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Audiobook Review: The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale (Book two in the Victorian Hearts series)

The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale

Blurb:

In defense of her honor, innocent Leda Etoile has burned all her bridges and taken refuge in her tiny attic room in a shabby boarding house in London. But her last safe haven is invaded when she wakes to find a man hidden in the dark – a man with golden hair and the face of a fallen angel, who moves in the night like a shadow.

Will he be her savior, or her ruin? Samuel Gerard draws her inexorably into the richest circles of aristocratic England. But even as Leda falls in love with a man she can never have, she must keep his secrets. Though everything about him is shame and illusion, this shadow warrior desperately desires what only Leda can give him – absolute love, and the truth about himself.

The incredibly successful pairing of Laura Kinsale and Nicholas Boulton has been honored once again, winning a THIRD Earphones Award from AudioFile Magazine, this time for The Shadow and the Star. Sweeping listeners from the jubilee parades of Park Lane to the flower-scented breezes of Hawaii, Boulton brings this beloved Kinsale classic to memorable life.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OH MY GOSH, this book was amazing. It would have been fantastic to read in print or ebook version to be sure–but in audio? Un-freaking-believable. Seriously, I think I would listen to Nicholas Boulton read the backs of cereal boxes and be perfectly content–he’s that good. His British accent is killer, but when he seamlessly switches to American? I have no words.

But enough swooning–for now. Back to the book 🙂

Laura Kinsale has a way of writing flawed, troubled characters that is both heartbreaking and amazing at the same time. These two are no exception. Both Samuel and Leda practically reduced me to tears more than once during the course of the novel.

Samuel had a devastating past, which is revealed in part as the novel progresses. He has moved beyond it in many ways, growing up to be a successful–if relentlessly focused–man, accepted by the society in which he lives. He is deeply ashamed of his background, however, and it colors his perception of himself in everything he does. He does not believe that anyone who truly knows who he is can love him.

Leda had a similar backstory in that she too was an orphan and grew up believing that her origins–her mother was French and never married her father–would forever taint how others would see her. She felt that being half French meant that she was a flawed individual, and that others would see her as a person with loose morals. As a result, she strives to be perfectly correct in all that she does. When the book begins, her situation is the reverse of Samuel’s–she went from having a somewhat comfortable upbringing (not with her mother, who passed away when she was young, but with a gently impoverished society lady who had taken her in afterwards but unfortunately died before the story began) to being unemployed and nearly destitute.

The two officially meet on Leda’s last day at her job at a London dressmaker, just before Leda refuses to become a mistress to a wealthy man so she can pay for the gown she is required to wear for work.

Books like this make me soooooo glad I work in the 21st century instead of the 19th.

The story is told from Samuel and Leda’s viewpoints, and the first half or so also gives us some views of Samuel’s past. We see how he came to live with the Ashtons, a British aristocratic family living in Hawaii and his training in Japanese ways by their servant Dojun (he essentially becomes a white ninja in Victorian England–seriously, how cool is that??), and his complicated relationship with the daughter of the house, who he has a serious case of worship for but who is obviously not the right girl for him.

Not that he sees this. Like, ever. Really, besides the fact that this novel ended way too abruptly (though it did end at a really adorable spot I naturally wanted more) my only other complaint is that Samuel never does have that aha! moment where he admits–whether to Leda or to himself–that what he felt for Catherine wasn’t what he had deluded himself it was. It was slightly disappointing.

Really, though, the rest of the book so blew me away that I couldn’t even take away a half a star for it. The writing is exquisite, and the characters were fantastic. Leda’s unique blend of innocent virgin and old-lady prudishness (because, hello–she was raised by an elderly spinster in the Victorian era) was absolutely endearing. The settings–England during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and colonial Hawaii–were amazing. The politics and history…well, to be honest, some of the Japanese and Hawaiian bits went right over my head, but Mr. Bouton’s reading had me loving hearing about them anyway.

Like I said, cereal boxes. But I digress.

I suppose I can see how this book–and probably Laura Kinsale’s books in general–aren’t for everyone. Samuel and Leda’s romance isn’t quite the focus of the novel in the way that is customary in a “typical” historical romance. But in spite of this–or actually, it’s probably because of this, more accurately–her characters end up feeling a lot more true to their time period. Leda definitely doesn’t have any 21st century notions as so many historical heroines tend to do, and I can see how modern readers might be frustrated with her. To me, though, she came across as charmingly authentic…even as her innocent ignorance broke my heart. Samuel too is a different kind of hero from the usual, and it makes him feel more real as well.

(Though the whole ninja thing detracts a bit from the realism. Whatever. It’s still totally cool.)

Samuel’s relationship with his adopted mother, Lady Tess (Lady Ashton), is fantastic. I loved every single scene with the two of them in it–especially the ones where it was just the two of them. The gifts he gives her? Beautiful.

I’m still not sure how I feel about Dojun, though. Many of his teachings that become such a part of Samuel’s consciousness really raised some red flags, and by the end of the novel he had definitely lost much of his shine for me. He’s lucky I couldn’t reach inside the novel and smack him upside his manipulative head.

Although I’m sure he would have seen me coming a mile away and easily deflected. Still, I’d have liked to have had the chance.

I was about halfway through with this book when I realized that it was actually second in a series–Lady Tess’s story is told in The Hidden Heart, which I absolutely must read. I am doing things backwards, as always. The only question is–will Mr. Boulton be reading an audio version of that one as well? If so, will I be able to wait for it?

Only time will tell. In the meantime, I may have to go re-listen to a few bits. Just in the interest of–well, something. Something that makes it sound much more noble than gratuitous swooning.

A rating.

I won a copy of the audiobook version from the author through Sarah at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books as part of their Thanksgivukkah celebration. All opinions expressed here are my own, however.

View all my reviews

 

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