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Shadowheart by Laura Kinsale
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287639,220 (3.91)18



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I don't feel like this one lived up to its promise, begun in FOR MY LADY'S HEART. I also don't think it lived up to its promise as a femdom S&M exploration because the heroine's proclivities kind of came out of the blue. ( )
  MoriahJovan | Sep 23, 2013 |
Maybe I'm just not in the mood lately, but again I just didn't care about what happened to these people.
  JenneB | Apr 2, 2013 |
This is a hard book to review because on the one hand I was sucked into it because it was so well written, but on the other hand it kept me at bay with a few jarring gaps in the narrative. I wish Shadowheart wasn’t a romance, because it could have been so good if it had committed to the action/adventure, political intrigue elements ala Sabatini or Shellabarger that were sprinkled throughout. These moments, all of which feature a to die for hero, Allegretto Navona, aka Il Corveto or the Raven, are brilliant. He is dark, twisted, beautiful, damned but still trying to claw his way into heaven somehow. I swoon at the thought of him. When we’re allowed inside his head, the story is riveting, complex, compelling.

But here’s the rub. There are only a few chapters, a mere handful, that focus on Allegretto, and they come very late in the story. The rest of the 502 pages are filtered through the perspective of our heroine, Elena di Monteverde, who finds out she’s the princess of some Italian kingdom. At the age of six, too young to remember, she was spirited out of danger when the kingdom collapsed upon the death of her grandfather, torn apart by the warring houses of Navona and Riata. She’s been raised in England ever since, but, thanks to some political machinations, she’s being sent back to Monteverde to marry Franco Pietro, the head of the house of Riata. On the way she’s captured by pirates and taken to the island stronghold of Il Corveto, who has his own plans for her.

Shadowheart covers a lot of ground, and not just geographically. It seems to have epic ambitions, charting long journeys, death defying adventures, the rise and fall of kingdoms, vendettas, religious crises, battles, and, we’re told, romance. Unfortunately, with all this going on, and with such an unbalanced narrative in favor of a weak heroine, I’m very disappointed in the romance. It might have not been so bad if Elena had been strong enough to carry the story on her own, but she’s not much of a character. She’s a pawn in the political maneuverings of various factions, and when she steps in to take a more proactive role, she’s less of a person and more of a lifeless figure head – an aspiring Queen Elizabeth (not as an anachronistic reference of course, but as an analogy) without the personality or strength to validate such a role. Whatever power she has is given to her by the hero. He lets her do the things she does, whether in the bedroom or on the political stage. Without him she would have been destroyed. And for the life of me I don’t know why Allegretto places himself at her mercy. For love? For penance? For the pleasure/pain that directs their relationship? For the greater good? I think the love is supposed to be a given, but I really don’t buy it. There’s nothing about Elena to commend her. For such a long book, Shadowheart is stretched amazingly thin in this regard. The same goes for the BDSM sex scenes, which were really interesting and different, but left much to be desired. I can see how the author tried to go for a reversal of traditional gender roles through these scenes, effecting a descending and ascending power arc for Allegretto and Elena respectively but, at the same time I felt like here again the book only skimmed the surface and never fully explored the emotions propelling the situation. I didn't get a clear picture of the dynamics of their relationship. I don’t need everything spelled out for me in huge blinking neon signs, but still I felt like there was so much more to the relationship that was left neglected or underdeveloped. For me, the s/m scenes and the romance that struggled to grow around it seemed random, an afterthought that wasn’t that well integrated into the broader scope of the story itself. Despite my qualms, however, the s/m scenes were one of the few saving graces of the book. They're erotic, unconventional, disturbing, and powerful. At the very least they provide a lot of food for thought.

As for the broader scope of the story, the plot to reclaim Monteverde, Elena is on the periphery of all the fun, interesting stuff, but since the book is all about her, all the fun, interesting stuff happens elsewhere. I get brief glimpses of thrilling duels, daring rescue attempts, and emotional turmoil whenever we dip into Allegretto’s perspective, but then the book quickly withdraws from these murky depths, dragging me back kicking and screaming to Elena’s perspective. Tantalus was never so tormented. Because the really cruel trick is that I find myself invested in the book anyway, but never satisfied by what I find there, which is as perplexing as it is frustrating. Not a good combination. The book stayed with me after I finished it, and kept me thinking, but only because (pardon my dramatics) I was left speculating and despairing over what might have been. ( )
1 vote theshadowknows | Mar 16, 2009 |
Read this based on Cauterize's recommendation. Kinsale is a talented writer and I'm glad to have discovered her. Her writing style manages to be both detailed and action packed. The hero and heroine are well developed characters and continue to evolve throughout the story. The chemistry between them is slow to start but builds to simmering levels. Some details of their relationship might not be to everyone's taste, but I found it an interesting part of the power dynamic between them, as well as quiet sexy! This is one of the best novels I've read in the romance genre. Really enjoyed it and will definitely be reading more from this author. ( )
1 vote ParadigmTree | Dec 27, 2008 |
Wicked good, but not all of it to my taste. Although the hero and heroine enjoyed each other in a unique way, that worked well for them, I was not the happy voyeur. Still, it's Kinsale and she's an excellent writer. I'm in awe, almost always. ( )
  CathyLeming | Dec 31, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 042516232X, Mass Market Paperback)

Readers were first introduced to Allegreto, the elegant assassin, in For My Lady's Heart. Now, he is a charismatic, dangerous man who will stop at nothing to regain his rightful place in the rich Italian principality of Monteverde. And the perfect tool has just fallen into his hands, in the lovely form of Lady Elena--the long-lost Monteverde princess. Only she can solidify his claim...but the dark passion that grows between them is more dangerous than any treachery mortal men could devise.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:20 -0400)

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