Archives: book review

Book Review: Shadowheart by Laura Kinsale

I cried happy tears while reading this story.

That fact might prove embarrassing, since

a) I am not the type of person who would be expected to weep sappily over romance novels, not least because

b) I am a sadist. Literally, a dominant sexual sadist.

But here I am, all salt-watery with a tissue in hand, because

c) the heroine of this novel is a dominant sexual sadist–and also a youthful ingenue who finds herself in way over her head when she’s revealed as the last scion of a medieval Italian noble house, and joins forces with a beautiful assassin who overcomes his tragic past to devote himself to her and her cause.

I was once a somewhat ingenuous young heroine, though Ancestry.com hasn’t revealed quite such revelations in my family history. If I’d discovered this book sooner, I wonder what it would have done for me. Probably sparked a lot of light bulbs–though I may have taken it in stride. A voracious reader of everything from romance novels to Westerns to science fiction to historical mysteries, I was just starting to think of stories as something that could apply to my own life. Only once I did did I realize how few romance novels captured the experiences find most romantic.

And then Shadowheart gives me this:

He held her look. With a slow move, like a lazy caress, he touched his fingertips to his shoulder, to the place where she had bitten him. Instantly she felt a spring of hot sensation, a violent dream of her power to mark and wound him as he arched under her hands. He smiled at her, a mere hint in the greenish light of the storm.

Elayne looked down, snatching a quick breath, as if the atmosphere had closed upon her.  …She had never in her life before wanted to hurt any creature. It was not anger, though anger was a part of it. But it was more than that, more–it was all twined and twisted with the way he looked beneath his lashes and smiled as if he knew.

Shadowheart, pp 159-160

Even before he gets very far in his redemption arc, Alegretto’s already enchanting me with his submissive seduction, or seductive submission, or whatever this is–it just made me curl my fingers over my mouth and tear up. I didn’t even realize such active, teasing submission was a thing I could want in my relationships, fictional or otherwise. And Elayne’s reaction is described so beautifully, with complexity and sympathy. I never thought I’d see a woman’s sadistic desires written in lyrical, opulent romance-novel prose without having to write it myself.

Continue reading