Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
Regency romance. At the outset, this one is a bit different from the standard wounded hero romance. Christian, the Duke of Jervaulx, is a rake and a bounder, but a brilliant mathematician, who suffers a stroke. The characters describe it as a “fit” and consider it God’s vengeance for his dissolute lifestyle but the symptoms are clear: weakness on his right side, difficulty seeing things to his right, and severe aphasia, that is, inability to comprehend or produce written or spoken language. Christian’s family send him to a genteel asylum and plot to disinherit him. Coincidentally, he is found by Maddy Timms, a Quaker girl working in the asylum as a nurse. Maddy recognizes him, since her father, who is blind, had collaborated with Christian in writing papers on mathematics. Maddy tries to help Christian, and of course they fall in love. Of all the obstacles romance writers think up to keep the hero and heroine apart until the last few pages, this one is one of the more compelling. There is the matter of getting him out of the asylum, securing his estate, and regaining his faculties, but the real problem for Maddy is her religion. She believes very strongly in modesty and chastity, and if she marries outside her faith, she will be not only cast out of the Quaker community but cut off from her father. All of this is very promising in the first half, but the second half does not live up to the potential. Christian is a fairly typical alpha male; even after the stroke, his character never changes from a demanding, self-centered asshole. Maddy is more interesting, but for all her intellectualism, she is surprisingly passive. Judging by the huge number of comments on Amazon, this book is a big deal in the romance genre, supposedly proving that romances can be great literature. The writing is a bit better than average, and the author takes a big risk by rendering many of the early scenes from Christian’s point of view, including the garbled language. But in the end, because the characters fall into conventional gender roles, the novel seems rather clichéd. And the devo factor was surprisingly low, because for all that Maddy is supposedly his nurse, she never does anything to actively help Christian, he just sort of recovers on his own. It’s not a miraculous or complete recovery, but I still found the book unsatisfying.