Trashy Read #12: The Shadow and the Star, by Laura Kinsale
Laura Kinsale hangs like a heavy shadow over the landscape of romance writing. She's considered one of the best, and her work is constantly held up as a prime example of darker-toned, long, intricate historical romance. The Shadow and the Star is particularly famous. So I finally caved in and bought a copy of the book to see for myself.
And wow. I can see why Kinsale is so legendary. In the words of internet users everywhere, this book was EPIC. Unfortunately, in describing the plot to you, I expect snickers everywhere. Because, you see, the hero is a trained ninja. Mind you, he's a white dude from Hawaii. Also, this takes place during the Victorian era. Yeah. Luckily, it's not as ridiculous as it sounds. In fact, it all goes over very, very well due to its originality.
I've never read a historical romance like this, although I guess this kind of long, complex plot was once very popular in the genre. This book is so different from anything else I've ever read that I wasn't quite sure what to make of it at first. First of all, it has a heroine you don't see a lot in historicals. Sure, Leda has that annoying pureness and kindness that so many have, but she's also impoverished and from a completely unremarkable background. Secondly, part of the book takes place in Victorian-era Hawaii, which is new to me. Finally, there's the hero, who might be one of the more complicated figures I've ever seen in a romance.
The hero, Samuel Gerard, is rich and super-handsome and complicated, as per usual. But he has a really sad past that includes being used as a sex slave when he was a small child, a plot point that Kinsale handles briefly and gracefully. He was eventually saved by a wealthy noble family from Hawaii, and under the guidance of their butler, Dojun, he became trained in the arts of a ninja. Samuel is pretty legendary in the romance world, for obvious reasons. This isn't your usual historical romance nobleman. But he's not always likeable or even right, which surprised me. Kinsale really knows how to put together a complicated figure that's eerily lifelike: occasionally goodhearted, occasionally a jerk (even creepy), and often playing his cards too close to this chest.
The book somehow manages to be both sweet and prickly at the same time. The story is sprawling and covers a lot of area: Leda's naivety, Samuel's insecurities, the disappointments inherent in both characters' lives, and a plot involving a sword and Japan and unrequited love. It's a lot to handle. And I admit that I wasn't always into it. There were moments I absolutely couldn't get enough, often followed by moments where I yearned for the simple style and plots of someone like Lisa Kleypas. Plus, Kinsale's writing is really descriptive and flowery, which isn't quite my thing.
Yet, in the end, I have to say I enjoyed the hell out of this one. Kinsale is definitely different from Loretta Chase, whose style I tend to prefer. But she created something so unique that I couldn't help but follow along. It's rare that I feel like I'm reading a real book when I'm reading romance. However, The Shadow and the Star felt like a real book, with all its darkness of heart and elaborate feel. This book isn't quite at Lord of Scoundrels levels of awesomeness, but it's pretty darn close.
Next in Trashy Reads: After a nearly two-month-long hiatus, my trashy reading is back in full swing. I have a whole pile of new romances to read (mostly historicals, but also some old-school Nora Roberts), including another Laura Kinsale!