Leda Etoile was orphaned at a young age, but was taken in and raised by a prim and proper older lady. As such, she has learned proper etiquette and how to comport herself like a lady in every circumstance in spite of being a commoner. Since her guardian passed away, Leda has supported herself by working in a dressmaker's shop, but her meager finances are beginning to wear thin. When she innocently mentions this fact to Madame Elise, the owner of the shop, Madame Elise makes arrangements for a man to support her, for a price of course. Leda, appalled by the mere suggestion, immediately resigns her position which leaves her in even more dire financial straits. She has been dreaming of becoming a typist, but with no experience and no letter of reference from her former employer, her prospects are dim, and it looks like she may end up on the streets.
Samuel Gerard is an impossibly handsome, untitled gentleman, who has made his own fortune in the shipping business. His past is filled with dark, unspeakable secrets that are only known to Lord and Lady Ashland, the couple who have raised him since he was about eight years old. Samuel has spent most of his life in Hawaii where the Ashland's old Japanese butler, Dojun, chose Samuel to be his apprentice. For years, Dojun has schooled him in the ancient ways of the ninja, as well as the Japanese language and culture, and Samuel found a much-needed friend and father-figure in Dojun. Samuel has fancied himself in love with the Ashland's daughter, Catherine, also know as Kai, and has planned on marrying her ever since he was about fifteen. Because of his troubled past though, Samuel has decided to love and protect Kai, but only chastely, never really having thought of what that might mean in the context of marriage. The other problem is that Kai thinks of Samuel as nothing more than a brother and is completely oblivious to his adoring gazes.
Samuel and the Ashlands make a visit to London in the company of the Hawaiian royal family in celebration of the Queen's Jubilee. Lady Ashland and Kai visit Madame Elise's dress shop along with the Hawaiian and Japanese princesses to have new gowns made for the occasion. There they meet Leda just before she decides to resign. When no one is able to communicate with the Japanese party, Kai calls Samuel inside to help translate. Leda is rather taken with Samuel's good looks, as is nearly every other girl in the shop, and Samuel is the perfect gentleman, kind and helpful in every way. Later in the day, after Leda has quit her position, she visits some friendly officers at the police station in her neighborhood to avoid her landlady suspecting that she's lost her job. While she is there, Leda overhears details on a string of thefts of precious artifacts from several of the foreign entourages. These thefts are particularly unusual in that the perpetrator is able to get into heavily guarded areas. The stolen objects are then replaced by small lurid statuettes, and then the thief always sends a note to the police telling them they can find each stolen object in a particular house of iniquity.
After a long and tiring day, Leda returns to her rented room. While lying there trying to go to sleep she feels something hit her leg, and quickly realizes that there is a man in her room. She had just rearranged her room before going to bed, and he can't avoid crashing about. Leda recognizes his voice as that of Samuel Gerard moments before she faints. When she comes to and sees the sword he is carrying and strange clothes he is wearing, Leda immediately realizes that Samuel is the thief. She is still too weak to move from some sort of an energy surge he had used to defend himself, and he, unfortunately, has a broken leg from her sewing table falling on him, so they end up spending the night together which leads to all sorts of complications. Realizing that she is nearly destitute, and he is in no condition to continue with his exploits, Samuel offers Leda a job as his secretary, which she at first turns down. After a week of finding no further work and having to sell nearly everything she owns, Leda goes for a walk and finds herself wandering past the house where Samuel had informed her he was staying. Before she can leave, Kai comes bounding out of the house and fairly drags her inside expressing gratitude for helping Samuel. She and Lady Ashland promptly ensconce Leda in a room of her own and immediately make her feel like one of the family.
Once living in the same house, Samuel and Leda begin to get closer and develop feelings for one another, but his plans to marry Kai initially interfere with their potential happiness. Eventually though their feelings lead to passion, and when Samuel compromises Leda's virtue, a quick marriage ensues. Samuel, who had intended to live a chaste life, is thoroughly vexed by his passions and desires for Leda. His difficulties in coming to terms with the tormenting memories of his past and the shame it has left him with causes even more trouble in their marriage. When Kai announces her engagement to someone else, Samuel decides to return to Hawaii to escape having to watch her with another man, but the return is fraught with danger when Japanese operatives come looking for the sword that Samuel had stolen in London. It is the one artifact that he had been unable to return, and it is purported to possess mystical power that could help overthrow the government.
The Shadow and the Star is a very dark story that could have benefited from a few more lighter moments. Still, I was able to find a stark beauty in it's raw emotional intensity. I have to give kudos to Laura Kinsale for her willingness to tackle a topic as difficult and painful as the abuse and prostitution of children with great compassion. Having the hero be the one who had suffered this abuse makes the story rather unique to the genre. The actual abuse scenes are little more than brief snippets, and in my opinion, are non-graphic and handled in a genteel way. Yet, sensitive readers should know that the psychological fallout of Samuel's past abuse is incredibly intense. I was also able to appreciate the uniqueness of the ninja training and Japanese cultural references, again something that is not often found in romance. I do enjoy a book that goes beyond the normal standards of it's genre and is written with enough intelligence to make me think. That said though, there were times that the cultural references went a bit too far beyond my understanding, yet did not fully engage my interest enough to drive me to do my own research about the topic. There were some scenes and details, not just in the cultural realm, but overall, that I think could have been pared down for the sake of picking up the pace a bit.
The Shadow and the Star contained many wonderfully written elements. Ms. Kinsale has a talent for writing intoxicatingly sensual scenes that are created by a mere look or the barest of touches. There were also some beautifully romantic moments which were created from the simplest of things, such as the first gift that Samuel gave to Leda. This scene fairly made me swoon. I also thought that the initial love scene between Samuel and Leda was very well done and quite awkwardly realistic considering that both characters were virgins, which in itself is another unique story element. Ms. Kinsale also has a very nuanced writing style in which there is much left unsaid that must be read between the lines. At times this was another unique and wonderful element in the story, but admittedly this is not the easiest style to follow, and there were times that I felt like perhaps I missed something, especially at the end. Samuel had spent the better part of the book in emotional turmoil, struggling to reconcile his passions and desires as normal human responses. I never quite understood how, when or where this finally happened. I have the sense that the answer was to be found somewhere in the symbolism of the events surrounding him, but as much as I tried to conjecture about it, the point at which Samuel was able to reconcile his feelings was never fully clear to me. Because of this, I found the ending to be pleasant and happy, but not entirely fulfilling.
A couple of things about the story frustrated me a bit though, with one being the lack of communication between the hero and heroine. There were several times throughout the story when one of them would think of something they wanted to say to the other, yet for one reason or another, the words never passed their lips. I can't help but wonder if the story might have been richer and fuller if they had simply said what they were feeling. There was also never any discussion between these two characters about Samuel's past beyond a mere admission on Leda's part that she knew. I know that they were both rather shy characters, but I still thought that it might have added depth to their relationship if they had discussed their feelings surrounding this issue or just simply had discussed their feelings in general. Leda didn't seem to have any difficulty droning on about insignificant things such as home furnishings, but when it came to the truly important things, such as saying, "I love you." or expressing a need for intimacy, it seemed like she felt that these were improper topics of conversation. I think it might have been even nicer if Samuel had gotten to a point that he trusted Leda enough to tell her of the past abuse himself, rather than the knowledge of it having come from Tess. Another thing that bothered me just a little was the mystical, magical aura surrounding certain parts of the story. There were times that Samuel reminded me more of a Jedi than a flesh and blood man which seemed a little out of place in a historical romance and better suited to the paranormal genre. I also have to admit to being a bit unnerved at the strangeness of Leda's "dear sir" formalities with Samuel even after they were married and in the midst of passionate moments. I'm afraid I just can't imagine calling my husband by such a title.;-)
The characterizations were extremely well done exhibiting a great deal of depth. I adored Samuel as the hero. I guess I have a certain preference for brooding, tormented heroes, and Samuel definitely fit this category. Underneath his seemingly cold, distant exterior beat a kind, gentle and loving heart. I liked the way that the author used Samuel's ninja training to empower his character. I found his avenging angel persona to be very sexy and appealing, and would have liked to have seen more of these types of exploits in the story. I loved the way that he was able to shut down the child prostitution rings so neatly and quietly, with no fanfare, and never resorted to any kind of violence. I think it would be impossible not to like a character such as Samuel who possessed such intelligence and ingenuity while being drop-dead gorgeous. His character's emotional intensity was heart wrenching, but gave him so much humanity. Considering the dark nature of Samuel's character, I thought that the overall story would have been more balanced if Leda had been a bit more vibrant and passionate rather than being so reserved, proper and somewhat intense in her own right. For all of her supposed French blood, Leda didn't really act very "French". I have found that most of the very best romances featuring tormented heroes, have a lighter heroine. In this respect, I thought that Ms. Kinsale's yin and yang were a bit off. That said though, Leda was still a very likable character. She was every bit the lady in spite of her non-titled status, being very graceful and composed. She had scruples that she lived by almost religiously. I also like that she was described as rather plain-looking, but best of all, she was kind, gentle, trusting and understanding toward Samuel and never pitied him for his past, only saw a strong, remarkable man. She was also able to intuit his needs and never left him even when, in his fear, he tried his best to drive her away.
Many of the secondary characters were also well written. I really enjoyed all of the flashbacks to Samuel's post-abuse childhood with the Ashlands, and his times training with the family's old butler, Dojun. I found Dojun to be a rather confusing and ambiguous character though, because most of the time, he seemed to be a loving father-figure to Samuel, offering him a way to build confidence and empower himself, but by the end of the book, it seemed that Dojun had given Samuel the training for rather selfish reasons. Again, perhaps this was simply one of those read-between-the-lines nuances that I was missing. Kai was a lovely and lively but rather complex character, who at times seemed rather childish and shallow, though not annoyingly so, and at other times seemed very responsible for her age. Readers also get a good look at where Gryphon and Tess are about two decades after their own love story took place in The Hidden Heart, and it's nice to see that they are still passionately in love.
While I have not seen any official series designation for any of Ms. Kinsale's books, The Shadow and the Star is basically a sequel to The Hidden Heart. As I mentioned, The Hidden Heart is Gryphon and Tess's story, and they play fairly significant roles in The Shadow and the Star. Samuel first appeared briefly in The Hidden Heart as a child who, at the time, was still in the throes of horrible abuse. I rarely read series or interconnected books out of order, but I made an exception in this case, as I was unable to find a copy of The Hidden Heart at my local library. The Shadow and the Star was the first time I had read a book by Ms. Kinsale, but I liked it well enough that I would definitely like to acquire a copy of The Hidden Heart, so that I can go back and fill in the beginnings of this story, and would also be open to reading other titles written by her. As it was though, I believe the two books stand well on their own, as there was enough back story given that I didn't feel lost at any point. Enjoy might be a bit of a strong word for a book that is as hauntingly intense as The Shadow and the Star, but I can say that I appreciated the story a great deal. Though we may not wish to face the reality of such evil in the world, it does exist, and I found that the story really made me think about that on a very deep level long after turning the last page. If you are looking for a book to escape reality this one is definitely not it, but if you are looking to broaden your horizons with a story that expresses a beautiful uniqueness and incredible poignancy and depth then I would highly recommend The Shadow and the Star.
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