It is time for SuperWendy’s TBR challenge again and this month the theme is Your Favourite Trope. Let it be known that there are lots and lots of spoilery spoilers ahead so look away if you one day plan to read Flowers from the Storm. You have been duly warned….
Flowers from the Storm
by Laura Kinsale
narrated by the sublime Nicholas Boulton.
He’s a duke. He’s a mathematical genius. He can’t talk and he’s locked in a lunatic asylum. Only a modest Quaker girl can reach him, but when she helps him to escape, she’s swept into his glittering aristocratic world, her life torn apart by his desperate attempt to save himself.
I really love Secret Baby Tropes and though I would not list it as Numero Uno trope (which is Friends to Lovers) it is however the trope for which I have read a TBR book for this month.
I’m reallllly late to the Flowers from the Storm party. I have known about this novel since forever – how could I not with Kat Mayo as one of my borrowers. But I dragged my feet. I have read Kinsale’s The Prince of Midnight and (shameless name dropping here) had a rather interesting twittversation with Kinsale about its ending back in the early twitter days of yore. But I just could not find the dedicated time that I needed to sit down to 500+ pages of intense reading so it sat on my TBR for over a decade. Earlier this year I was doing a lot of driving through New South Wales with my husband and, on the final leg (but of course), we decided to download the audiobook which had been recommended by a whole lot of audio savvy tweeps. And OH MY!!! It was great!
So the Duke of Jervaulx is a bit of a player as well as a brilliant mathematician. Maddie is a devout Quaker whose mathematician father writes scholarly mathematical thingamajiggy papers with Jervaulx thus precipitating Jervaulx and Maddie’s first meeting. Jervaulx has bucket loads of swag and confidence and leads a profligate life of calculated excess which culminates in his being challenged to a duel where he falls ill. Maddie is quiet and devout. A woman who has taken care of her blind father since her mother passed away many years earlier. Maddie and her father go to work in a lunatic asylum for Maddie to discover the Duke chained like an animal. Jervaulx was institutionalised by his family who believed he was incapacitated due to his immorality rather than what to our modern eyes is a stroke. Maddie slowly gains the institution’s trust to be Jervaulx’s carer and eventually accompanies him out of the asylum to his mother’s home and then through an escape, a hurried marriage, an explosively hawt consummation and lots of guilt, remorse, guilt, oh dear you are not a frugal man, guilt guilt but I love him/but I love her drama mama plot twists that bring the tension levels to an all time high. Highly irregular circumstances bring these two unlikely people together but rather than try to write a long, cohesive review of this book, I am just going to hit the main points of the novel and the plot points will unravel on their own….
Jervaulx and infidelity – I seek out infidelity plots. I won’t say I enjoy them as much as I am drawn to them. I want to understand why someone would commit infidelity. What has driven them to either seek out a partner other than their own or to take a partner who is in a committed relationship. Jervaulx’s dalliance with his mistress is an important driver in this book. Not only is it the opening scene but there are a number of consequences throughout the book due to their coupling; least of all being caught by her husband which catapults the reader into his story as Jervaulx’s stroke (or turn or whatever it is called in the book) occurs while he is (reluctantly) duelling with the affronted husband. Jervaulx’s family takes this as a sign of punishment due to his sinning ways and the book is steeped with judgements we pass on others and the Godly judgement associated (or at least that used to be associated) with illness (in Greek my mum would say Οργή Κυριού). Even struggling through the mire of confused thoughts, his torture in the asylum struck at my heart, his own thoughts and panic at the prospect of being institutionalised again made him get closer and more needing of Maddie who was the only person who saw that he was afflicted with an illness and that he was not a lunatic.
Maddie and religion – I was not enamoured much by Quaker heroine Archimedia (Maddie) Timms however I understood her strength, her difficulties in reconciling herself to having found love outside of her belief system. Her insistence on maintaining her faith and denying her love for Jervaulx grated on my nerves not because she annoyed me but because it was so believable – this struggle between the values one is brought up with, the difficulty one has when they deny or reject their belief system was visceral in Kinsale’s Maddie. Right to the last denial (echoes of Peter at Gethsemane), when Maddie is reading her denouncement of Jervaulx at her Quaker’s meeting – this moment angered me. Angered me to no end for I don’t doubt that had Jervaulx not shown up to challenge her reading she would have gone through with it even though it was not “truth”. Maddie fights temptation and will throughout this book as though Jervaulx is the power she needs to overcome rather than realising that settling for her previous life that was easy and much more delineated was the bigger temptation. Submitting to her love for Jervaulx was positioned as being evil and worldly when it actually was the more difficult and complex path to take in life’s journey.
Secret baby trope – I must say that while I was listening to this book I became increasingly frustrated as the tension was building and I couldn’t flick forward to see what happens. I needed spoilers and though I trawled through Goodreads and various blogs looking for hints as to what was to come, when the Secret Baby arrived both my husband and I started shouting in shock. It was totally unexpected and the baby showed Jervaulx’s vulnerability and his shame of his former healthy self, his actions throughout his life. His need to redeem himself just tore at my heart. It was the ultimate revelation of an affair. A baby. Abandoned by its mother into the care of its father. The rules of society should have been upheld. He should have sent the baby away, fund its upbringing but deny its existence. But Jervaulx throughout Flowers from the Storm is a risk taker. Prior to his stroke, he risks money through calculated and strategic decision making. His business dealings are not made at the whimsy of a fast dollar but keeping in sight macro-economical impacts of money dealings. The time that Jervaulx spent institutionalised left his business arrangements in a tenuous position. The game had been disrupted and if he didn’t control it once again, not only would he risk being put back into the lunatic asylum but the people in his employ had their own livelihoods at risk. The knowledge that Jervaulx understood risks and had managed them even when he was unwell, meant that he could manage the risk of disrupting society’s expectations of how to deal with an illegitimate child. Though it was his mistress that broke the societal code in not passing off the baby as her husband’s, it was Jervaulx’s humanity that could not bring him to send the baby away but also his understanding of risk taking that had him acknowledge that he needed Maddie by his side to guide him through taking this largest of risks.
Maddie and Jervaulx together – Before Maddie and Jervaulx met, Jervaulx was arrogant and suave, laddish and debonair with Maddie he kept all those qualities that made him who he was but she enhanced him. She made him a better person. One that stepped out of the societal games that he was happy to play as a Duke and found himself developing a place in society away from the debauched but also away from the pious. Maddie too, with her infuriating primness and faux humbleness (oh how she shitted me off reminding me of so many of those narrow-minded, judgmental leaders from my years at Christian fellowship) she too was shaken from her acceptance and adherence of her society’s rules. She had to think beyond the bowed head, false prostrating that comes from the strictures of religious codes to one where belief and prayer can still remain core to the soul but one where love and happiness and delight in the everyday and the ability to do good can still be achieved and it was Jervaulx who brought out the best in her. At first, I did not believe that Jervaulx and Maddie were truly a romantic pairing. In my mind, Jervaulx only loved her as Maddie saved him from the lunatic asylum. He clung to her because without her he could not function. But as the weeks pass since I finished listening to this novel – its characters still in my head as they were my two month driving companions – I am starting to see that both of them needed each other to bring out the best person in them. they were already formed before they met but it was through understanding each other that they found love. Only Maddie could see Jervaulx’s humanity beyond the strictures of his chains (whether they are the chains of the asylum or the chains of his Dukish affairs) and only Jervaulx could see Maddie beyond the chains of her adherence to her religious code. And they could only see this in each other because …you know… lurrrrve.
As much as this story was told equally from both the hero and heroine’s point of view of their coming together, for me, at least in this first reading, Flowers from the Storm was all about Jervaulx. For me, this was a GOLD STAR read (Bingo!).
I do need to point out that it took the two of us 2 months to complete the whole novel. Yes! TWO MONTHS! We didn’t think it would take that long. We both commute to the University of Technology Sydney together every day. The time is more indicative of how short our commute is (and the fact that our older son will often blow our audiobook listening plans by asking for a lift to school which is only 10 blocks from the uni and he destroyed our driving-in-silence-on-the-busiest-route-we-can-find-to-get-to-work plans because what else do you do when you want to finish an audiobook in a hurry but seek out lots of traffic congestion. The last 4 chapters of this book became EXCRUCIATING! It took us TWO weeks to get through them! In future, audiobooks may need to be put aside purely for road trips.
And I also have to say, melt melt melt oh what a delicious experience having Nicholas Boulton reading to me with that gorgeous take me to bed voice. Swooning.
I downloaded a copy of the audiobook Flowers from the Storm from an online retailer.