Dell, $6.50, ISBN 0-440-22389-X
Historical Romance, 1999
The story in Katherine Kingsley’s The Sound of Snow isn’t anything new, disappointingly familiar actually. Lydia and Joanna are cousins growing up in Stanton Hall. Joanna is our heroine, so she is the good sweet one, while Lydia is, naturally, the spoiled selfish bitch. Then one day Joanna is compromised and refusing to marry for anything but true love, she flees for Italy. She marries a kind Count (who, as first dead husbands go, never could awaken her womanly pleasures and was just kind to her), settles down into being a content talented artist, and life is bliss. Until one day she receives a letter from Lydia beseeching her to take care of her son Miles should anything happen to her. Next thing she knows, Lydia is dead. Joanna sets off to England to look to Miles’s welfare.
Lydia’s husband Guy de Salis turns out to be a magnetically handsome if absent father to Miles, so Joanna is attracted to him. The feeling is mutual. From here the story flows a graceful if a depressingly predictable path. Kind loving Joanna rekindles the fires in both Guy and Miles, teach them the meaning of true love, and discovers what a horrid person Lydia really is. I’ve read that in countless stories before.
Yet what makes The Sound of Snow stand out is the tenderness permeating the relationships here. It is rather hard to resist the sweetness of it all, no matter how cynical I try to be. Guy is a rather distant man at first, and his slow reawakening is wonderful to read. Likewise, Miles become adorable once he breaks out of his silent shell.
But, then again, the enjoyment of the story depends on your tolerance of two things.
One, the perfect heroine. Joanna is so sweet, so graceful, so artistic, yet so capable. She can take over the household management and plans big balls that has the staff bewildered until Joanna comes in. Joanna can teach us all Child Psychology 101 as she is a perfect mother, wise in her wisdom and gentle in her guidance of Miles. Need someone to give you a lift when you’re down? Call Joanna. When you are ill, who will pray to God that He gives the disease to her instead of you so that you can have your 18th birthday dance? Superwoman Joanna, martyr, perfect mother and wife, art prodigy, wonder housekeeper, and she speaks many languages too. She probably has multiple orgasms in bed. I’m surprised she doesn’t run up the hills singing , “The hills are alive with the sound of music!” backed by a chorus of nuns or opens an umbrella and takes off into the sky while singing songs about the longest word in the English language. Ultimately, while Joanna is a sweet heroine, the woman I’d love to know, perfection doesn’t make interesting reading in novels.
Two, the story is slow. Very slow. While the easy elegance of the style of writing is infectious, and I couldn’t help but go along with the flow, the plot really meanders. And when it seems things are getting better, Ms Kingsley has to throw in a plot angle I foresaw ten chapters beforehand, making me really irritated. This angle, which involves Lydia, makes me confused. If Lydia is such a self-absorbed venomous woman, why would she ask Joanna to take care of Miles if anything should happen to her? Why would this anything should happen to her anyway? Lydia’s characterization is downright confusing.
Did I enjoy The Sound of Snow? Well, there are wonderful moments of genius. The scene where Miles explain the snow of snow to his father is one of the most poetic scenes I’ve ever read in a book. The small signs of brilliance such as this scene are also the downfall of the book – they reveal how depressingly cookie-cutter this romance is.