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Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale - A Review

February 04, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 169

When Christian Langland, Duke of Jervaulx is first introduced in Flowers from the Storm, he is in the middle of a tryst with his married lover. All is going according to hisunrepentant rakish plan, until his mistress's husband comes home. Jervaulx experiences a minor stroke, without knowing what has actually happened to himself. A few days later, when he is called out in a duel, Jervaulx suffers a second, greater stroke that renders him literally speechless.

In the unenlightened times, he is judged mentally ill, as his speech is almost completely impaired. He can't form proper sentences, he yells and rants and becomes abusive. He can't write, nor recall the name of everyday objects and his understanding appears damaged as well. A previously expert shot, athlete and outdoorsman, he can now no longer even button his own clothing. The messages between his brain and his hands fail to connect and he can't even explain this to people. As a result, his family admits him to a 'progressive' lunatic asylum, where he's treated like a caged animal.

Prior to his strokes, the Duke has been a mathematical genius who, together with blind Quaker John Timms, was working on a paper discussing a new mathematical theory. Timms' daughter Archimedea (Maddy) acts as her father's eyes and is his caregiver. She's been equally fascinated and repulsed by Jervaulx and his wild, worldly ways. Maddy and her father, along with the rest of the general public, have been led to believe that the Duke died in the duel.

A few months after the Christian's stroke, Maddy and her father find themselves also living at the asylum, where Maddy will assist her Cousin Edward who runs the institution for the financially well-off. When she is escorted around to meet the patients, she is stunned to discover a dishevelled, wild-eyed Jervaulx among the inmates. Usually a volatile patient, who in his frustration lashes out at his keepers, when he recognizes Maddy, he calms. She is then permitted to become his daytime caregiver and he latches onto her like a lifeline. During their interactions, Maddy realises that what plagues His Grace is not insanity, but frustration: "He is not mad, but maddened."

Maddy devotes herself to easing the Duke's fears, helping him to communicate and, when she learns that he must face a competency hearing (instigated by his greedy relatives) or lose his title and his freedom forever she resolves to do whatever she can to prepare him. He coerces her into running away with him and even then marrying him, all to hold off his family and to try to regain his empire. Misadventures, manipulations and deceptions occur along the way, with Jervaulx keeping a death-grip on Maddy, while she is torn between helping him and keeping true to her Quaker ideals.

He needs her so much that he does anything to attach her to him, completely ignoring her reluctance. She loves him despite herself and feels that she's losing her identity - and she is. She loses what she values most - her identity as a Quaker. The thing that keeps her going is that she believes it's her duty, under the guidance of God's light, to keep Christian from the hell of incarceration, brutality and humiliation of the asylum and help him continue to regain his humanity.

Maddy is an unusual heroine, in that she is not a teenaged hoyden. She has no clue about the realities of Georgian aristocratic economies. When her debt-ridden duke proposes to accumulate even more debt in order to give a grand ball, she rebels, not understanding a society where perception, not reality, rules the day.

This book is unique in presenting a hero who is not completely self-possessed, perfect and in control. It has a hero who acquires a real vulnerability yet still allows for him to be a strong leading man. He must also overcome his contempt for all that Maddy embodies and learn to respect her humility and simplicity and plainness of possessions and lifestyle.

In some ways this is a restrained love story, in that while Maddy obviously does care for Jervaulx, some of the expected romance is missing. He can't court her using his financial wealth and he has to continuously battle her Quaker upbringing. She is thrust into the rich and materialistic world of the aristocracy, yet fights to live her faith and keep her integrity as she unwillingly falls in love with this tortured Duke. The principles of frugality, honesty and total abstinence from carnal temptations seem totally non-existent in Jervaulx's world. Therefore, she frequently displays resistance on many different levels.

Sometimes the language in the book is hard going, between the thee/thou style of Quaker speech and the hero's stroke-damaged hearing and slurred, disjointed words. Having said that, the dialogue that exists between Jervaulx and Maddy can be touching, frustrating and amusing.

Jervaulx does manage to draw Maddy out of her emotional reserve, teaching her to enjoy and appreciate physical pleasure.

Her struggle in its own way mirrors his. He loses his sense of self and so does she. Both have to struggle through the processes of massive personal change. As Jervaulx says, she makes him a better man. Maddy finally accepts that as a Duchess, she's able to reach and assist many more people with her wealth, even though it makes her walk in Truth more complex.

The author conveys well the Duke's frustration, broken language and motor skills as well as his needy attachment to Maddy as it matures into love. Maddy is so devoted to Jervaulx that she repeatedly tests the bounds of her faith against what she feels is right. This is a moving, wonderful story that is much more than just a light romance.

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