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    Anna Campbell’s review of Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
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  • Published: Oct 23rd, 2008

anna_head.jpgFLOWERS FROM THE STORM by Laura Kinsale was published in 1992 and as far as I know, has never been out of print since. It often pops up on people’s lists of their favorite romances. I read it way back when it first came out and automatically counted it as one of the two or three best romances I’d ever read, amongst the best BOOKS I’d ever read!

I’m a re-reader, but for some reason, it’s years and years since I pulled FLOWERS FROM THE STORM from the bookcase to look at again. Perhaps because it provides such an intense experience. I tend to look at a book again when I want a comfort read so I generally reach for something light at such times. And while FFTS is many things, it is NOT light! There’s humor in it, but it’s of the blacker than black variety and every smile has a tear behind it.

So it’s been a real pleasure revisiting FFTS for this review. It’s even more of a pleasure to say that FFTS is still one of the top two or three romances I’ve ever read. If you want to read a book that shows you just how powerful this genre that the general public often dismisses as frivolous and unimportant can be, I’d highly recommend FFTS. If you want a book whose prose is so beautiful, it makes you want to weep, read FFTS. If you want a story that makes you cry and cheer and smile (even if in a teary way!), read FFTS!

kinsale_flowers.jpgChristian, the Duke of Jervaulx, is a dissolute Regency rake when the story opens. But even here, Kinsale creates a rake unlike any other. He’s a mathematical genius and for all his selfishness and charm, he has this wonderful ironic take on himself that makes you fall in love with him from the start. Then his decadent, luxurious, pleasurable life disintegrates when he falls prey to a mysterious illness (I always think of it as a stroke but like Matthew’s affliction in UNTOUCHED, it’s never referred to in specific terms). He loses everything that he believes makes him the man he is, apart from that essential core of self-awareness. Because he can’t speak and loses some of his mobility, he’s imprisoned as a madman and his mercenary family members start the process to take over his property.

In the asylum, he encounters Archimedea Timms (Maddy), our heroine who has had previous dealings with Jervaulx and while attracted, thinks he’s wicked and corrupt. Actually Maddy was the revelation of this re-reading for me. I remembered how deeply I fell under Christian’s spell in this story, but I recollected Maddy as a bit of a cipher. But revisiting the story made me see how strong and utterly right for Christian she is. She’s a Quaker and her father was Christian’s mathematical collaborator before the stroke. Her religion is the mainstay of her life and her encounter with Christian and his completely different values throws her completely out of kilter, especially as she can’t help falling in love with him (and who could blame her?). Don’t get me wrong – she’s not a sanctimonious little pawn. Well, she is sometimes and overcoming that is part of her character arc. She’s far from perfect and it’s interesting seeing how these two flawed people bring out the best in each other (eventually!).

So the themes of this book are rich and complex. There’s losing everything to gain everything (for both characters, not just Christian!). There’s the attraction of opposites to create a whole that’s greater than its individual parts. There’s redemption and self-sacrifice. There’s some amazingly passionate and tender love scenes and there’s an ending that will make you cry and wander around in a daze for a couple of hours – or at least that’s how it affected me. Just beautiful!

If you’ve read FLOWERS FROM THE STORM before, I’d really recommend reading it again. It’s like any great work of art – the more you look at it, the more you see. If you’ve never read it, grab it, settle down to not being able to put it down, and marvel at how great romance can be when a really exceptional writer is in charge. Ms. Kinsale, I’m in awe of your talent!

35 Responses to “Anna Campbell’s review of Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale”

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  1. Maria Lokken
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 2:56 pm

    Anna – I couldn’t agree with you more. I remember reading this book years ago and loving it’s complexity. Christian’s character goes though enormous changes you feel for his pain and I found myself wanting to scream on his behalf.

    Laura has created an intense, complex story. I remember when I read it, thinking it wasn’t a ‘typical’ romance. There were so many layers. Yup it’s a keeper.

    Y’all know, I don’t re-read books, but reading this review brought back found memories of some terrific story telling. I’m with Anna if you have read this one – it’s worth the read.


  2. azteclady
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 3:02 pm

    Ms Campbell, I agree completely! FFTS is an extraordinary novel, but not one I can read often; it’s intensity is just too much for me when I want to relax.


  3. PJ
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 3:05 pm

    I’ll add my voice to Anna’s and Maria’s. Flowers from the Storm is an incredibly well-written book. I haven’t read it in many years. I think it may be time for a re-read, especially since I’ve now had personal experience with a stroke patient. I’m interested in seeing if it will have an even greater impact on me.


  4. katiebabs
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 3:08 pm

    This is one of my top favorite romances of all time. The amount of emotion and tension in this book will bring you to tears.


  5. orannia
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 3:25 pm

    Hmmmm, I think I should try to read it again. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t get into it the first time…I think that says more about me than the book though 🙂 So, once thinks are a little bit more settled in my life (LOL) —-> FFTS (Attempt 2!) I’ve heard so many good things about it – it would be a loss, I think, not to experience it 🙂


  6. Buffie
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 3:38 pm

    Great review Anna! It makes me want to pick up the book and read it. I did try reading Kinsale a few years ago (not this book though) and just couldn’t get into the story. Maybe I should give her another try.


  7. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 4:28 pm

    Hey, guys, sorry, I’ve been awol. I’m blogging on Romance Round Table today but I’ll be over to talk about the fabulous FFTS soon! Hey, I’m giving away a book if any of you are passing and want to talk to me about the best bit of writing 😉


  8. Kati
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 4:52 pm

    What a wonderful reminder of a terrific book. Like you said, not one I re-read often, but I do love it. It’s funny though, most of Kinsale doesn’t work for me. But this book does work for me. The language is lovely and rich and the love story is so wonderful.

    Great review, Anna!


  9. Gannon
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 4:53 pm

    It’s been so long since I’ve read FFTS, but I think it may be time to have another read. It is a special book.


  10. Marisa O'Neill
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 5:20 pm

    Ah Anna, this is a true favorite of mine. And yes, you almost make me want to pull it off the shelf and re-read it. But alas, I found it very upsetting and sad when I read it. It was also compelling and frustrating at the same time. As a reader I felt like I had to work oh so hard for the HEA. Yet, I did keep reading it, and I’m glad I did.


  11. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 5:51 pm

    Maria, Marisa told me this was one of your favorites! Actually LK really started me back reading longer romance. There was a huge upsurge in historical romance here in Oz with Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers in the 70s and early 80s and then the market just seemed to die. I read a lot of romances that disappointed me (which is perhaps why the market died) and for years, I read other stuff. You know, s*x and shopping books like Judith Krantz and lots of category romance, which I still read. And you know, just other stuff not romance. Then one day in the early 90s, I was on holidays at the Gold Coast and there was this great secondhand shop near the apartment. I wanted something to read, decided I’d check out the romance section after many years of avoiding longer romances. There had clearly been another upsurge in romance writing and I didn’t know any of the authors. But there was some stuff that looked interesting so I picked up, completely without any fanfare, THE LION’S DAUGHTER by Loretta Chase and THE PRINCE OF MIDNIGHT by Laura Kinsale. How lucky was that? I still consider LC and LK two of the best writers who ever put pen to paper! And that started a renewed romance craze that hasn’t come to an end yet!

    What I love about LK is that she has this very individual world. Nobody writes like her. Nobody tells the sort of stories she tells. Nobody looks at character the way she does. She’s this magnificent maverick in romance writing!


  12. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 5:54 pm

    Azteclady, that’s true about the intensity! As I said, I got a shock when after years of telling people how great this is, I realized I’d only ever read it cover to cover once! I’ll pick up Lord of Scoundrels for a comfort read but this book really challenges a reader. It’s not a comforting story. But it’s an amazing story and something you won’t find anywhere else so I’m glad I re-read it. I’m always worried, too, when I pick up something I loved but haven’t read for ages, that it will disappoint me. In this case, the book was so much richer and more wonderful than I remembered. As I said, Maddie was the revelation for me. I remembered it as a story where the hero was fantastic and the heroine didn’t quite live up to him. I sure didn’t feel like that this time around.


  13. cyclops8
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 5:55 pm

    Hi Anna,
    Oh no. I’ve never read Laura Kinsale before. Thanks for the recommendation. Any other books on her backlist I should try?


  14. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 5:56 pm

    PJ, do you think it is a stroke he’s had? I’m not up with medical stuff enough to know. That was one of the reasons I was careful about how I described Matthew’s illness in UNTOUCHED. When you’re not an expert, it’s so easy to make mistakes. For the record, he’d had meningitis, although in the Regency that would have fallen into the brain fever category. Nice and vague! I notice that LK calls Christian’s illness an apoplexy which is what they called strokes back then – but that’s what they called all sorts of other stuff too! I’m glad to find another FFTS fan!


  15. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 6:00 pm

    Ha, Katiebabs! I think we’ve talked about FFTS privately and how much we love it. Actually it’s made me want to go and revisit all the other LKs that are on my bookcase. I remember really loving THE PRINCE OF MIDNIGHT (it has a theme of religious fanaticism versus tolerance too, interestingly enough) and THE SHADOW AND THE STAR which had the most marvellous virginal hero! Well, sort of virginal…

    Orannia, definitely give it another go, if only because there is NOTHING out there like it. Re-reading it, I was interested in how slowly it starts. But then, it’s nearly 500 pages, no new pages for new chapters and small print. It’s a huge roast dinner of a book! And I think you really need to see Maddie and Christian in their ‘real’ life before life hits them for six and the transformation can start.


  16. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 6:03 pm

    Buffie, it’s well worth hanging in through the slow start. I actually like that she’s into delayed gratification. And believe me, the emotion in these stories is so incredibly intense, you’ll appreciate the gentle start 😉

    Hey, Kati, interesting about most of Kinsale not working for you. Is her universe too dark? I remember reading THE SHADOW AND THE STAR and thinking, “Nobody tortures her characters like she does.” If she wasn’t such an amazing writer and she didn’t give the pay-off at the end, I’m not sure it would be bearable to enter her world. But you really get that great catharsis in her books that is missing from lighter stories – not that I’m dissing lighter books!


  17. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 6:06 pm

    Gannon, I’d be really interested to know what you think when you do the re-read. Actually another thing I really admire about the book is that LK doesn’t shrink from her characters’ faults. Maddie and Christian are compelling but they definitely have their flaws!!!

    Marisa, glad you love this book too. Usually when I have a book I’m really enjoying, I read it cover to cover without shifting. It’s a bit like obsessive compulsive behavior! This one, every so often, I had to get up and do something else just to take a breath of air. It’s that intense! But honestly, that’s one of its great strengths! It takes you by the throat and makes you look at the these characters and the consequences of what happens.


  18. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 6:12 pm

    Cyclops, hey, what a great question. As I said, I think I probably lean towards her more intense reads. I loved THE SHADOW AND THE STAR which is a Victorian and THE PRINCE OF MIDNIGHT that features this incredible sexy if tortured highwayman. It’s a Georgian. She moves around the eras a bit – there’s a couple of medievals too! MIDSUMMER MOON is generally recognized as the lightest of her books (it’s not THAT light, LOL!). There’s a book with a psychic heroine called UNCERTAIN MAGIC that I really liked too. It’s ages since I’ve re-read her stuff but if her style appeals, I suspect you’ll want to read EVERYTHING she’s ever written. Her most recent book was a few years ago – SHADOWHEART. As usual with Kinsale, people either loved it or hated it. I loved it – but be warned, there are some VERY strong love scenes in it that won’t appeal to everyone. She’s a risky writer and for me, those risks pay off, but she’s not someone you pick up for a quick few pages before you go to sleep at night! Shadowheart won a RITA so obviously I wasn’t alone in my admiration. I miss that she’s not writing now. She’s such an individual voice and I think we need those writers who push the envelope to keep the genre alive.


  19. PJ
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 6:29 pm

    Anna said: I miss that she’s not writing now. She’s such an individual voice and I think we need those writers who push the envelope to keep the genre alive.

    Which is why we’re so fortunate to have you! 🙂


  20. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 6:34 pm

    Oh, PJ, that’s lovely! But I’m a minnow compared to a huge glistening salmon when we talk about LK! I think you’d find a lot of writers who feel like that about her work. To quote Wayne’s World, I am not worthy! 🙂


  21. PJ
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 6:36 pm

    Yes, Anna, he suffered a stroke. Kinsale wrote on her website, Christian suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, for all those who wonder. A one-time bleeding in the brain caused by a malformed blood vessel. He never had another one, I promise.


  22. Maria Lokken
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 6:36 pm

    Anna – you’re a hoot – swear, when are you going to write a comedy!

    I agree – this isn’t wasn’t your usual romance. I was very surprised when I picked it up. But so intrigued I couldn’t stop reading.

    I forgot that when I read the book a few years ago, I’d gone to her website to get all the info I could on her. I went there again just now – and I read about her battle with her muse and how and why she stopped writing. Sad story. Does anyone know when her last book was published?


  23. pambook
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 6:52 pm

    I haven’t read her yet but finally picked up most of her books reading so much about them, Anna, your review is making me go look for it to read soon when I’m in the right mood – I do like an intense story at the right time.


  24. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 6:54 pm

    PJ, thanks for that!

    Maria, I really think comedy is my natural voice. One day I’d love to go back to writing them again. I think for the sake of my sanity, a break from all the angst would be most welcome!

    I just went to LK’s website and only got a temporary page up. Where did you see the stuff about her muse. Actually after writing a string of utterly amazing, ground-breaking, emotionally-wrenching romances, I’m not at all surprised that she needed break. I just checked my copy of Shadowheart and it came out in 2004. There had been a long hiatus before that. Right back, I think, to 1997 and MY SWEET FOLLY.


  25. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 6:56 pm

    Hey, Pambook! Fantastic the review has made you keen to read the book. Thank you! Sometimes a great meaty read is just what the doctor ordered, isn’t it? I hope you enjoy FFTS.


  26. PJ
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 7:01 pm

    Anna, here’s the link to the muse info. http://www.laurakinsale.com/war/war.html


  27. Maria Lokken
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 7:05 pm

    Anna: Yes, she only has a temporary page – but I believe that’s going to be a new website. I did a bit of maneuvering on the internet and here’s the link on her muse up and leaving http://www.laurakinsale.com/war/war.html It’s under the section called “War”.

    Read it, it’s interesting – she was none too happy about having to create to deadlines after writing 10 books in 12 years. I hope she’s had a good rest and comes back to put pen to paper. She’s a terrific writer.


  28. Maria Lokken
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 7:07 pm

    Oh – PJ and I were posting simultaneously. Hi PJ *waving madly at you* Whenever Marisa and I do things at the same time – and are unaware of our actions, she always says, “You owe me a coke”. For those not familiar with Miss Marisa’s drinking habits – well let me put it this way. If she was left on a dessert island and had a choice between food for sustenance and coke – she’d pick the coke.


  29. PJ
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 7:10 pm

    LOL @ Maria! *waving madly back at you!*


  30. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 7:10 pm

    Hey, thanks for that, PJ. Seem to be saying that a lot today. Imagine what I’ll say when you give me a turtle!

    That is sad – but honestly, having written all those BIG intense books in such a short time (relatively), I’m not surprised she needed a break. Have you all seen the amazing letter she wrote about the internet and writers?

    http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php/weblog/author_as_artist_novel_as_art/

    One of the things I love about her is that she stands up for romance as being art rather than commerce. Yes, we’re all writing for a market and we love people to read our books. But the story is something amazing and mysterious that does come from a place nobody really knows about.


  31. anne gracie
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 8:32 pm

    Hi, Anna,(and PJ who drew my attention to this post) it must be something in the air, because a few weeks ago I started a new thread on the Berkley Bulletin Board about Desert Island Historicals and the first (and so far only) book we’ve discussed has been…. wait for it… Flowers From the Storm.
    http://berkleyjoveauthors.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=1250

    It’s probably my all time favorite romance, and I do reread it, probably about once a year. It’s a reminder of why I fell in love with this genre. Intense, unique, heart-wrenching and utterly enthralling. I loved Maddie as a heroine — she was so strong, and Jervaulx… sigh… his need for Maddie is so heartbreaking and furiously expressed–it’s magnificent. Kinsale is extraordinary to be able to convey his emotions so powerfullly, when he has so few words at his disposal. A magnificent book. Maddie and Jervaulx were each shattered — as you say, their lives were destroyed–and then together, because of the other, they were reborn, stronger than before.

    It’s a tragedy Kinsale’s not still writing. I have hopes that if she can be freed of the roaring voice of the internet and readers and publishers, screaming for more, more, more, she might start dreaming again, and one day she’ll write, at her own pace and on her own terms, another extraordinary book.


  32. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 9:18 pm

    Hello, Ms Gracie! And yes, I had seen the talk on the Berkley Board! Great minds think alike 😉 I’ve been talking about reviewing FFTS for ages here – but of course, it’s one of those books that does come up when people talk about Desert Island Books. I think of Kinsale like I think of the Beatles – 10 years of creativity at the top of your game is actually pretty exceptional. Yes, of course we want more. We’re greedy little sods. But she has given us these amazing books to keep us going in the meantime. And you express my admiration for this book so eloquently, m’dear!


  33. PJ
    on Oct 23rd, 2008
    @ 10:30 pm

    Hi Anne! Thanks for stopping by. As Anna said, you do eloquently express the reason so many of us love this book. I’ve enjoyed talking about it and as I mentioned over at the Berkley board I hope to re-read it again soon. I’m very curious to see how I react to the story this time, viewing it from such a different perspective. I’ll let you know!


  34. Karin
    on Oct 24th, 2008
    @ 2:38 pm

    I have never read this novel before, but I think I need to after reading your review, Anna. It really sounds fantastic.


  35. Anna Campbell
    on Oct 24th, 2008
    @ 3:20 pm

    Karin, I hope you enjoy it. As you can probably gather, it’s at times a harrowing experience but man, it’s so well done! And I promise you’ll never read another romance like it!

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