This month's theme is "Kickin' It Old School", books that have a copyright date 10 years or older.
I read a lot books from the early aughts when I first started reading Romance. Raiding my library's ebook collection introduced me to the likes of Balogh, Quinn and Kleypas and I read as many of their books as I could get my hands on. For this month's challenge I decided go for a book a little older and reach back past my comfort zone to a book from 1990. While I have read a handful of 90's novels, mostly Loretta Chase's or Nora Roberts's books that I've picked at library sales, I haven't read many others from the era when I was reading mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Last fall I picked up Prince of Midnight when the ebook went on sale, because Kinsale is a fave of some of my favorite twitter rom people. I've actually been trying to read it since late December, or more accurately trying to listen to it, but I stalled out due to lack of listening time. The narration on the audiobook was actually lovely but I rarely had time to listen for more than 1/2 hr at a time and never two days in a row. I caved and gave up on the audiobook. Once I started on the written version I really started to pick up speed and was able to finish in a couple of days.
The Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale
S.T. Maitland was once a dashing & celebrated highway man/avenger of wrongs known as the Monseigneur du Minuit. But an explosion killed his beloved horse, destroy half his hearing and deprived him of his sense of balance, so he retreated to the French country to paint in a ruined and isolated castle. His rustication is interrupted by the arrival of Leigh Strachan, a young person in search of justice and revenge.
Leigh Strachan's family has been killed. She seeks revenge against the cult leader who turned her out of her home after gaining control of her hometown. She has traveled out of England in male drag and seeks the fabled Seigneur du Minuit's personal assistance or at the very least his mentorship.
Leigh and S.T. are almost immediately at odds over everything, while being thrown together into increasing if unwilling intimacy through sudden illness and dangerous encounters with bad people. S.T. eventually insists on accompanying Leigh back home in order to assist her in whatever limited way he can. Leigh no longer wants his help but can't leave him either.
I really loved the slow burn deepening of Leigh and S.T.'s feelings as their relationship progressed. S.T. was immediately infatuated, and is always seeking her favor, and she always stymies him. She never responds or behaves in the way he hopes she will. Her unexpected responses make him question himself, and his ingrained responses and behaviors. Leigh fights her growing affection for S.T. as much as she possibly can. Hating each and every feeling he reawakens in her. Their journey from France to England is a long battle to stay numb and unmoved by S.T.. How their relationship morphs dramatically once they reach shore and the new interpersonal conflicts they need to negotiate in the second half was fantastic and honestly a great deal of fun.
Leigh and S.T. have a complicated sexual relationship. Leigh is only willing to engage with S.T. sexually if it is an impersonal obligation or in barter for his services. This allows Leigh to not risk her feelings, and gives her power over S.T., allowing her to taunt and challenge his lusts. S.T. is incredibly frustrated that Leigh will not engage with him in a way he considers fair. She refuses to acknowledge her own desires, deny her attraction, and resists seeking her own satisfaction. He is trying to tame and pacify her through sex and inspire her to want his affection and domestic dream. It subverts the traditional romance trajectory, where the hero is often the one domesticated through sex. The power dynamics of their sexual relationship and their push-and-pull over sex and desire were fascinating and I feel I will need re-read in order to pull out all the inter-locking pieces.
As much as I loved this book, and how it has inspired me to see out other Kinsale novels, I struggled with elements of the plot. There were some really wild coincidences tying everything together and it just didn't work for me. If the story had simply been about a rogue vicar who builds a powerful personality cult, and abuses his power to drive out the Strachan, it would have had plenty of power. But the cults connection to the Hellfire club and the ramifications of that were just too much for me.
My favorite part of the whole book was the final chapter. Their declarations of love, and how were finally able to claim each other was amazing. I loved their HEA and their romance. I was also so happy to finally be able to mark the book finished.