Shadowheart, by Laura Kinsale

>> Friday, February 04, 2005

I read Laura Kinsale's For My Lady's Heart last year and it was a revelation. I hadn't liked the only Kinsale I'd read until last year, the much beloved Flowers From the Storm, so I had thought this author was not for me. But then I read My Sweet Folly and loved it, so I dared read FMLH and I thought it amazing. I've had Shadowheart (excerpt) since not long afterwards, waiting for the right moment to read it.

Readers were first introduced to Allegreto, the elegant assassin, in For My Lady's Heart. Now, he is a charismatic, dangerous man who will stop at nothing to regain his rightful place in the rich Italian principality of Monteverde. And the perfect tool has just fallen into his hands, in the lovely form of Lady Elena--the long-lost Monteverde princess. Only she can solidify his claim...but the dark passion that grows between them is more dangerous than any treachery mortal men could devise.
Shadowheart was just as incredible as FMLH, an A.

I started reading it already knowing much of what would happen, since I can't resist spoilers and the discussions about the book last year were long and detailed. I remembered much of the criticism it had received, and though I see where other readers might feel in those ways, what bothered many people I worked wonderfully for me.

Let's start with Elena's character. There was much talk about how people couldn't buy her behaviour in the bedroom and in the boardroom, so to speak, her being so adept at political intrigue. In a way, it might have been because I'd read the spoilers, but I looked at her very closely from the start, and both felt very appropriate to her personality to me. The sexual part, especially: I saw the potential for it in her from the beginning. I saw her as trying very hard to be a regular modest young woman, and having to try even harder because there was something stronger inside her which she thought she shouldn't let show. With Allegreto, she could finally let this aspect of her out, and the way she was both scared of it and delighted was perfect. I've heard it said that there's no way someone as sexually innocent as Elena could have conceived of doing what she did, but this wasn't a case of those typical virgins in romance novels who one minute are asking "you're planning to do what with that??" and the next are going down on the hero and deep-throating him. Kinsale wrote the process of sexual discovery believably, as far as I'm concerned.

And speaking of the sexual aspect of Elena and Allegreto's relationship, this was... just perfect. I thought it was a wonderfully eloquent way of showing their inner selves and how they saw themselves. The way the dynamics of their sexual relationship evolved echoed the way they evolved themselves, especially with Allegreto. And I hesitate to confess that I found it all very, very exciting.

In the politics area, I do admit that the instinctive way in which Elena grasped the intrincate political intrigues of Monteverde strained credibility a bit. The actual things she did were fine, I bought those perfectly, but that she immediately "got" what had taken Melanthe, from FMLH years to master... hmmm. Still, it wasn't enough to throw me out of the story.

As for Allegreto... well, what can I say, he was just as complicated and intriguing and fascinating as he was in FMLH. We saw him mostly from Elena's eyes, which made him even more mysterious, and the fact that there were only a few scenes from his POV was the right thing to do, I thought.

Something else that I liked was the way Kinsale incorporated religion to the story. It's not the focus, but we never lose sight of the fact that it's ubiquitous in every character's life. Such a way of thinking is very foreign to me, but it rang true to who these characters were. The threat of hell was so real to them, confession so necessary, even if they saw the Church's hierarchy's sins clearly. Also, the author was able to use to create some incredibly poignant moments. I would never have thought that an agnostic like me could tear up with a scene showing a character getting absolution for his sins from what I see as a corrupt, despicable Church, but I did.

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