What I’m Reading: Laura Kinsale – Midsummer Moon

It has been rather quiet here on this blog last week – I had the time off work and spend it for the most part playing Age of Conan rather than reading, not to mention writing blog entries. Normal business should be resuming now, though.

If it was published today, Midsummer Moon would likely be marketed as Steampunk Romance – not only has it a workable flying machine and the telephone being invented during the Napoleonic Wars, one of its protagonists is the classic Mad Inventor – obsessed with machines and a genius with engines, but scatterbrained and extremely naive concerning any more worldly affairs. Well, almost classic – for while this role is usually ascribed exclusively to males, in Laura Kinsale’s novel the brilliant inventor is a woman. (And while there is Girl Genius, this novel was first released in 1987 and hence clearly predates the comic –  I would even not be completely surprised to find out that Midsummer Moon was an influence on it.)

While a female engineering genius at the beginning of the nineteenth century might be unlikely, it is not completely impossible, and Kinsale does her best to make her heroine plausible by providing her with an appropriate backstory (raised in isolation from society by an eccentric, childless uncle who hoped she might fulfill his dream and invent a flying machine), and all reservations the reader (this reader, anyway) might have harboured at first soon evaporate in the face of how utterly charming a character Merlin turns out to be. Kinsale manages to give the unworldly inventor trope a nice feminine twist, and I found Merlin in her mixture of innocent naiveté, bubbling enthusiasm and scientific brilliance quite irresistible.

As clueless as Merlin appears in some things, she still is an eminently practical girl, and has both her feet planted on the ground – it just so happens that it is not quite the same ground everyone else treads on. In a nice complement to this, her male counterpart and eventual love interest, fears nothing so much as losing said ground from underneath his feet, as he has a major phobia of heights. And as Merlin’s greatest dream is to invent and build a flying machine, you can probably see where the central conflict is going – a conflict that chiefly gravitates around the heroine’s insistence on her independence even if it means sacrificing her love, something you don’t see often in a Romance novel.

Midsummer Moon is an early work of Laura Kinsale (apparently her second published one) and an unusually light-hearted one for her. While there is some dramatic tension revolving around French spies and various attempts at abducting Merlin, at its heart the novel is a comedy and (at least as far as I am concerned) a very funny one, at that. Even as such, it has more historical depth than most serious Regency Romances around, and while it is not Flowers from the Storm, it still is a highly entertaining and often moving romp of a book.

(And a special mention goes to Merlin’s hedgehog, which surely must be one of the cutest pets in Romance or any kind of literature, ever. It’s utterly adorable and would make reading the book worthwhile all on its diminutive own.)

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