Laura Kinsale, Light and Dark Stories

Not long ago, I heard the good news that Laura Kinsale has completed a new book.

For anyone who doesn’t already know, Laura Kinsale writes superb historical romances, many of them featuring amazingly tortured heroes. In fact, no one does dark heroes better, as the judges of this year’s Romance Writers of America RITA contest recognized in selecting her last release, SHADOWHEART, as Best Historical Romance. My critique partners and I sometimes refer to her as the Goddess. When we analyze her scenes, as a writing exercise, we usually find ourselves genuflecting and mumbling, “We are not worthy, we are not worthy…”

OK, I could rhapsodize for a while longer, but you get the picture.

I read on her website ( that Laura decided to do a lighter story after all the angst and turmoil in SHADOWHEART. It’s going to be more like her other lighter book, MIDSUMMER MOON.

As presumptuous, not to say blasphemous, as it is to say this, I think I understand. Some of my earlier Regencies were on the light side, but LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE has darker elements than I’ve tackled before (still Little League compared to SHADOWHEART, of course). I found myself suffering along with my characters, which can be a draining experience. When I started another angsty story it was like wading through an ever-deepening snowdrift. Now I’m doing a lighter one and finding that the ideas are coming a little more quickly (though first drafts are never easy). So for me, changing up was a creative necessity.

However, switching gears feels like yet another creative risk.

I think Laura Kinsale’s devoted fans will buy her next book. I certainly will. But do some readers feel cheated when an author of an angsty (or funny, or sweet, or sexy… you name it) book does something radically different in her next?

I wonder.


About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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12 Responses to Laura Kinsale, Light and Dark Stories

  1. I love Laura Kinsale. But I’m not a big fan of her lighter books. I wish I was. I wish the whimsical humour could carry me away instead of make me grind my teeth.

    Don’t get me wrong. I adore humorous romances. And I think any author can try anything they want and pull it off if they have talent. But I did not dig MIDSUMMER MOON at all; I even [gasp] stopped reading it because it was going down all the same paths that other authors had already plumbed.

    So I’ll buy her latest and read it with an open mind, and hope she got the “whimsy” out of her system so she can go back to astonishing me with her audacity and explorations of the dark side of love.

  2. If I love an author I will follow her anywhere–light, dark, contemporary, paranormal, etc. The best example is Anne Stuart, whose categories I read, even though prior to her I’d never read contemporary or category. I still haven’t gotten Kinsale, although I have been collecting her backlist.

  3. “The Council of Genres has anounced the nominations for the 923rd annual BookWorld Awards; Heathcliff is once again to head the Most Troubled Romantic Lead category, for the seventy-eighth year running…” (Jasper Fforde, The Well of Lost Plots)

    Tortured heroes. I hate ’em. I loathe the idea of h/h using each other as shrinks. How unhealthy is that? I like heroes with baggage and problems, but not forever glowering, growling, striding around, and raking their fingers thru their hair because of something they saw in the woodshed years ago. I tend to judge heroes on the Daughter’s Boyfriend Worthiness Scale, and a lot of them I’d ban from the house.

    Change of rant topic–I haven’t read Laura Kinsale (yet) but I think to write humor you have to have something very serious going on beneath the funnies. Otherwise it’s a lackluster effort with a few one-liners. Jennifer Crusie and Kathy Love can do it, and I can’t think of many others who can.


  4. oops, I didn’t answer the question and I’m not going to this time. Why can’t a book be both light and dark? Shouldn’t it be?


  5. I haven’t read enough romances. And not Kinsale, though I intend to — so I guess I’m not quite sure where “tortured” begins and normal neurotic male sick puppy stuff leaves off. I was reminded of this when I read the exact same line as one of mine in Nita Abrams’ wonderful The Exiles — heroine says to hero, “you’re NOT your father, you know.” Well, I’ve said it to MY husband often enough (the fictional father in The Bookseller’s Daughter being a combination of my own father-in-law and the father of the Marquis se Sade). My point is any woman who’s been involved with a man for more than a few months is likely to become acquainted with a few basic issues. And it’s nice in romance to play with certain notions of healing, reconciliation, and a heroine-ish wisdom.

    But TORTURED? How deep does it go? Heathcliff, of course, is absolutely unredeemable — Cathy was right when she said she WAS Heathcliff — when she dies he DOES lose his soul and it’s not pretty — it’s evil, which is to say petty, stingy, vindictive, and a matter of picking on those much weaker than he is. Poor Isabella. We don’t write WH-inflected romances (to answer one of my own earlier questions) because if we did we’d have to hold up the mirror of Emily B’s pathetic Isabella to our own glamorized notions of healing, reconciliation etc . . .

    After Heathcliff and Isabella, I don’t think I’m much for tortured heroes either. But I will try Kinsale.

  6. And yeah, I’m with Janet re dark and light. chiaroscuro. It’s how we get the words to approximate form

  7. Elena Greene says:

    The best books have a mix but still there is an overall tone that usually relates to the conflict. If the h/h spend most of the story in peril of their lives and watching people die around them, the tone will probably be darker than if their problem is learning to work together when he’s a control freak and she’s a free spirit.

    Back to Laura Kinsale, she does things to characters that in modern times would probably warrant years of therapy. Sometimes, thinking about it coldly, it seems improbable that love can fix them. But it’s the magic of her storytelling that makes you believe it. And no, the characters don’t sit around psychoanalyzing one another! They suffer. How they suffer…

    She does add touches of humor to her darker stories, though I have to say MIDSUMMER MOON didn’t work as well for me. It took a huge suspension of disbelief to get into it (at least for a Regency nerd like me), but it was still an enjoyable read.

    Anyone who wants to try her, FLOWERS FROM THE STORM is an excellent starting point. I’d also recommend reading FOR MY LADY’S HEART before SHADOWHEART as the hero appears there first.


  8. I definitely agree with Elena that Laura Kinsale is an amazing author, one of my very favorites. FOR MY LADY’S HEART is one of the best, if not the best, romance I have ever read, and SHADOWHEART came pretty darn close. That said, it’s true that her characters (especially the hero from SHADOWHEART and the heroine from LADY’S HEART) can be very, very tortured, and probably in real life would be damaged beyond repair, but one of the magical things about her storytelling is that I BELIEVE at the end of the book that they have truly found love and redemption. It’s not a simple thing to do a tortured but non-exasperating characters–9 times out of 10 I read a book with a so-called torture hero, and I just want to kick them in the butt and send them to their rooms without supper, they’re being whinier than that kid on LOST. πŸ™‚ And I think I could never do a really, truly damaged character, not like Kinsale can.

    Kinsale’s are not easy books, but they’re gorgeous and heartrending. I don’t really enjoy her lighter books so much, they just seem to miss that wonderful texture and angst and strange reality of her darker books. I’m rambling, I know, it’s late at night, but there it is. πŸ™‚

    Another author who I think does tortured well is Judith Ivory, especially in her older Judy Cuevas books, BLISS and DANCE. I particularly love DANCE. But some of her later stuff (like the ending of THE PROPOSITION) just aren’t quite as deep and unusual to me. Same with Madeline Hunter. I just ate up her Medievals, they were amazing. Her newer, Regency-set books are just as well-written, but the plots are more familiar. And I’ve about had it with Regency duke/spies. That’s my confession for the night.

  9. I’ll chime in one last time and then leave it alone. If you are a writer first, and a writer of romance second, Kinsale is a MUST READ. I cannot stress it enough. A MUST READ. Craftsmanship, characterization, pace…she takes it to new levels. Even her flawed books leave 85% of the rest of the genre in the dust. I guarantee you’ll be reading it muttering, “how the hell does she do it? How the hell?”

  10. Therese W says:

    I agree with Kathleen and Elena: Kinsale’s talent is dumbfounding and enlightening and definitely worth studying! I also agree with what Amanda said about Judith Ivory. Ivory and Kinsale are my favorite authors (though Ivory’s books are usually set in the 1900s). If you’re looking for a great into to Ivory, start with Bliss, which you’ll find under her OTHER name, Judy Cuevas. Bliss, Dance and Untie My Heart are all worth studying for Ivory’s talent with character layering and subtext. If you ever get a chance to sit in on her “Writers’ Toolbox” workshop, I highly recommend that, too! πŸ™‚

  11. I so agree about Ivory, Therese! Haven’t had a chance to do her workshop yet, but I did meet her once at a conference. I’m sure she thought I was an insane stalker. πŸ™‚

    One of the sexiest scenes I’ve ever read in a romance was the bank scene in Untie My Heart. No clothes were shed, there wasn’t even any kissing or touching, and yet it was HOT. Who knew a coat could be such a turn-on? πŸ™‚ I would love to know how she did that. But my favorite all-around book of hers was Sleeping Beauty. Talk about complex, layered characters!

  12. Therese W says:

    Amanda, I still remember that coat, too. Alpaca, wasn’t it? πŸ™‚

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