He's a duke. He's a mathematical genius. He can't talk and he's locked in a lunatic asylum. Only a modest Quaker girl can reach him, but when she helps him to escape, she's swept into his glittering aristocratic world, her life torn apart by his desperate attempt to save himself. Laura Kinsale personally chose the exceptional talent of Nicholas Boulton to narrate her classic romance Flowers from the Storm - cited by readers of The Washington Post and Glamour magazine as "one of the greatest love stories of all time" - creating a fresh and unique work that brings all the power and intensity of the original to audio.
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Flowers from the Storm is a long-time favourite romance of mine. It's heartfelt and deeply romantic while not being an easy read, but is filled with beautiful prose and imagery. The hero, Christian, Duke of Jervalux begins the book as your typical alpha-male; a wealthy man-about-town who can (and does) have any woman he wants. He's also a mathematical genius - and it's this quality which brings him into contact with Archimedia (Maddy) Timms, the daughter of another mathematician with whom Christian has collaborated on a specific theorem.
When Christian (who is only 32) suddenly suffers what we would today recognise as a stroke, he is left unable to speak or understand and unable to perform simple, every-day actions; and his family, believing him to be an imbecile, commits him to an asylum.
The asylum is run by Maddy's uncle, Edward Timms, and is run according to the rules and principles of care laid out by the Society of Friends (Quakers) - and it is there that Maddy sees Christian again, afflicted and almost unrecognisable. She believes she has been given an "Opening" by God - and that to care for him is her duty.
It's a long and complex story. Christian is helpless for much of it and needs Maddy desperately. At the beginning his need is very selfish, as she is the one person who is able to understand him and ease his frustrations about how very dependent he has become. But his need gradually changes into something else, even as she is coming to love him against all her principles and better judgement.
His struggles are often agonising, his violent outbursts heart-breaking - as the reader is able to see what prompts them and feel for this once proud man and what he has been reduced to. Maddy can come across as rather too "preachy", especially in the later part of the book when Christian has to fight for his rights to his name and property against the family who want to put him back in the asylum so they can get their hands on his money. I can understand her to a point - she has been brought up to the Quaker way of life and it is so ingrained in her, so very much a part of her life that she really struggles to come to terms with the way she feels about Christian, and - more importantly - the way he makes HER feel. But it's still hard to like her when she deserts him when he needs her the most, even though she's just suffered a miscarriage (probably) and is finding it hard to cope with all the changes in her life.
For all its difficulty however, Flowers from the Storm is a superbly written and characterised love story. In audio, though, it's even BETTER. Nicholas Boulton is, quite simply, one of the best narrators - and to call him a "narrator" doesn't begin to do him justice - it has been my privilege to hear. Every character - even the most minor - has a distinct voice that fits them perfectly. He is just as convincing as the female characters as he is as the male ones; he has a way of softening his tone and raising the pitch of his voice slightly for Maddy which is just right and his characterisation of Christian's interfering Aunt Vesta is superb. His performance softens Maddy's harsher traits and, especially towards the end, makes it easier for the listener to understand what prompts her to do what she does (even if we still can't like it!)
But his performance as Christian is a real tour-de-force. Having to voice a character who has problems speaking must have been quite a challenge - yet it's perfect, from the often explosive way he blurts out his words, to his struggles to find the right word in the streams of them that run through his head. I felt his frustrations and his triumphs as he begins to reassert himself and regain his self-confidence and respect, and his desolation at losing Maddy. Hearing him find "the whole man" again was really moving, and I don't mind admitting to having a few lumps in my throat here and there.
In short, then - this is an outstanding performance of a deservedly well-loved favourite. Using your next credit - or even your hard-earned cash - would be to put either to very good use indeed.
This is not my normal genre but I thought the reviews were intriguing. This book has obviously built up a devoted body of fans and I was also interested in the central premise of the story which involves the hero suffering a stroke at the very beginning.
The hours spent listening to this book skipped by at a rollicking pace. Laura Kinsale has skilfully woven a timeless tale of battling families, egos and religious beliefs. The hero is wonderfly flawed and the heroine is not the pious little nobody you might assume. What is actually so good about this book is that it seems to steer you on an obvious path but then it veers off, and the events don't play out quite as you expect. The whole thing reminded me of the Gainsborough films made in the 40s and 50s. (Remember The Wicked Lady with Margaret Lockwood and James Mason). This was top class entertainment enhanced by a wonderful narrator.
I am now a fan and can't wait to hear more from Laura Kinsale and Nicholas Boulton.