Saturday, September 28, 2013

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

Flowers from the StormFlowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Approximately twenty-eight years ago, a young girl picked up a book from her mother's box of books out of boredom. Her life was changed. Ever since then, her favorite type of book has been historical romance.  She has read a lot of it.  There have been many that she has enjoyed. But some books just stand out. This is one of them.

Because of how much I liked this book, this is a very long review. I apologize if you don't like long reviews.  The short of it is I loved this book very much. If you want to know why, keep reading.

Laura Kinsale just doesn't write enough books for me. If you asked me if I want more from her, obviously yes! But do I want less quality but more books? No.  A book like Flowers from the Storm is worth thirty lesser books.

This book begins with a hero who is doing something immoral and reprehensible (although to some degree socially acceptable).  A reader has to decide if they can get past that.  While I really dislike what he did, I wanted to know more about Jervaulx and explore his story.  I wasn’t going to write him off just yet.

With Laura Kinsale, you don’t just get an entertaining romance. She gives you a complex, textured novel that has characters that are not just archetypes, but are realistic and multi-faceted like a jewel (and like a jewel, they may have noticeable flaws).  Maddy is at times the bully, at times the victim. Sometimes I liked her, sometimes I didn’t like her very much at all.  I felt some identification with her as a person of faith, but at the same time, I felt that she gives people of faith a bad name because of her legalistic and judgmental way of life.  It also challenged me to consider how I interact with people.  Am I sending out the right message about my faith walk, the loving God and all-welcoming God I love?  When she gets the epiphany about why she is with Jervaulx, I was thinking all along I knew why they had been brought together.  I felt that Jervaulx and Maddy could learn from each other, could complement each other.  Could they love each other despite society’s notions of propriety or station?  It was hurtful how she denied the love she felt for Jervaulx, as if it was an ugly thing.  It hurt me to read because I could see deep down that Jervaulx needed her so much, and she needed him, and loving someone can be intense and powerful (and yes, inconvenient) without being an obsession or leading to doom and destruction.  While people shouldn’t be projects, something we can ‘fix’, we come into peoples’ lives to learn something ourselves and to help them learn something.  Love that is selfish cannot be mutual, and for me, their love definitely wasn’t a selfish one.

Jervaulx is a very complicated man.  It was interesting to see him at the beginning of the story and see his selfish actions and his determination to live a hedonistic life, although deep down, his was a builder and a thinker and a contributor. Those parts of his psyche obviously warred with each other.  I don’t doubt that his mother’s cold demonstration of religious faith pushed him to go in the opposite direction.  In his own way, he did believe in God, but seeing faith in such an ugly way pushed him further away from God and into a life that didn’t have much meaning outside of his scientific pursuits.

I hurt for him.  A person of the mind, an intellectual can have an experience almost like dying when that part of their persona fails.  It’s like being caged away, and in the case of Christian, his mouth couldn’t say what he wanted it to say, and sometimes the words just wouldn’t come to him.  Also, going from a place of having power and authority over your life and losing that is another kind of death.   That process was understandably devastating to a man who was one of the most powerful men in England.

His family was shameful. They all saw him as a thing to be used or manipulated: as a resource, a pawn, or a liability.  That made me very angry on his behalf.  And afraid.  For most of the book, I felt Jervaulx’s fear tangibly. That’s part of why Maddy’s acts at times grated on me. She didn’t seem to get what it was like to be him, to know that he was one step away from being locked in an asylum for the rest of his life.  Even though she does have momentary breakthroughs of understanding and a sense of responsibility to him, her hardheaded beliefs about what she should be doing (that being with him long-term is wrong) seemed to try to get in the way more than it should have.

This book feels so realistic, but also beautiful, entrancing, hypnotically romantic. The scenes between Maddy and Jervaulx where their feelings are budding, blooming and coming to full life were the essence of romance. Their passion inexorable, special and inescapable. It’s what makes my heart beat fast when I read romance books.  People think writing romance is easy and low-brow. That any hack can write a romance story. How wrong you are.  It takes talent and care to craft such a rich story that fulfills both intellectually and emotionally.  Especially when you write characters that aren’t just appealing stand-ins for the reader and her dream man. No, they are real people with real lives and struggles.  While love doesn’t necessarily solve all our everyday problems, it does get us through the rough spots in life, and gives us hope for the future.  Walking through life with a beloved one at our side empowers us to fight for what we need, what we want, what is rightfully ours.  While Jervaulx and Maddy didn’t make sense to someone on the outside looking in, who lacked insight, it makes perfect sense to me.

I put this book off for a long time, but it was a case of reading it at exactly the right time. I have been going through a horrible book slump, feeling apathetic about reading.  That’s horrible for an avid booklover like myself.  A book like this is just the medicine to reinvigorate a reader’s flagging interest.  Thank you, Ms. Kinsale!

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