Lessons in French
I have been waiting, along with all the rest of Laura Kinsale’s fans, for Lessons in French for a very long time. Now, having received it and read it, I can say that it’s good, but it’s not what I was expecting and it’s not my favorite book in Kinsale’s oeuvre.
Lady Callista Taillefaire is an old maid. Having been jilted by three fiancés, she is firmly on the shelf and invisible to most people with the exception of the most hardened fortune hunter. Her greatest passion is raising livestock, and her biggest pride and joy is her bull, Hubert. She once had a stronger passion and a livelier joy in Trevelyn d’Augustin, the young Duc de Monceaux, but her father ran him off after he caught them embracing in her carriage house, and since then she’s had to make do with work.
Trev, for his part, has had to fend for himself in much more creative fashions since that long ago day. He possesses an ancient title that became quite worthless with the rise of Napoleon and a fairly strong proclivity toward self-destruction. He returns to Shelford to see his mother who is dying and discovers, to his surprise, that Callie is still unmarried. But the course of true love never runs smooth. Trev has plenty of secrets, and Callie no longer trusts men who flatter and admire, the two skills Trev is best at.
I would first like to say how lovely it is to hear Kinsale’s voice within the pages of a new piece of fiction. Her prose, as always is enjoyable and smooth, her history feels historical, and her setting seems fully realized. Callie’s hobby of raising prize bulls is unique in a heroine of this time period, but it gives her dimension and never feels fake or cutesy.
Callie and Trev do have chemistry together, and their banter and sport, when it comes, is quite enjoyable. Trev’s mother, a refugee from the Terror who has a penchant for choosing the wrong English word in her conversation, is also an enjoyable character.
And yet somewhere after the first couple of hundred pages the book gets less intriguing, not more. The back cover mentions one last adventure that Trev intends to sweep Callie up in. This turns out to be a sort of masquerade at an agricultural fair. Not quite Scarlet Pimpernel stuff, even though Trev is in some rather serious trouble. In fact, it feels like of all the adventures in Trev’s life – which encompasses the Terror, the Napoleonic Wars, a return to his family estate, and running a successful fight enterprise, this one is the least dangerous or interesting. I’m not even sure that of all of Trev and Callie’s adventures together this is the best one. I put the book down for almost a week before I finished it, actually.
Also, in the last half of the book Kinsale introduces one of my least favorite romantic situations – the love triangle. This means that instead of more of Trev and Callie bantering and making out, we get to spend time with a rather dull – though at least two-dimensional – secondary character. And Callie and Trev wallow a bit in jealousy and discouragement.
Lessons in French is lighter in tone than most Kinsale books and has some funny moments. I do not regret the time I spent with it, but I could come up with a list of books from Kinsale’s backlist that I’d recommend more enthusiastically than this one.