From the BLURB:
The Duke of Jervaulx was brilliant and dangerous. Considered dissolute, reckless, and extravagant, he was transparently referred to as the ′D---- of J----′ in scandal sheets, where he and his various exploits featured with frequency. But sometimes the most womanising rake can be irresistible, and even his most casual attentions fascinated the sheltered Maddy Timms, quiet daughter of a simple mathematician.
After I read and loved Jennifer Ashley’s book, ‘The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie’, a friend recommended me another historical romance with a highly irregular hero.
Laura Kinsale’s historical romance opens predictably enough. Duke Christian Jervaulx is an unrepentant rakehell, and when we meet him he is in the middle of a tryst with his married lover. All is going according to rakish plan, until his mistress’s husband comes home... that’s when Kinsale flips this historical romance on its head. Jervaulx experiences a minor stroke, unbeknownst to him. It isn’t until a few days later, when he is called out in a duel that Jervaulx suffers a second, greater, stroke that renders him literally speechless. But, according to medicine of the time, Jervaulx is merely mad. He cannot form proper sentences, he yells and rants and becomes abusive. He cannot write, nor remember the name of simple objects... he is mad, and so his family send him to a mental asylum.
There, he is nursed by the Quaker woman Maddy Timms. Maddy recognizes the Duke from her father’s mathematical society meetings, though she was never one to socialize with the hedonistic Duke. But at the asylum Maddy discovers some shocking news... the Duke is not mad. Through a series of mathematical codes and equations, she realizes he is in fact still of sound mind... though, for some reason, his body cannot communicate it. Maddy takes it upon herself, under the guidance of God’s light, to be the Duke’s helpmeet. She will rescue him from the mad house, restore him to his estate... and along the way, give him her heart.
This book is incredible. I thought Jennifer Ashley was revolutionary in the historical romance genre for writing a hero with Asperger syndrome. But Laura Kinsale really takes the unconventional hero to whole different level in this book.
The story is told from both Maddy and Jervaulx’s perspective, so that you get an all-encompassing view of the duke’s changed character. From Maddy we read how much this man has changed; once lauded in London’s tattle pages as a tempting bachelor, Maddy watches as this infamous man is bought to his knees and abused emotionally, and physically. From Jervaulx we read the most heartbreaking narration of all – as readers we can interpret the disconnect between Jervaulx’s sane thoughts, and the actions Maddy and the asylum wardens witness.
His throat throbbed from the garrotte; he prayed to God that his family hadn’t forgotten him, that his name protected him, because it would be so simple to keep that stranglehold an instant too long – so easy; and he felt deserted, discarded, disowned; he had no reason to believe there was anything left of the universe but this cell and the hallway and what he could see from the window.And Maddy. Maddygirl.
You really have to trust in Laura Kinsale. For a long time I was left wondering if the Duke wasn’t half-mad. Intellectually I know that stroke victims are not ‘insane’, but Kinsale keeps readers (and Maddy) guessing for a long time whether or not Jervaulx has lost his mental properties. For a long time his internal monologue is hazy and muddled, to the point that he can only think to label Maddy as ‘Cuzz-mad’, because he can’t think of her name or to simply label her ‘woman’ or ‘nurse’. Then we read his slow regain of speech; stop-start words and half-formed sentences as Jervaulx wades through the murky waters of his mind. Kinsale writes intense and fantastic dialogue and inner monologues that weave a twisted tale of a lost mind. Brilliant.
I will warn that ‘Flowers from the Storm’ is not a book of smouldering sex... But it is a brilliant and epic love story. Maddy perseveres and believes in Jervaulx when everyone else is happy to abandon him to the mad house. With Maddy’s compassion and patience, Jervaulx is able to shine a glaring light on his past corruptions and womanizing ways – and he becomes ashamed of his past. There is some sex – but Kinsale writes them with the utmost tenderness and sweetness, especially considering all that Maddy and Jervaulx have to do to get to that point of intimacy.
“You...make me...better.”“Oh, I will try.” She played with a lock at his temple. “But thou art the duke, a bad wicked man, and I love thee too well to make thee something different.”“Bad wicked...idiot,” he said wryly.“No,” she said. “A star that I could only look up and wonder at. Thou perceives my true covetous nature – I’m glad thou fell, and I can hold thee in my hands.”
For a long time I felt a little adrift in the story, wondering how a romance could spring between Maddy and this mumbling, clumsy ‘mad’ duke... but Kinsale makes it work. The romance is in how Maddy helps pull Jervaulx out of his mind’s darkness. It’s a love story of grand emotion and unforgettable characters. ‘Flowers from the Storm’ is unique and glorious, a not to be missed historical romance.