The Shadow and the Star, by Laura Kinsale

>> Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I've had The Shadow and the Star, by Laura Kinsale in my TBR for some time, but I dug it out immediately when I read Jorie's post about it at her blog. Careful if you haven't read it, there are some spoilers there (I couldn't figure how to link to the post itself with the spoilers hidden), though I have to say, I did read those spoilers and I think knowing what I knew might have even enhanced my enjoyment of the book.

Ah, before I forget, TSATS is a spinoff of Kinsale's first novel, The Hidden Heart. I had both, but I was so anxious to read TSATS that I skipped THH, and while I was intrigued enough that I'm planning on reading the latter soon, TSATS stands alone perfectly well.

He is a man of dark secrets -- wealthy, strong, majestically handsome -- the master of the ancient arts of a distant land. Scarred by a cruel childhood, he has sworn only to love chastely ... yet he burns with the heat of unfulfilled desire.

She is innocent and nearly destitute, yet she possesses a beauty as incandescent as a heavenly orb. And she is drawn to this powerful stranger by a need she cannot deny.

Never has such passion so consumed a man and a woman. But by giving his heart freely, the Shadow risks everything he believes in. And to follow her enigmatic warrior means the Star must enter his world of intrigue, vengeance, and desire -- and surrender to the most dangerous love there ever could be.
The Shadow and the Star is difficult to grade. I thought it was brilliant, but one of the aspects that made the book so good, that both Samuel and Leda were wholly of their time, definitely NOT 21st century transplants, was also responsible for making me feel a bit frustrated. So this, together with an ending which took the focus from Leda and Samuel, where it had been squarely fixed throughout the book, and concentrated on a not particularly interesting action subplot, make the grade slip from an A to an A-.

I can't imagine writing my review any better than Jorie did, so I'll just say "what she said". The handling of Samuel's past and the effects it's had on him as an adult, Leda's characterization, the development of Samuel and Leda's relationship, both in and out of bed, it was all amazing.

I do differ in a certain something, and that's one of my only two negatives: the ambiguous effect that Leda, especially, had on me. On one hand, I appreciated the fact that she was so much a product of her time and her upbringing by a group of old ladies who Kinsale describes thus:

"Proper, generous, proud; sure of what was right and what was wrong, they gave me a foundation, a place to stand in life. Perhaps they were as shocked by a crooked hem as by a crooked banker, but there was always a pie or a boiled custard going out the door for an ill neighbor. They represent a feminine community and a standard that has quietly sustained civilization for centuries, unnoticed and unreported in newspapers and history books. "
Problem is, people like this drive me crazy. I don't find them admirable, I find them dangerous. Their preocupation with appearances and what's proper can result in the neglect of what really matters (Leda being put in danger of pretty much starving because the old ladies couldn't find the proper book that would help them write the proper character), or in their being actually cruel to people for whom appearances don't matter and what counts is the reality. For instance, when Leda would worry so much about not behaving in a way that could result in her being thought "fast", I couldn't help but think of the fact that the flip side of this worrying would be an excessive ease in labeling other people fast.

So, when Leda would act so perfectly in character, exactly like she was raised to act, one part of me would adore Kinsale's characterization, while the other would scream in frustration. What an incredible book! ;-)


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