLH is just perfect. Absolutely perfect. Would not change a thing. However, I also absolutely adore THE DREAM HUNTER – a book that most people dislike. Although I can definitely see its flaws, most of my love for it is due to its exploration of the idea of what “home” means, particular among those who travel or who were born overseas – something which really resonated with me personally. Also, I was pretty obsessed in my time with 19th century explorers – I read biographies and collected works of Burton, Stanley, Livingstone, Stark, Kingsley etc – so an explorer hero? I’m so f**king there. And I sneakily really loved Zenia, even in the second half. Honest to God.

    In terms of the other Kinsales that I’ve loved, SHADOW AND THE STAR ranks up there with an amazing hero who’s a NINJA VIRGIN [fan self]! The first time I read it, I wasn’t overly impressed by Leda but then Janine did one of her tricks and made me read it again, and I now bloody love her and want to have threesomes with her and Samuel. I also adore SEIZE THE FIRE, despite my problems with heroine, mostly because I have a huge crush on George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashy whom Sheridan is based on. Also, because it’s one of those really great meaty books that keeps you thinking for days/weeks afterwards. PRINCE OF MIDNIGHT is also fantastic and I could read parts of MY SWEET FOLIE (the initial letters and any scene involving my girl-crush Folie) two gazillion times and never get tired…

    Surprisingly, I never really got into FLOWERS FROM THE STORM. Unlike some of her books, there wasn’t anything that I could pinpoint as the problem but it just felt a bit of a cold experience for me. Interesting book but not a fave. Also, I was a bit disappointed with ENCHANTER: I was never one of those who found Allegreto that fascinating in FMLH but he was even a bit “meh” in his book. And although I loved the idea of a heroine as a sexual sadist, that was probably all I liked about her. However, if someone wants to do a Janine, I’m up for a retry…

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  33. Lada
    May 18, 2013 @ 09:45:38

    Thank you again for these Friday treats, AJ. I haven’t read FMLH for years but you brought me right back to everything that makes it one of my all-time-favorites. I never cared for FFTS which is often everyone’s Kinsale favorite but FMLH stays with me. I am surprised you could get through the whole thing and not mention Allegreto simply because he was such a stand-out secondary character and added so much to the dark intrigue of the story. And ultimately, I don’t care what the myth behind the Middle English dialogue may be; it brought me to that place and helped me accept the mores of that time. Thanks for reminding me about this wonderful book.

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  34. Janine
    May 18, 2013 @ 13:15:50

    So glad you got to this one! It was one of my favorite romances ever for years and years, and I still have tremendous admiration for it. Melanthe is an amazing heroine, I adore her to bits. I find Ruck harder to relate to and it wasn’t until reading the book multiple times that I gained respect for him as well. His initial worshipful attitude toward his wife and toward Melanthe was a hurdle I had to get over.

    I’m surprised to learn readers didn’t like Melanthe when the book came out — was there an internet community back then? And while I liked the Middle English, I know readers who haven’t read the book because of it (although I understand there is now a version without it, too), so that part is less surprising.

    I don’t connect with FMLH emotionally as much as I used to, though, and I suspect this is because the most romantic part of the story for me was all the sacrifices Allegreto makes out of love for Cara. I loved his character — an assassin, but also a teenager with the vulnerabilities of one. The scene with the well (trying to avoid spoilers) was breath-stealing.

    Shadowheart isn’t a bad book by any stretch, but reading it took something away from For My Lady’s Heart for me. I found the adult Allegreto less vulnerable and harder to relate to. I also think (though I know it’s not very romance reader-ish of me) that I would have preferred his story end where it did in FMLH — when he sacrifices what he wants most for Cara’s happiness. I don’t think Allegreto and Cara could have ever worked as a couple, and I liked Elena much better than Cara, but still, having him find happiness with Cara’s sister somehow nullifies the power of his storyline in FMLH. For me, at least.

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  35. Janine
    May 18, 2013 @ 13:19:37

    @Estara: I think the new ebook of FMLH contains two versions of the book, one with Middle English and one without. I’m just mentioning this in case you’d be interested in the latter version.

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  36. Danielle
    May 18, 2013 @ 13:19:38

    @Estara: Penguin Classics brought out a prose version of Parzival in 1980, translated by A.T. Hatto :-)

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  37. Janine
    May 18, 2013 @ 13:31:05

    @CD: Re. Gellis. I’ve only ever tried to read one, Masques of Gold. I spent a few weeks reading it and read over half the book, but I don’t remember if I ever finished. What I do remember is a lot of infodumping. The history was interesting but sometimes it stalled the story from moving forward. Would you recommend giving her a try? Alinor (the character) sounds awesome but I don’t know if I can deal with Simon.

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  38. Janine
    May 18, 2013 @ 13:39:45

    @CD: The Dream Hunter gets a bum rap IMO. It is probably my favorite Kinsale these days. But I haven’t reread it a long while. One of my problems with the my favorite Kinsale books is that I reread them too much and know them too well. My reading experiences with them are less potent now.

    I smiled to think that I made you love Leda. Anyway, no can “do a Janine” to Shadowheart with you. I thought it was worth reading, but I haven’t been tempted to reread it. Also, my response to The Prince of Midnight is rather like yours to FFTS (which I liked much better). I feel detached when I try to read it.

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  39. AJH
    May 18, 2013 @ 14:05:09

    @CD:

    I’d, err, pretty much agree with that. And I’m not mad keen on cats so, frankly, Tina’s had it.

    I think you’re right that one of the great strengths of the book is the way it manages to merge the mythic and the pragmatic and, as you say, it’s got a lot in common with the better sort of fantasy novel. It really allows you to inhabit its world – in that weirdly pleasing “I’m really glad I don’t actually live there” way.

    It suddenly occurs to me that I don’t think I’ve read any fantasy that isn’t obsessed with fallen glory and fading wonder. But, then again, if you look at any historical period there seems to be prevailing theme of shit not being as good as it was in the olden days – I mean even Elizabethan England which we look at now as a Golden Age. Basically I think Rome made Europe insecure for hundreds and hundreds of years.

    I was a bit confused about the dragon actually. I might be coming at this from too literal a background but I kept trying to work out what it actually was. It was either some kind crazy fake somebody had knocked up (like the foreskin of Christ or whatever) or it was an actual fossil. It got me trying to remember what dinosaur bits had shown up in NW England and when. *takes geek hat off* Also knights versus dinosaurs would be excellent.

    I totally loved the language as well – though, again, I can see it might turn some people off. The opening quote from Gawain is one of my favourites, it’s like this amazing fusion of Anglo-Saxon poetics and nascent modernity.

    Thanks for the rec – because I’m absolutely low on those right now :P No, seriously, that sounds great and I’ll look into them. I’d really like to read a romance or, for the matter, a fantasy novel or, indeed, any novel, about, y’know, commoners like me. And, yes, as far as I’m aware chivalry wasn’t really about being nice to people… so that’d be really interesting. And I’ll be certain to go careening through Kinsale’s back catalogue. Not sure where I’m going to start yet but you’ve made them all sound brilliant :) (NINJA VIRGIN!)

    Incidentally, “one hot lady wench” sounds like the world’s worst medieval pick up line.

    I’faith, thou art one hot lady wench, that kirtle wouldst looken great on my floor.

    @Lada:

    Really glad you enjoyed the review – I honestly wasn’t sure I was doing the book justice. I was trying to keep to a sensible wordcount so it was either say loads about everything, or try and stick to central themes and characters. Allegretto has such a lot going on with him that I didn’t want to just dismiss him in a paragraph so he kind of ended up on the cutting room floor *boom tish*.

    I thought he was a really interesting counterpoint to Melanthe because he’s also been horrifically dominated by Gian Navona. He’s, at once, this source of absolute terror for Melanthe and everybody else who knows what he actually is but also, on some level, this quite vulnerable adolescent, who’s caught up in a situation that’s not of his own making, where he’s expected to do terrible things he clearly doesn’t want to do. In general, I was really impressed by just how much stuff the secondary characters had going on. I think if you’re writing intrigues, you need to have a very clear idea of what everybody wants and doesn’t want, and what they’re afraid of, so it can be clear to readers why they act in the way they’re acting, and why the things that control them can control them.

    @Janine:

    Yes, I enjoyed the book very much. If I had a keeper shelf, it would go on it. I didn’t have trouble relating to Ruck at all – I saw his initial attitudes to both his wife and Melanthe, and the kind of weird amalgam of the two he created in his head over his thirteen years of celibacy, was grounded in tradition that I recognise not only from chivalric romance but also from the unhelpful, pedestaly attitudes towards women you get in a lot of geek circles.

    I’ve not read Shadowheart but I can see why you might feel Allegretto’s story didn’t need a sequel. I remember thinking myself, well what can this guy’s book be about, because he’s already had his character development. And I like things that are not spelled out explicitly and I think there’s an implied arc and future for Allegretto that need not necessarily take place on the page.

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  40. Sarah Frantz
    May 18, 2013 @ 14:50:49

    @AJH: Oh, I pretty much assumed the dragon head was a fossil. Like, I didn’t think there was any question about it. Fossils can only be understood as fossils if you’ve got the scientific background to imagine what they are. Ruck’s context is that this would be a dragon head. Like, duh. But from our perspective, obviously it’s a fossil. Maybe I wasn’t reading deeply enough?

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  41. AJH
    May 18, 2013 @ 15:00:06

    @Sarah Frantz:

    No, of course – I think it was the white teeth that threw me, since fossils tend to be kind of grey or brown, so I thought it could plausibly be something someone had made up for the Medieval lulz. Also the ambiguity kind of fits into the themes of things never really being what they seem to be, and textual self creation and re-creation and all that. Also there’s stuff in the Anglo Saxon chronicles about dragons being seen overhead so, dammit, it could be a REAL dragon skull. Because we had those in England in 8AD. Honest.

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  42. Sarah Frantz
    May 18, 2013 @ 15:02:46

    Oh, of COURSE you did. I forgot. :)

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  43. hilly
    May 18, 2013 @ 16:08:00

    @Lynne Connolly:

    Lynne!! ::wails:: You are a TEASE!
    [Love you anyway, Friend from the heyerlist!]

    Which reminds me to ask you: Did you – as did I – find reading the language of FMLH easier as a result of already having read Simon the Coldheart, and Beauvallet, et al? Because Heyer is my reference & touchstone for much of the historical fiction that I read.

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  44. CD
    May 18, 2013 @ 16:47:23

    @Janine:

    LOL – I still remember that discussion on Leda back on the AAR boards! I mentioned that I found Leda was driving me crazy with her almost obsessive concern about the correct way of doing things etc, and then you replied with this great alternative reading on how her propriety was actually a form of strength, and how she at times used it to not only show concern and defuse situations, but also occasionally as a weapon. I then reread the book with that in mind and completely fell in love with her, and her whole wonderful group of ladies. And then her and Samuel made such perfect sense – I felt their relationship just clicked into place in my head. Thank you thank you thank you!!

    So, I’m going to introduce “doing a Janine” as your particular superpower ;-).

    Also, I’m glad I’m not the only one who absolutely loves THE DREAM HUNTER. There’s just so much there about identity and belonging – all great stuff. Plus I really love Arden – something about a guy who is supremely confident and a complete badass out “in the field” but insecure and shy in social situations back “home”. That scene when he compares Zenia to water (it makes sense in context…) got me swooning. And I really did love Zenia – it’s a guilty sort of love because so many other readers can’t stand her – but I really understood where she was coming from.

    I forgot it’s called SHADOWHEART! Opps… I think I must have been too dazzled by Ruck and Melanthe to pay all that much attention to Allegreto and Cara in FMLH. But I definitely see your point about Allegreto and Cara in some ways being a lot more romantic than Allegreto and Elena – something about vulnerability and unrequited love.

    On Gellis, I actually loved MASQUES OF GOLD but then I’m generally OK with info-dumping as long as it’s interesting and vaguely relevant info-dumping. To be fair, I actually think that ROSELYNDE has less of that as it’s quite a bit more fast paced if memory serves me. Plus, I dare anyone not to find the setting around the third crusades fascinating. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, Richard Lionheart, John etc all have significant supporting roles if that sweetens the pot.

    It’s funny that you mentioned difficulties “dealing” with Simon because he really does come across in the book as the epitome of an honourable knight of his age – very well versed in courtly love and chivalric ideals. His falling in love with Alinor is actually really sweet: he sees it as dishonourable considering his age, experience and relative poverty, and actually tries really hard not to act on his feelings. Of course, Alinor has absolutely no qualms in that direction – she would happily feed England to the wolves if it safeguarded her estate and got her Simon.

    The mention of Simon raping women during wartime is similar to the mention of Ruck raping his wife at the beginning – it’s a small remark and shocking in its nonchalance but somehow just seems to further ground the book in its own reality: we’re certainly not in Kansas anymore… His sleeping with serving girls and prostitutes is aimed more at dispelling rumours on Richard Lionheart’s sexuality as he sleeps in Richard’s chambers and he’s actually more disturbed by it than Alinor. Her reaction, even before knowing the reason for it, is little more than a shrug – I think she likens his use of prostitutes for sex as using a chamber pot ie nothing to do with her.

    Anyway, try it out to see if it works for you – I think the ebooks are pretty cheap.

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  45. CD
    May 18, 2013 @ 17:10:05

    @AJH:

    OK, you’re a country bumpkin *Northerner* who violates dead comedic writers (not to mention sesame street) on a regular basis, refuses to read one of the best series ever written with some ridiculous trumped up excuse, and doesn’t like cats? God, the type of people you meet on the internet…

    I remember a friend saying that fantasy was about nostalgia while science fiction was about looking forward. I don’t completely agree with that as I think there is fantasy out there which doesn’t harp on about the good ol’ days. However, it’s true that there’s a significant number which do, and I think that’s actually the influence of our good friend, Tolkien. And he was obviously influenced by Anglo-Saxon/Northern European mythology. So we go full circle here!

    As for Kinsale’s back catalogue, I think we should have a survey to see what Kinsale book you should read next. I predict a majority behind FLOWERS FROM THE STORM with a significant minority piping up with NINJA VIRGINS (because they’re just cool. And hot); and me (and possibly Janine) in a corner pipping up with “Um, THE DREAM HUNTER is pretty good”…

    And of course we had dragons in England. I forgive Sarah Frantz as, being presumably one of those Americans, she doesn’t know any better (poor soul) – but I am very disappointed that you questioned it even for a moment. How the hell did you think St George become our patron saint? [shakes head sadly] I think it’s because you’re from the North so don’t understand these things.

    “Incidentally, “one hot lady wench” sounds like the world’s worst medieval pick up line.”

    One word for you: Oktoberfest. And it is the worse line in any period.

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  46. Jorrie Spencer
    May 18, 2013 @ 17:26:55

    This is one Kinsale I have not reread. But I will one day. It was my first Kinsale, I believe, and I loved Ruck. Melanthe I liked a lot, but Ruck really did it for me. Flowers From the Storm and The Shadow and the Star have been my most successful rereads, although you know I really enjoyed her most recent book, Lessons in French, and I’d probably read it again too.

    My Sweet Folly is worth reading for the introduction, which is just amazing.

    (Yes, big Kinsale fan here.)

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  47. Lynne Connolly
    May 18, 2013 @ 17:33:46

    @hilly: I didn’t find it difficult at all. I thought it was an ingenious way of separating courtly French from English, which was only spoken by the common people (wipes nose on sleeve). It’s not actually Middle English, though, which would have been incomprehensible (that’s what Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales in, all that “swete Aprile” stuff), she had the speeches “translated” into Middle English, then transposed them back, so she retained the syntax and forms of address. It added immeasurably to the feel of the book.

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  48. hilly
    May 18, 2013 @ 18:55:52

    @Lynne Connolly:

    I didn’t mind the language, either, but apparently it was a hurdle for others. I wondered if the access was made easier because FMLH was not a first exposure to it.

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  49. joopdeloop
    May 20, 2013 @ 15:24:16

    Thanks for the heads up that FMLH (and many other Kinsale books) were so well priced on ebook – went on a small shopping spree, b/c ebooks make for easier rereading than all my yellowing paperbacks. I was all set to reread FMLH, but then I got sucked into a Seize the Fire re-read. Came to comment in the trembly satisfying storm wreck of the aftermath of finishing it. ( Man, Kinsale gives such good worldbuilding, meaty protagonists, dark humor, angsty and tested love.) Its such a grand pleasure to revisit such favorites via your reviews and the commentary that ensues. Clearly you can’t go wrong with your next choice of Kinsale (tho I’m going to pull for Seize the Fire right now) Re: Shadowheart. Since I read Shadowheart before FMLH, Allegreto was intriguing but I felt that the book belonged to Elena. In both of STF and Shadowheart, I liked how the heroines start so vulnerable and naive but transform and toughen up through these fantastic voyages and experiences to be the perfect answer for their anti-hero heroes. ) And to anyone who has that kind of clout/inside info: when are they going to put My Sweet Folly out as an ebook? Must. complete. Kinsale. collection…

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  50. AJH
    May 21, 2013 @ 05:31:18

    @Sarah Frantz:

    Hey, I live relatively close to the place where St George killed the dragon – there’s a bit of the hillside upon which *no grass will grow* because it’s where a splash of dragon blood landed. So *of course* England had dragons. Sheesh.

    @CD:

    Yes, yes, I’m a terrible person ;) Also the more I dislike cats, the more they like me, which I think serves as yet further evidence (as I needed further evidence) of how entirely messed up they are as a species. There’s a cat currently trying to live with me and it’s war, I tell you.

    I like the point about fantasy being nostalgia and science-fiction being what Izzard would probably call Technojoy is nice but, I agree with you. Unfortunately, like most things that sound excellent, I don’t think it actually holds water. There’s lots of grimdark fantasy about how war and mud were Bad Things TM. And there’s lots of abso-freaking-lutely future-terrified sci-fi – which kind of annoys me, actually, because I’m sure it should be possible to create a space-ship, a robot or a supercomputer that isn’t inherently evil. I also get the moral exploration semi-Dystopian thing but my favourite comic strip in the world ever (well after Jules Verne and Edgar Allen Poe: bros) is Caveman Science Fiction (http://dresdencodak.com/2009/09/22/caveman-science-fiction/), which – for me – summarises brilliantly lots of my frustration with certain sci-fi themes. Also I’ve gone off on a wild tangent, apologies.

    I’m going to read all the Kinsale, d’you hear me, ALL the Kinsale :)

    Well, if you feel ‘one hot lady wench’ has already topped the worst pickup line pile, I shall generously spare you my confessional box joke…

    @Jorrie Spencer:

    Weirdly, sometimes the more I like I book the less inclined I am to re-read it. I don’t know, I think I get superstitious about ruining the purity of the experience.
    To be honest, I thought they were both amazing. I loved Melanthe, and I loved Ruck too – that knightly thing really appeals to me, even if, in reality, it was a bunch of guys in the technological-equivalent of tanks, rampaging over England, kicking stuff and raping people.

    @joopdeloop:

    I’m hopelessly suggestible but I think Seize the Fire is Sarah Frantz’s favourite as well, so I’m kinda tempted to go there. Although Allegretto. Although … Ninja Virgin! Or do I mean Virgin Ninja? I guess a ninja virgin would have deflowered you before you even noticed he was there… ARGH. Since I read FMLH, I’ve kind of gone on a wild ‘must have all the Kinsale’ spree but, for whatever reason, it’s mainly been tatty, second hand paper copies I’ve extracted from librarians. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to just get e-books, but then I suppose I’d have missed the pleasure of a shirtless dude in a mullet throwing flowers in my face, while grinning manically. I just want to tell him it’s fine, he can take them back to the storm, thanks.

    Glad the reviews are sending you on a re-reading trip – it’s one of the big advantages, I think, in writing about books everyone else has already read. Plenty to talk about :)

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  51. CD
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:34:09

    @AJH:

    “So *of course* England had dragons. Sheesh.”
    Hear hear!! God Save Our Dragons.

    “Also the more I dislike cats, the more they like me, which I think serves as yet further evidence (as I needed further evidence) of how entirely messed up they are as a species. ”
    You just don’t get it. Cats are like romance heroes: they are gorgeous, strokeable and make you feel SO good … just before you feed them. It’s true that they hit out at you and draw blood whenever you try to give them affection, pay attention to all your guests (especially those paying hard to get) rather than you, and hop into your flatmate’s bed when you’re away for a weekend. But that’s just their way of showing love, you see. And it’s really our own fault for being too emotionally needy and demanding what they can’t give us.

    Tina! Tina! Where are you, sweetie-darling? Ow!! OK, I’ll back off and give you some space… Do you want something to eat? Or a toy? Please love me…

    “I’m sure it should be possible to create a space-ship, a robot or a supercomputer that isn’t inherently evil.”
    Hey! Remember Deep Thought!! It gave us the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

    For me, most of the people (ie my family) who trot out that line about fantasy vs science-fiction are usually doing it to illustrate how backward looking and unprogressive fantasy is next to the latest Peter Hamilton wankfest. And then go crazy when you tell them that the DUNE series and STAR WARS is basically fantasy with spaceships. Grrrr.

    And CAVEMAN SCIENCE FICTION is bloody hilarious. Thanks – yet another reason (aside from these posts) to procrastinate…

    “I shall generously spare you my confessional box joke…”
    Oh God, too much material too much material – brain exploding!

    “I guess a ninja virgin would have deflowered you before you even noticed he was there…”
    I’m pretty sure Leda noticed. Just a moment – I’ll go check just in case. [3 hours later] Yep, she noticed.

    “I’d have missed the pleasure of a shirtless dude in a mullet throwing flowers in my face, while grinning manically.”
    On come on! How could you be so disparaging of dear old Fabio?! He’s a romance novel institution! Have a look see:
    http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=fabio+romance+cover&rls=com.microsoft:en-GB:IE-Address&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=UWmbUciNIsGz0QXogYGAAQ&ved=0CDEQsAQ&biw=1366&bih=630
    Romance covers are so boring now…

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  52. CD
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:50:56

    @joopdeloop:

    Don’t quote me on this but I think MY SWEET FOLLY will be coming out on ebook in the next couple of months. Can’t wait as well. It’s definitely a very flawed book – the hero seems to be more of a plot device than a person and the plot itself doesn’t make much sense. But the letters are indeed sublime with Folie being one of my favourite heroines – I love her quiet and somewhat subversive asides, and her down to earth if absurdist sense of humour. It’s great to have someone like that in a gothic novel, complete with a madman as a hero ;-). I remember someone saying that Kinsale was pressured to publish this book out before it was really ready and I think that makes sense: there’s an absolutely “legendary” book in there somewhere struggling to get out.

    I did really enjoy SEIZE THE FIRE – mostly because of Sheridan to be honest. I think I never really got over how annoying Olympia was. I kept wanting to slap her and never really got over that. It got me rereading the FLASHMAN series which is never a bad thing.

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  53. Sheilah
    May 21, 2013 @ 12:26:34

    I have three books kept away from my collection so that they could be found quickly in the event of a fire: To Have and To Hold, Keeper of the Dream and For My Lady’s Heart. I must have read each at least 50 times so I agree with everyone who calls FMLH perfect.

    The funny thing is, it took me nearly a dozen starts before I could finish FMLH. The language was a huge turnoff, I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce the heroine’s name (a pet peeve) and when skimming, there didn’t seem to be that much sex (20 years ago that was an important criteria to me). But while skimming, I came upon the scene where Melanthe is furious about the dragon ruse and loses it! Abase thyself, Knight! And that just made me curious – who is this psycho woman and this fellow who obeys her? Went back to the beginning and finished it that night.

    So for those readers who gave up on it – maybe it will be your 30th time starting that is the charm.

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  54. Janine
    May 22, 2013 @ 00:35:37

    @CD: I well remember those AAR board discussions which took place, I think around 2000 or 2001. Those are fond memories for me, so thanks for taking me down nostalgia road!

    I’ll give Roselynde or something else by Gellis a try sometime.

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  55. GrowlyCub
    May 24, 2013 @ 22:54:44

    @Janine: Late to the party. MoG is probably her weakest book. Roselynde is an excellent gateway. :)

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  56. GrowlyCub
    May 24, 2013 @ 22:56:56

    @Janine: I read Shadowheart and was bored to tears by the politics. I’ve read academic history books that were juicier than Alegretto’s book. ;)

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  57. Susy
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 12:58:28

    I really enjoy reading your reviews for two reasons: firstly, I am new to the genre myself and we seem to be reading many of the same “Best of Class” novels, and secondly, I appreciate the male perspective on not only the genre but specifically the characterization of the heroes.

    While reading through my own list (which I call The Great Romance Reading Project of 2013) (and which I have Dear Author to blame for making me intrigued), I often have wondered if the hero as written isn’t just a Mary Sue fantasized version of “the perfect” man. Other times I just wonder what a real guy would be thinking about in a given situation.

    What prompted me to finally comment was your noting that you really identified with Ruck. I LOVE RUCK. He struck me as a “real guy” when I read FMLH because, among other things, he was analytical but not A Deep Thinker. He didn’t spend much time in angsty thought or angsty denial. He spent his time seeing problems and solving them. He took people at their own valuation, and for the most part did not create problems where none existed. And he thought about sex…alot. Not romance. I loved his simplicity, his codes he lived by, his friendships and loyalty.

    I also am a huge fan of Melanthe, who is one of my top heroines. Glad to see some love coming her way.

    I agree that the sudden silencing of Ruck’s viewpoint was offputting in the whole end of the book thing. In fact, I hated that when I read it. I decided that the first half of the book was The Greatest Novel Ever Written and the second half ruined it. I also hated-and I mean HATED- that the prologue was about Cara. So what I did was…I re-read the end of the book. And I saw nuances that I missed in my rush toward romance satiation. Hmmm. So then I quick read the whole book again. And …wow!

    Frankly, I am in awe of Kinsale. I have been stretching her books out over my T.G.R.R.P.2013 because I use them as “a palate cleanser” for when I have had just a little too much of the genre. I will also say that I also disliked the ending of The Dream Hunter and Shadowheart, and found that immediately re-reading the back third of these novels was crucial in my appreciation.

    I wonder what your thoughts (as a man) would be on The Dream Hunter, which is my favorite Kinsale? That novel is, to me, about a man fighting to keep his male identity in a culture that is trying to civilize him (read: feminize him), while he is willing to let it go if he can win the love of the heroine. I really thought Arden (the hero) was the most fascinating hero ever.

    Finally, IMO I think your reviews are getting better as you have become more versed in the genre.

    I apologize for typos I did not catch. I fired this off from my phone.

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