Wandergurl gives everybody’s favourite author a second chance, in an attempt to fulfil Kat’s dream of finding the perfect Laura Kinsale novel for her. No such luck.
Lady Leigh Stachan’s family was killed by a crazy cult leader, driving her to travel all the way to France dressed as a boy to find the legendary S.T. Maitland, once known as the Prince of Midnight, to train her so she can avenge her family. S.T. Maitland has spent the past few years keeping to his eccentric self in backwater country France, with his pet wolf, hiding a few ailments of his own. He falls in love with Leigh and decides to help her in her quest.
Second chance challenge
This is a second chance romance for me. Second chance in the sense that Laura Kinsale never worked for me before, but I promised I would give her another try. AnimeJune (Gossamer Obsessions) and I made a deal: I would give Kinsale a second try if she did the same for Nalini Singh.
She did a hell of a lot better than I did, because it only took her a few weeks to read the book (we made this agreement in January!) and she actually read the whole thing. I read about half of this book and skimmed the rest, finally finishing it … what, four months later? I felt that I owed it to this book and to the second chance challenge to write a full review, so here it is.
Ticking all the right boxes…
The thing is, everything everyone has ever said about The Prince of Midnight is true. The characters are well written. Leigh is a strong heroine without being a try hard or too plucky. She’s been through a lot, and you can really see the character growth. She travelled through England and France dressed as a boy, which would seem implausible enough by itself, but there’s something realistic about how she did it. There is even, if I recall correctly, an implication that she wasn’t above using her feminine charm (i.e. sex) to further her cause along, and this fits with a woman of her time. This is the power that they had, and she used it. I liked her determination.
ST is every bit the dreamy hero. The kind who has a quiet strength, falls in love right away and is sweet but not sappy about it. He has all these disabilities that just makes you want to take care of him. He even has a pretty cool wolf.
The plot is well thought of and everything moves along the way it’s supposed to. Kinsale writes very well, and the language fits with the time and flows well.
Kinsale also does drama exceedingly well. And here we come to the part why I didn’t like this book, and why I stopped and why this author is not for me.
…but where’s my escapism?
While I am not averse to drama, I found that this book had too much realism or realistic drama for me to like it. I felt that if I wanted that kind of drama—cult figures, murders, etc.— I should have picked up romantic suspense or even a crime novel. Or I could have seen a movie.
One of the great draws for me about romance novels is the kind of escapism that it offers. We know that, even if everyone suffers, in the end there’s that happy ending. Sometimes the characters don’t work hard enough to get it or the plot device (aka big misunderstanding) is too ridiculously contrived for them to get there, but they do anyway. And while it doesn’t necessarily need to be all sweetness and light, I prefer my romance to provide a healthy form of escapism along the way to this happy ending. I did not feel this way with this book. I felt that all the cult drama sounded like it was going on right now, that it could have happened somewhere in rural NSW, or for that matter, the girl that was eliminated in the second week of this season’s America’s Next Top Model who lived in a cult ’til she was eighteen. Kudos to Kinsale for having written the descriptions so well that it felt like you were right there with them but, sorry, I could not take the drama.
The difference between this and urban fantasy, paranormal drama—like, let’s say, Nalini Singh’s Changeling series—with murders and serial killers and cults is that there’s something in there that’s really not real. I haven’t met a man that can change into a big cat (I would never tell you if I did anyway, and I would keep him to myself and possibly chain him to my bed, but that is a whole different story altogether and I digress…) and there are supernatural elements that allow you to step back and say, Yeah, that’s not gonna happen as this world really doesn’t exist.
Kinsale crafts a world so real that, even if this is set 200+ years ago, it could happen now. And I didn’t want that. This is not why I picked up this book. I did not want to picture in my head people being brainwashed and murdered because they didn’t believe in the same thing as everyone else. I stopped halfway and skimmed the rest of it because of the realism, because I kept getting the feeling that something bad was going to happen and I almost really didn’t want to know. I had a sense of foreboding (again, well written) that made me not want to pick up stuff and then I had to almost force myself to just put it in my hands and read.
Yay or nay?
Would I still recommend this book? Yes, actually. If you like drama, swooping heroes and strong heroines, this is for you. They do have lovely romantic scenes, and everything ends happily in the end. (And, yes, AnimeJune, I agree ST is a wonderful hero.) It is really very well written, and Kinsale does live up to the hype that everyone has been saying. It’s just really not for me.
Will I ever read her again? I’ve been told that her latest book, Lessons in French, is lighter fare and I quote, ‘I don’t see how you can’t like it!’ so maybe I’ll get around to that one eventually. In the meantime, I will accept that I am possibly the only romance novel reader who does not like Laura Kinsale. ‘Til the next second chance challenge…
This book was originally published in December 1990. This review is based on the 2008 mass market release of the book. Sourcebook is releasing the book in B format this month with a snazzy new cover (pictured above) .
Where you can buy this book
AUSTRALIA: Booktopia | Dymocks | Ever After | Fishpond | Intrigue | Rendezvous | Romance Direct | Romantic Reflections | Siren | Sourcebooks (Publisher) | More
EBOOKS: Books On Board | Diesel | eBooks.com | Fictionwise | Kindle
WORLDWIDE: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository