I read this book two years ago and recently decided to re-read all my Laura Kinsale books, saving the best for the last. I do believe I enjoyed this story more the second time around. What a roller coaster ride Ms. Kinsale takes the reader on, as we maneuver through the life of a powerful young duke who was born to prestige, riches, extravagance, the pleasure of women, whatever his heart desired, going on the ride of his life without having an inkling of how quickly everything in one's world can change - often, never to be the same.
Christian Langland, Duke of Jervaulx, is a brilliant mathematician, all around rake, lover of dogs and a faithful friend. When his paramour's husband catches him leaving his wife's bed and calls him out, Christian isn't aware that he's in the middle of his life's greatest crisis. Yes, the strange sensation he has upon leaving his mistress's bed and walking down the stairs was a stroke in the making.
Although struggling mightily with a headache and strange sensations in his arm and hand, Christian keeps his commitments during the next couple of days, including a lecture at the Analytical Society in order to present a paper he and an elderly, blind Quaker gentleman - Mr. Timms, have collaborated upon via messenger. Mr. Timms' daughter, Archimedia (Maddy) knows Christian's reputation and is very concerned he's going to play her kindly, mild-mannered father false just for a big joke. Not so - Christian may be many things, but in his heart, he's serious about math and values his work with Mr. Timms.
However, when he collapses on the dueling field the morning after the lecture, the world believes he has died. It's a blow to Mr. Tibbs who genuinely respected Christian's mind and truly enjoyed their collaborative work.
Fast forward to some weeks later. As Maddy and her father tour her cousin's brand new, high class asylum where Maddy is considering taking a position, she is shocked beyond measure to recognize Christian as one of the residents of the asylum. Further, apparently he's considered to be a dangerous madman without the ability to communicate. But, Christian and Maddy have a strong connection and very shortly she begins to realize Christian is still there, if she can only help him find his way out of the darkness.
**Spoilerish** The rest of the story takes the reader on a fascinating journey that frankly, I don't have words to describe. Not only does Christian struggle with a serious lack of communication, he's had not a single person to stand up for him. He's almost as angry at how he's been treated as he is at his inability to communicate. Some parts of the book are difficult to take in - such as his cruel and callous treatment by staff members at the asylum.
When Maddy decides to throw her support behind Christian, she battles with guilt over whether or not she's compromising the principles of her faith. Thankfully, her faith does give some leeway within the foundational beliefs to allow her to hear from God for herself. Once she has this connection, she decides to throw her lot in with Christian and do whatever she can to help him, but all along the way, she questions whether or not she's making the right choice. Ms. Kinsale has created a very strong character in Christian - possibly the most determined Hero I've ever encountered. To say that Christian drags Maddy kicking and screaming into helping him would be an understatement. Even with his massive disability, he has such drive and determination, heaven help anyone who dares stand in his way. And yet, he desperately needed Maddy. She was an angel sent from heaven. The first time we hear Christian say "Maddy Girl," it's over the top sweet.
It is not smooth sailing. Christian has a competency hearing coming up, he has unethical relatives, a mother who doesn't understand him, so much prejudice against his "sickness" - but he has Maddy Girl and two friends who stick with him through thick and thin. The bottom line is that we find we have several major conflicts - Christian's disability is the primary conflict, but Maddy's religious beliefs are the secondary conflict constantly vying for first place, which affects the third conflict - she's head over heels in love with Christian. Who wouldn't be? I'm rooting for him all the way, even though one might say the life he led previous to the stroke, was not the thing at all. The results of that life come back to bite him on the butt big time and he nearly loses his Maddy Girl.
Truth: I've got about 1800 books on my Kindle with approximately 1300 of that number being historical romance novels - many authored by the best of the best. Having said that, this book is probably among the top 5 and perhaps the #1 of all those romance novels - at least that's how I'm feeling at the moment.