There's a part of me that's screaming, "Five stars! Five stars! Five stars!" with regard to how I should review this book. To be fair, it's a really good book. I'd been wanting to get into Laura Kinsale's works for ever because of how lovingly touted they were in the Smart Bitches's romance-themed book, BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS. Lately, her books have been going on sale for $1.99 in the Kindle store and I've been snapping them up left and right.
Elayne is a bit of a wild child growing up in the rural forests of England with occasional tutelage in herbal-type medicine from her godmother. She has a flirtation going with a knight, and despairs a little about her single status but is otherwise content with her life.
All of that changes when Elayne finds out that she's an Italian princess in hiding, sheltered from the chaos and the bloodshed across the water. Don't worry, though. She gets to make up for lost time when one of these power-mad would-be despots hires a bunch of pirates to take Elayne and her guardian, drugs her, marries her while drugged and then fakes the consummation, only to rapily accost her later and ensure that there's a legit consummation later.
The perpetrator of these foul deeds is a Bad Man named Allegreto: nobleman, assassin, pirate.
The beginning of the book feels much like a traditional bodice ripper, like something you'd see in the 70s or 80s, which is why the sex in this book stands out. Allegreto might hold all the power in the beginning, but by the end of the book, he is utterly in Elayne's thrall. Also, considering SHADOWHEART was published in 2004 - as a mainstream title - it is kinky AF. You wouldn't guess it from that innocent little cover, but there's some serious masochistic/Fem-Dom action up in here.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the court intrigue, the gorgeous passages of writing, and the cinematic aspect of the story as it rolls along, with sweeping backgrounds, intense confessions, and heart-stopping betrayals. It made me feel like I was watching The Princess Bride, or reading one of those older epics like GONE WITH THE WIND, where the romance in romance novels could often be overshadowed by the plot - and came out all the better, for it.
So why not five stars! five stars! five stars! you ask? Even though there was so much of the story that I loved, there were many moments when I did not buy the characters' developments. Elayne's proclivities for domination and inflicting pain seem to come out of nowhere, and I was a little surprised at how quickly and competently she turned Monteverde on its head and gamed the political system with no formal training in such matters (although Allegreto did help her a little, I guess). I was also puzzled by Allegreto's character: in the beginning he is icy, cold, and utterly in control. At the end of the book, he's a hot mess: angsty and weepy, with such soul-wrenching agony that I was half-tempted to put on some My Chemical Romance or some Smile Empty Soul in sympathy. I don't mind the direction his character took, but I would have liked to have understood it more.
SHADOWHEART is a really dark, sexy medieval romance, and if you enjoy stories about taboo romance and court intrigue, I think you'll really like this book. Don't believe me? Just check out some of the quotes in my status updates for this book. Go ahead, I'll wa - what's that? You already bought the book? You're halfway done with it already?
*rubs hands together evilly*
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars