Nicola's Reviews > For My Lady's Heart

For My Lady's Heart by Laura Kinsale
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Jan 13, 2011

bookshelves: unfinished, romance, historical-fiction, fiction, bookmooch

This is actually the first bonafide romance novel I’ve ever read. (I know! Shocking.) I gather from various reviews that Laura Kinsale is “the romance novelist that even ‘regular’ readers like”. However, based on For My Lady’s Heart, I’m afraid I can’t agree. When I tried to view the book as a regular novel (and not merely as a set of genre tropes), I found it fairly frustrating.

Set in the middle ages, For My Lady’s Heart concerns the cold and calculating Princess Melanthe, whose icy heart is melted by the stoical knight, Ruck. Fair play to Kinsale, because the novel incorporates Old English dialect in a way that is entertaining without being distracting. Though the premise is a little silly, I think I might have enjoyed a breezy, fast-paced ride through The Ruck and Melanthe Story.

However, Heart is neither breezy nor fast-paced. What brings the novel down is how much of a muchness there is to it. Why make a scene three pages long when you can make it 30 pages long? This seems to be the guiding principle of Kinsale’s writing. Structure, action, even heartfelt declarations simply get lost among all the wordage.

Heart also differs fundamentally from ‘regular’ historical novels because its perspective is so limited. Kinsale may introduce various historical themes – notably, the Plague that continues to ravage England, leaving destruction in its wake – but she doesn’t develop them. The Plague feels strangely remote from the action of Heart; Kinsale seems reluctant to stray from her young lovers for long enough to capture the terror of the Black Death.

I completely understand the desire to slip into a rose-tinted romantic world – I watch all kinds of terrible TV in the name of escapism – but, ultimately, I found the worldview in Heart troublingly limited. Romance is great, but it's served up to us in life alongside strife, banality, friendship, ridiculousness. I like that cocktail of experience, and I like the novels I read to try and reflect it.
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