The topic of this month is Lovely RITA (past RWA RITA winner and/or nominees)
Cover art: Design department
Random House Mondadori / Silvia Sans
Robert Gallon /
Fine Art Photographic Library
Genre: Historical Romance
/ 18th Century
My Rating: 2 stars
In July we have to look for a book which won a RITA in the past. Or at least a book that was a nominee.
Laura Kinsale is one of my favourite authors -as I've explained here- and I’ve always enjoyed her books. The three Kinsale’s books that I haven’t read yet were in my TBR pile, so it was an easy choice for me –take a Kinsale, you are going to love it, you’ve enjoyed her up to this date. It was a perfect plan, wasn’t it?
Well, things turned to be different. Sorry if I’m kicking a puppy here.
The story is told mainly from the hero POV, which was something not very frequent then. This novel is also famous because of its original cover that showed only the hero, whereas in those times the couple was portrayed on the cover.
|Avon, 1990 (FictionDB)|
The hero of this novel is an Englishman living in Provence in the 18th century –before the French Revolution. He paints and has a wolf as his pet.
One day, a young man appears, and asks for his help. The hero, called S.T., soon realizes that this is not a young man but a woman in disguise. S.T. goes back to his castle, and a day later, she appears in his house.
This lady, called Leigh, has a terrible story. An evil man has destroyed her family. She seeks revenge. She’s gone to France in order to find a legendary highwayman, called ‘the Prince of Midnight’. She wants to learn his skills so she will be able to kill the baddie.
Sadly, S.T. is exiled in Southern France because he’s not the man he used to be. Three years ago he lost his hearing in one ear, and he’s got serious problems of balance. Any sudden movement dizzies him, so therefore he cannot ride a horse or fight with a sword as he did in the past.
After a time together in which some things happen, Leigh decides to go back to England. And he goes with her. That’s more or less the first third part of the book. Then there’s something about horses and then about a religious leader and in the end, horses again.
The style is wonderful. It’s a very well written book. Each word, each sentence is there for a reason. That’s the way this story has to be told and there’s no other way to do it. Surprise! Kinsale is an amazing writer. And I have to add, she’s lucky with her translator. I’ve read this book in Spanish and the translator is simply great. Many times we romance readers rant about the awful translations. For instance, neither Susan Elizabeth Phillips nor Lisa Kleypas have always good translators. More than once, SEP’s sense of humour falls flat just because the translators haven’t got the knack for it. But that is not the case with Laura Kinsale. Her translator, Ana Eiroa has translated books by authors like Edith Wharton, D. H. Lawrence or Henry James, so she gives that touch of Literary fiction that is so appropriate for Kinsale’s books.
Back to the book. Kinsale’s stories are more character-driven than plot-driven. I know. Therefore, the novels work if you connect with the characters. In this case, I have to recognize that, although I liked the hero, the heroine made me lose my enjoyment of this book.
S.T. is handsome, charming when he needs to, a good person. He wants Leigh the instant he recognizes her as a woman, he falls in love immediately, he goes with her to England just to help her, no matter that the authorities had set a reward for him. He’s got this physical problem that makes him a little bit unsure of himself, but he’s not as angsty as you could think. I really loved him.
His second name was very funny, Trafalgar. There’s an explanation, of course, but nevertheless it sounded very strange to see an Englishman from the 18th century with a Spanish place-name of Arabic origins.
Anyway, as I’ve said, my problem with this book was the heroine, Leigh. At the beginning, you don’t know who she is and what she’s looking for. So it’s a mystery, and that’s fine with me, that’s not the problem.
She doesn’t want S.T., she feels no physical desire towards him and certainly she’s not in love. And you know what? That’s also fine with me, because you don’t have to love somebody if you don’t want to.
No, my main concern was that she was, basically, a very rude person. And cruel. You can be cold but, at the same time, polite. You say ‘hello’, ‘good morning’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Common civility when you’re with a stranger, right? She’s not like that. She’s discourteous. She treats him as if he had done something wrong, and he hasn’t.
When she said –more than once- that he ‘can have her body’, S.T. attitude is a fairly good one -‘ Don't Do Me No Favours’. Thank you. Because it doesn’t matter how much S.T. wants her, it’s clear that she feels nothing and wants nothing from him once she realizes that he’s not the man he used to be. Leigh despises him, insults him and gives him the cold shoulder once and again. Her favourite sentence? ‘Get away from me’, in the beginning, in the middle and –nearly- in the end. It looks like Leigh just couldn't stand him.
What has S.T. done to deserve that treatment? Nothing, as far as I can see. He’s only done good things for her. I just don’t get it, really. Yes, you are unhappy because an awful religious fanatic has destroyed your family, and you don’t want to be emotionally involved with anybody. I understand that. But that’s not excuse to be so rude. Because none of your terrible tribulations was S.T.’s fault.
I think this was the first romance novel in my whole life which has made me think that
He is the doormat and
She’s the one that should do the grovelling.
Someone has said that Melanthe – from For my Lady’s Heart- is a cold person, too. And that’s right, but she’s got a good reason for that, she lives with risk of death at any moment. Secondly, that does not prevent Melanthe from being civilized. Melanthe helps Ruck even when he’s a perfect stranger to her. Leigh is not that way. She just despises S.T. because –reasons.
It’s obvious that ‘you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’ is not her motto.
So yes, this unsympathetic creature made me dislike this book. In the end, it doesn’t matter how wonderfully well-written a novel is. If you don’t connect with one of the main characters, and the plot does not interest you, you will not enjoy it.
And for the first time, while reading a Kinsale’s book, I found a thing that historically did not sound very accurate to me. It was at the beginning, in Chapter 4. While talking about the La Paire village, it’s said that it regularly changed hands between the Capetians, the Habsburgs and the House of Savoy. OK. This book is set in the 18th century. There had been no Capetian king in the throne of France since the 14th century. Four centuries before! It made no sense to me, considering that it was supposed to be a French village at the time of this history, under the rule of the House of Bourbon - which of course, was a minor branch of the Capetian dynasty but as rulers they were considered as a different house, as happened with their immediate predecessors, the Valois. ‘Dinasty’ and ‘House’ are two different concepts. The Bourbon kings had been ruling in France since 1589, and the Valois before them, from 1328. I know it’s a silly thing but it’s the kind of detail that can take me out of a book.
Characters, plot, setting and style are the four important points in a novel. I think that the four of them should be balanced if you want an unforgettable story. And this was not the case.
Good news – There’s only a couple of Kinsale’s books that I haven’t read yet.
Bad news – OMG there are only two other books of her that I haven’t read yet!
What am I going to do afterwards?
Rereading her backlist, I guess.
But not this Prince of Midnight.
NB.- There are at least two other RITA winners in my TBR pile. The Promise of Jenny Jones and The Sandalwood Princess. I stopped reading them after some pages. I didn’t connect with those books.
Am I losing my romance reading mojo?
Not at all. Now I’m reading and loving each of ‘the Spymaster series’ novels. And I’m also halfway through ‘A Charm of Magpies’ series, by KJ Charles, books and short stories that I find funny and sexy and I’m enjoying them a lot. Even though paranormal is not my cup of tea.
It looks like I’m not in the mood for ‘oldies but goldies’. Just now.
The Prince of Midnight, The Sandalwood Princess and The Promise of Jenny Jones are, the three of them, classic romance novels that a lot of people love, so I guess it was not the right time for me to read them. So I'll wait a little more before reading the other two.
For those of you who can read Spanish, there’s a very funny review of this same book here.