The Shadow and the Star

By Laura Kinsale, 1991, European Historical
Avon, $4.99, ISBN #0-380-76131-9

Sensuality: Hot

When I read Laura Kinsale's unique and startling first novel, I remember thinking either it was a fluke or I had just come across one of the best writers in the history of the romance genre. Her subsequent works proved that she was no fluke, but in my opinion it wasn't until The Shadow & the Star that she came to full maturity, finding the perfect balance in story and characters. Laura Kinsale has a gift for expressing powerful emotions with incredible subtlety. Her writing is clean and easy to read, but her simplicity is deceptive - she chooses words with the sensitivity of a poet.

Reading Kinsale is always an emotional experience. The danger is when her trademark angst-ridden heroes are a little too tormented. Some of them teeter close to the edge of insanity, which makes me uncomfortable. I don't like my fantasies too dark. But when this tendency is under control, as in The Shadow & the Star, the hero's deep need to love and be loved, and the heroine's ability to redeem him, all make for a transforming experience.

Samuel Gerard, the story's hero, is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and has been rescued and brought to Hawaii by a well-to-do family, the Ashlands. Their Japanese butler, Dojun, helps the boy to heal his inner wounds by training him in the techniques and philosophy of the martial arts. Samuel eventually becomes a formidable warrior, but he is always on guard against the sexual side of himself, which he regards as dangerous, something to fight against and conquer.

Making the acquaintance of a prim and proper London shopgirl, Miss Leda Etoile, Samuel enlists her help in his secret campaign against the city's child prostitution houses, and eventually hires her as his private secretary. Leda is a lovely character, naive but intelligent, never daring to believe that a man as handsome and wealthy as Samuel would want her, but loving him with all the sweetness and generosity in her soul.

Their unfolding relationship, infused with the emotional yearning and impetuous desires of two innocents, is a joy to behold. After a prolonged struggle with his chaste love for the Ashlands' daughter Kai, and his desire for Leda, Samuel seduces Leda in one of the most erotically charged love scenes I've ever read. It's quite a trick to make a male virgin so sexually appealing while believably depicting his lack of experience, but Kinsale carries it off in a way that makes your toes curl.

At the prodding of the Ashlands and his own conscience, Samuel reluctantly does the right thing by Leda and marries her, surrendering all his dreams of a noble and chaste love with Kai. He believes that he has lost all chance of personal salvation, but instead he finds it with Leda.

Patiently, gently, Leda helps him to reconcile the two halves of his divided self, to let go of the ugliness of his past and learn how to love a woman body and soul.

I reread this book occasionally to remind myself of a few things . . . that a romance writer needs to push the boundaries of a story beyond what is comfortable, and to give the hero a necessary streak of vulnerability that will emphasize his strength. Exotic locations, colorful characters, expert writing, a tender love story . . . The Shadow & the Star has it all.

You can always tell when someone is great by how easy he or she makes it look. I can't think of any writer who has the amount of sheer talent Laura Kinsale does. She's just amazing. The Shadow & the Star is Laura Kinsale's best novel, and anyone who doesn't read it is missing out on a writer at the top of her form.

-- Lisa Kleypas

TJ (tj_writing@yahoo.com):
I just read The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale and wow! It's just awesome! Laura-dono, you're a genius!

Everyone I know told me that it's probably the best romance genre has to offer, and I must say I agree completely!

I honestly think Laura Kinsale is part Japanese or something although she doesn't look like one. She's captured the shisho-deshi relationship of Dojun and Samuel so well. I'm highly impressed. And trust me. I don't get impressed that easily on matters like this because I've read and watched reading materials and shows on kenkakus and Japanese martial arts, etc. during Bakumatsu. As a matter of fact, I've been disappointed many times before when I read fiction featuring heroes/heroines who practice Japanese martial arts, culture by non-Japanese writers.

Moreover, I loved the way Kinsale used Japanese words because she seemed to know exactly how to use them without making me pause. It's not because I do not understand Japanese because I understood all the words (except some ellaborate phrases) used in the story, but some writers, I've noticed, have an annoying tendency to translate every foreign word they used very obviously as if I cannot make out anything from the way it was used.

Also I loved Samuel so much. I'm a sucker for a tortured hero, and he's so perfectly tortured and so honorable at the same time I just wanted to hold him. (OK, I wanted to ravish him, too, but what do you expect from me? *eg*) But what made him truly stand out among all those tortured and honorable heroes is the fact that he's so vulnerable, and I, as a reader, know this. He never says, 'I feel vulnerable' but I know when he thinks about how he should walk and walk until he drops from the surface of the earth. And he's positively kawaii! (Samuel-sama! *g*)

I remember reading Laura Kinsale's essay in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women in which she stated that heroines are placeholders. I must disagree because Leda was more than a placeholder. She was real for me, and there's no doubt in my mind that she'll be perfect for Samuel, just as he is perfect for her.

I don't know how Laura Kinsale got inspired to write a story about a ninja hero, and I don't know if it was difficult for her to get it published, but I'm glad she wrote it. It is tragic that the book is out of print, and I think Avon should reprint it, so I can get a new copy to add to my collection of keepers.

Phyllis Lamken (flip@pdt.net):
I just read the wonderful review of The Shadow & the Star by Lisa Kleypas. Like Ms. Kleypas, The Shadow & the Star is one of my favorite books. I agree entirely with her review. In addition, I would like to make the following comments.

This isn't only a story about the damaged hero, Samuel, finding salvation. It is one of the most honest coming of age novels, which I have ever read. I very much identified with the heroine, Leda. Leda was raised to be a genteel woman. However, the world in which she lived had little respect for improverished genteel ladies. Due to her social standing, she is treated as a woman of loose morals. Despite these insults, she bravely maintains her dignity.

This is also the story of the loss of Leda's innocence. Also, Laura Kinsale wisely knows that the lost of innocence can be much more painful than the lost of one's virginity. This remains as true today as it would have been for Leda in Victorian England. Happily, Leda finds a man who respects and loves her in her first lover.

Lastly, I would love to know whether The WindFlower was in any way influential in the development of The Shadow & the Star. Both are coming of age novels for the heroine. Secondly, there are strong similarities between Cat and Samuel.

E-mail Lisa
Lisa Kleypas at AAR
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