Mrs. Julien’s #CRB5 Review #62: Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

If such a thing exists, Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm is part of the historical romance canon. It’s a classic of the genre that still appeared at #6 on All About Romance’s 2010 Top 100 List 18 years after publication. I voted on their list for 2013 and included it myself. An intense and sometimes painful read, Flowers from the Storm’s status as one of the best romances novels ever written is understandable and unassailable.

Christian, Duke of Jervaulx is a mathematician and a rake. We meet him acting on both inclinations early in the book: the latter leads to a duel, the former to working with a Quaker academic and his daughter Archimedea, called Maddy. When Christian has an “apoplexy” (stroke) shortly after presenting a mathematical paper, he disappears from their lives until Maddy and her father come to live at a rest home/psychiatric hospital run by her cousin. Christian is a patient and a troublesome one at that. When Maddy meets Christian again, he has been brought very low and is presumed mad. She realises he is “not mad, but maddened” and approaches her cousin saying she has “An Opening”, a spiritual calling, to help Christian. The apoplexy left his language processing centers damaged, but Christian finds he is able to communicate first through mathematics and later with language as Maddy works with him. He recognizes in her a chance to escape the hospital and seeks to do so by any means necessary.

Progressive for The Regency, the hospital is every dehumanizing psychiatric care nightmare rolled into chapters: abuse, restraints, ice baths, isolation. Kinsale shows us Christian’s muddled, struggling mind and I found these sections harrowing and must confess to jumping forward to a less upsetting section of the book to console myself before going back to continue reading chronologically. Mercifully, Maddy and Christian get away from the hospital, but a marriage of convenience is required to prevent him from being sent back as it will give the impression of a fuller recovery.

Romance novels can succeed on many levels, but the best ones have the same thing in common: If a writer can honestly portray the emotional lives of her characters, everything else will fall into place. Flowers from the Storm is not a light-hearted romance, it can be a tough read precisely because the characters are so well drawn and the reader feels their struggles. Christian and Maddy are two puzzle pieces that fit together only because of the situation they find themselves in. In either of their previous lives, their relationship would not have worked. Forced by circumstance, they build something together that is more than they ever would have been separately.

Thank you, Malin, for reminding me that I had not read this yet and for promising me Christian and Maddy would leave the hospital soon when I emailed her in a heart-wrenched panic.

The (Shameful) Tally 2013

This review is also posted on my tiny little blog.

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3 thoughts on “Mrs. Julien’s #CRB5 Review #62: Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

  1. You are welcome. I’m only sorry it took me so long to finally discover this book for myself. I’ve been non-ashamedly reading romance since 2009 and I only got round to picking this up for the first time a few months ago. Sometimes books are referred to as classics for a reason. Have to be honest, though, I’m not going to be rushing to re-read it any time soon, it was too harrowing in parts for that. It’s certainly not the first romance I’d pick up for a comfort re-read.

    • I revisited later parts, but the hospital portions were so harrowing I can’t see wanting to read them again anytime soon. For that matter, even some of the later scenes so successfully convey Christian’s frustration they are painful, too. I see your point: VERY selective re-reading.

  2. I read this book based on Malin’s review and all I can say is THANK YOU! I adored it. ADORE. I hate to sound heartless but I didn’t find the hospital scenes as harrowing. Yes it was horrible. There were many many horrible things going on during that time that is often dropped into these romance novels (child prostitution anyone?) but usually in less biting detail. But due to my cold icy heart I wasn’t desperately skimming past the hard parts to get on to the good stuff.

    I thought their relationship as well as the individual character growth was one of the most palpable and believable ones I’ve ever read. What you said, “Christian and Maddy are two puzzle pieces that fit together only because of the situation they find themselves in. In either of their previous lives, their relationship would not have worked. Forced by circumstance, they build something together that is more than they ever would have been separately.”

    This. Entirely this.

    I also completely fell in love with Christian and loved his halting speech and how much he could convey with a stern eyebrow. He might be one of my all-time favorite romance heroes were it not for the fact that I just finished Fangirl and am utterly and forever in love with Levi.

    Is 42 too old to get my first tattoo? Levi4eva? *swoon*

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