Back in the 1980s, I was focused on historicals or science fiction/fantasy and never had an interest in romance at all. But one day at a used book store I couldn’t find anything interesting in either of those categories. On a whim, I picked up The Hidden Heart, hoping that the focus was more on historical and not a ‘cheezy romance’. Of course, I was completely enraptured and thus started a love for historical romance books. Now, 30 years later, I have revisited this book in Audible form and, although not as perfect as I remembered, I still very much love this first book by Laura Kinsale. The story is a hard one (or melodramatic, depending on your leaning) and the characters will go through a lot. But Kinsale’s writing is solid and wonderfully emotional.
Story: Gryff’s family was lost to pirates and his noble title and estates stolen by a greedy uncle. To survive, he runs blockades on the American coast while also providing transportation services. Tessa has spent her life with her father traveling and categorizing plants around the world. When he dies, she has no relatives but a very large dowry and title waiting in England. A desperate Gryff is hired to bring her into society and make sure the naive girl isn’t the victim of fortune hunters. The problem is, Gryff is finding he very much wants to be one of her suitors – even if he has nothing to offer her. And his Uncle’s depraved son has his sights set on Tessa.
There are a lot of contrivances, of course, and the plot does meander quite a bit into unbelievability. Kinsale would definitely tighten up her writing in the next few books and certainly her work is a cut above in a very trope filled genre. What appealed to me most about Hidden Hearts is Gryff’s vulnerability; in a field where all the men have to be very alpha, mature, and assured of themselves, Gryff’s voice is very young and unsure. And while I’m as tired as the next reader of the ‘big misunderstanding’ as a plot device, I also can’t deny that Kinsale definitely knows how to write a romantic scene. Ah, the feelz.
For My Lady’s Heart will likely always be my favorite book of hers – and I have read every single one she has written. But this book will always have a special place for me since it showed me that romances can be more than bodice ripping and couples sniping at each other. It provided such reader joy and pleasure that I had never found in historicals or fantasy.
Of note, I listened to the Audible version. And while I appreciated narrator Bolton’s work with Kinsale’s more mature heroes, I honestly felt he was miscast here. His voice was far too deep and mature for Gryff and I wish a younger, less seasoned voice had done the narration.