Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Shadow and The Star by Laura Kinsale *****


That is my first gut reaction to this book. It's a new favorite for me - the sensual writing, or maybe I mean sensory - or - the picture she paints is so vivid, so touching, in the book.

I wrote a few paragraphs about this book right after finishing it, then I read Lisa Kleypas' review on AAR. Of course, being an author, she manages to write a wonderful summary of the book and its high points without even going into much detail of the story, and I felt I needed to revise my own review as too wordy and not nearly sufficiently descriptive. (It's ironic that I'm not really of fan of Lisa Kleypas' books...)

Basically it's the story of a tortured hero, Samuel, who was rescued from a childhood of sexual abuse by a wealthy British family living in Hawaii in the mid 19th century. Samuel mentors with the family's Japanese butler in martial arts and Japanese ways of living and thinking. As Kleypas points out, the training is a way of healinb - but one area of his life, the sexual side of him, is too dangerous for him to reveal or even experience. While he's aware of the feelings, he suppresses them as too violent.

His heroine is prim and proper Leda - she lives in genteel poverty but while she's naive in the ways of things between a man and a woman, she's worldly in the ways of Society. When she catches Samuel in the act of stealing items from rich people, he gets her to help him - he's actually on a campaign to expose child prostitution, by hiding the stolen objects in houses of ill-repute and sending the police there to find them.

He manages to hire Leda as his personal secretary, and enlists her help in courting the woman he imagines he's loved most of his life - Kai, the daughter of his benefactors. But his love for Kai is chaste - he builds a house for him and her, but builds her a separate bedroom - his fantasy of love and marriage with Kai does not include sex. When confronted with the truth - Kai will want children - he's horrified but tries to go forward. Meanwhile, his lust/attraction to Leda builds, and because he has imagined that she is actually a courtesan, he steals into her room one night to indulge his seamier, sexual longings.

It's obvious from the story that both of them are virgins - well, he is a virgin in the sense that he has not, as an adult, chosen to have sexual relations before this encounter. When his benefactors insist he marry Leda, he does so reluctantly. Leda, it seems, is the one who brings true healing to him, though.

The story is told in flashbacks, one chapter in the present, one chapter in the past, revealing Samuel during his years in Hawaii, undergoing his training and his relationship to Kai as a child.

There's a suspenseful ending, with the Japanese trying to get back the last item stolen in England, as well as a truly satisfying HEA. I know I'll want to read this one over and over, because of the wonderful way the words sorta washed over me while I read it. Her convincing portrayal of Samuel's childhood in Hawaii, what he was thinking and longing for, made his character real and gave the story its depth.

5 stars and a keeper

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