Laura Kinsale had a book released. She is one of those authors who have molded the romance genre in ways you can’t imagine. If I had to come up with a top 10 list of the best Historical Romance authors of the 20th century, Laura Kinsale would be on that list. She’s one of the authors who embodies the spirit of the historical romance genre.
Lady Callista Taillefaire is described as “a gifted wallflower”, who at the age of twenty-seven is a spinster who blends very well into the wallpaper that people don’t even notice she’s there. Callista knows she doesn’t have much to recommend to herself because she is plain with red hair, very stiff and shy with gentlemen and has such fair skin, that when the wind blows, she becomes splotchy. She’s been jilted three times by men she was engaged to, but for some reason or another, gave an excuse and decided not to marry her. Callista has a fortune, left to her after her father’s death, and enjoys her small town life, waiting for her younger sister, Hermione to marry so she can move way with her and her husband because they live with their cousin and his wife, Dolly, who is a very shrewish woman with her nose in the air. Other than being at odds with these relatives, Callista loves to raise livestock, including her favorite bull, Hubert, who she treats more like a pet than a farm animal.
Callista’s staid life is about to become topsy turvy, when her very sick French neighbor, Madame de Monceaux’s son, Trevelyn d Augustin returns home from France to England after being away for almost a decade. Callista and Trev used to be teenage sweethearts. She was given French lessons from the Madame. Trev taught Callista very different lessons in French that is until her father caught them intimately together in a carriage. Callista was heartbroken because Trev left England without a word. He arrives unannounced during a ball and re-acquaints himself with Callista. She’s shocked to see him, as he is her, because he assumed she would be married with children.
Trev went to France to search for his family property that was lost during The Terror, as well as fighting at Waterloo. He has returned home to Shelford to see his mother and hide from the law. He’s gotten himself into a big scrape and thrown into prison. He had no idea how close his dear mother is to death and the horrible conditions she’s been living in. He turns to Callista for help. Trev wants to be friends with Callista again because he has missed her all this time. He hopes to find a way to exonerate his name before he’s exiled to either the Americas or Shanghai.
Then a series of incredible events occur, starting with Hubert being sold from Callista, Trev trying to buy her beloved bull back and a former suitor of Callista’s, a Major Sturgeon, comes back into the picture and wants to rekindle their relationship. To make matters worse for Trev, Sturgeon and he had a past together. If Sturgeon recognizes Trev, the jig is up and he’ll be hauled away in irons. Callista is torn between Trev and Sturgeon because on one hand, Sturgeon can give her the stability she has always wanted, but on the other, she cares deeply for Trev even though she thinks he only views her as a friend. Trev tries to show Callista that what he feels for her is more than friendship, but because she thinks she has nothing to offer except her fortune, and because Trev is dashing and has been on many adventures, he would never want to settle down with a boring nobody like her. If only Callista knew the truth about Trev and what’s he been hiding from her. When she finds out, it maybe too late for them because not only does she have to figure out a way to get Hubert back, but juggles two men who want her for their own reasons.
Lessons in French is a delightful romance that pulls you in, where you are surrounded by the sites and sounds of rustic England after the Napoleonic Wars. I would say this is part adventure, part comedy as Callista and Trev team up together. This duo has a way of falling into some major pitfalls that is comparable to a screwball comedy, but just subtle enough where you won’t roll your eyes.
Callista is a wonderful heroine who has wit and intelligence, even though she maybe lacking in looks and overall sparkling personality. She’s a very analytical woman. Her reasons for letting Sturgeon court her may turn off some readers, but she has her reasons for doing so. At first glance, Trev may seem to be as cold as Callista’s former suitors, but as the story unfolds, we find out why Trev acted the way he did. You can’t help but root for him because the way he feels about Callista is so beautiful and moving.
I must hand it to Laura because she really makes Trev shine. There’s a bit of a mystery regarding Trev, and it’s up in the air whether or not he has waited for Callista, so he can engage in those intimacies most men his age already have. Trev may seem experienced, but has an innocent quality to him. At one point, while Trev is spilling his deep feelings to Callista, you’re made aware that Trev has never fallen for another woman in the time he’s been away. Nothing is more romantic that the hero saying to his heroine- “I seem to be yours, body and soul.”
Laura Kinsale has written a lighthearted, romantic Regency romp. Lessons in French is like a breath of fresh air, that twenty pages into reading, I stopped and thought, this is the reason I read historical romance. Welcome back Laura, we’ve missed you dearly. (Sourcebooks)
Final Grade: B+
A few other Lessons in French book reviews on the web: