A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Seize the Fire by Laura Kinsale

on October 6, 2017

The theme: Historical romance.

Why this one: Someone mentioned a great desert island scene on Twitter.

(Semi-spoilers ahead.)

Years ago, in a burst of supportive enthusiasm, I bought several big fat Kinsale books. And… I have DNF’d almost all of them — yes, including Flowers from the Storm, though I certainly plan to get back to it. (In ebook, because I’m smarter now.) It looked for a while like this would be another DNF, which is why my post is late.

This is one seriously challenging book. Sheridan is a fraud, a con-man, a liar, and a deserter. Olympia is cowardly, naive to the point of being deadly to others, and doesn’t get jokes or sarcasm. (She may be intended to be coded as autistic, though I’ve personally never met an autistic person without a sense of humor.) And that’s putting aside the racism in the depiction of Sheridan’s servant Mustafa (and every other non-white person) and the classism. (Sheridan quite bravely saves Olympia from being raped, but is not a whit concerned about her maid.) And the ickiness of Sheridan having sex with his late father’s mistress. And him mocking Olympia for the plumpness he supposedly admires.

No doubt because of my own internalized sexism, Olympia was the hardest pill to swallow. She is just so wet.

Nevertheless, I persisted. And despite the uncomfortable aspects, and the episodic adventures, and generally uneven plotting, it was a powerful story overall. And still rather unusual in the romance world, I think, because it leaves the main characters at an exceptionally low ebb, with very little left except each other. Although Olympia does become highly competent while they’re stranded on the desert island, she is psychologically wrecked by her complicity in their adventures. And Sheridan has been wrecked for a very long time by his horrible experiences at war.

The ending reminded me a bit of The Portrait by Megan Chance. In that, there can’t be a typical HEA, because the hero has bipolar disorder and there is no understanding or help in his time. Yet Chance did pull off a happy ending. Here it’s somewhat more ambiguous… there is no help or understanding for Sheridan and Olympia’s guilt and PTSD — except in each other.

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5 responses to “TBR Challenge: Seize the Fire by Laura Kinsale

  1. Miss Bates says:

    I am a total outlier and in general, I’m respect Kinsale’s version of romance rather than enjoy it, but I loved this book. I liked it much better than Flowers, though the ick factor featured in both.

  2. Hilly says:

    You wrote a thoughtful review that I appreciate as a long-time fan of Kinsale, but you left out one pivotal, poignant secondary character of note: the penguin. Kinsale incorporates an unusual companion animal in each of her books, and this story’s castaway animal was so sad & sweet. We can psychoanalyze how apt it was, if you’d like. 😀

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. As always, our takeaway is similar (tho’ I hadn’t thought of Olivia as autistic).

    • willaful says:

      I don’t either — I just wonder if Kinsale did. The character of Kinsale’s I see as perhaps autistic is Zenia in The Dream Hunter. Though I haven’t read it in many years.

  3. I love Kinsale’s writing, and at the same time I have problems with almost every one of her stories.
    For example, I love the prologue of My Sweet Folly (well, almost everyone seems to) but I have serious issues with the rest of the story. She created a heroine who could have stepped straight out of an Austen novel and paired her up with a hero who would have felt perfectly at home in a Brontë novel. (Emily or Charlotte, at least. Maybe not Anne.) It’s a weird mismatch that /almost/ works, but I really honor her for trying to pull it off.

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