Rachel Neumeier is the author of fantasy novels House of Shadows, the Griffin Mage trilogy, The Floating Islands, The City in the Lake and Black Dog. Rachel and I chat about the books that we read all the time. She’s recommended some books that have become favorites for me and I’m always flattered when she decides to try a book that I’ve recommended. We both love Laura Florand’s books so we’ve discussed them several times. Rachel is here to talk about what she likes the most in Laura’s writing.
Cade Corey is the uber-rich heiress to the world’s biggest and most powerful chocolate empire, Corey Chocolate. Her sister, Jaime, is a rich do-gooder who travels in the third world to Improve People’s Lives. Summer, their cousin, is luminously beautiful as well as rich. Her father has just bought her a hotel as part of a bribe to get Summer to live her life his way.
Sylvain Marquis is the best chocolatier in Paris (just ask him). He has all the fame one ego can manage. So does his main rival, Dominique Richard. So does Luc Leroi, one of the top pastry chefs in the world, who happens to work for Summer’s hotel.
People, these are not characters just any writer could pull off. I can’t be alone at rolling my eyes when a romance involves the richest girl in the world and the best chocolatier in the world. Isn’t it possible for a romance to involve protagonists a little more… normal?
Yet, in Laura Florand’s hands, these characters are somehow transformed from the cardboard cutouts we might expect into real people that we sympathize with and root for – that we can’t help but sympathize with and root for. This is partly Florand’s beautiful writing – and her writing is beautiful – but mostly it is her talent for establishing a complicated backstory that echoes forward into a character’s present.
Cade Corey is confident of her business acumen, but she’s not at all sure a man could possibly care about her rather than about her money. She knows she can run her father’s company when her turn comes, but she’s not sure she has the right to claim a life of her own. Sylvain knows his chocolate is the best in the world, but success was not something he was born with. He’s experienced plenty of rejection in his life, and he’s not at all sure a woman could care about him as a person.
Which gives rise to one of the best opening lines ever, incidentally:
Sylvain Marquis knew what women desired: chocolate. And so he had learned as he grew into adulthood how to master a woman’s desire.
This is funny and intriguing and a wonderful invitation to read the next line, and the next after that – Laura Florand knows how to draw in a reader, that’s for sure. But it also shows right away that Sylvain doesn’t really believe a woman is likely to desire him for himself. And this is not just something the author tells the reader: Florand makes us believe in Sylvain’s insecurity and Cade’s vulnerability. She really does.
The Chocolate Thief, featuring Cade and Sylvain, is light and fun and charming. But the Chocolate romances gain depth as the series goes on, so that by the time we get to the fourth book in the series, The Chocolate Touch, which features Jaime and Dom, the story is not so light – though it still has plenty of humor – but is truly touching.
Jaime is not some posturing first-world twit showing off her moral superiority with her Causes. We find out just enough about her activities with the cacao plantations to know she is intelligent and practical and has truly been making a real difference in people’s lives. For me, that’s crucial in establishing her as a sympathetic protagonist. And we also know she has recently been badly hurt, not just metaphorically. Her confidence in herself has been shattered. She needs someone to help her regain that confidence.
Dominique Richard is one of Sylvain’s main rivals for Best Chocolatier in Paris, but his background is awful. We all know how violence and abuse in one generation tends to lead to violence and abuse in the next generation, and here is Dom, so determined that he will not contribute to that pattern. He’s got quite a reputation as a tough guy, yet he’s vulnerable in a whole different way compared to Sylvain. And Florand makes us totally buy this with her brilliant writing. Dom is (still) my favorite male lead from the Chocolate romances.
Then we have their cousin, Summer. Summer is the rich girl who is also luminously beautiful: a tough protagonist to handle, because what kind of difficulties can a woman like that actually have? Well, it turns out she does have real problems. She’s in a genuinely painful situation and as that is slowly revealed, well, it would take a pretty hard-hearted reader not to sympathize with her and root for her and join her cheering section.
And Luc! He’s made it to the tippy-top of his profession, but, you guessed it, his life is not actually in perfect order. For him, it’s all about breaking out of his own tight defenses. Summer gives him a reason to do that.
Luc’s eyebrows drew together. He stared after the barge, profoundly disturbed at the thought that Summer might have needed him and his tangle of pride and hunger had left her unprotected. “Do you really think she’s shy?” he asked after a while…. I failed her didn’t I? I never fail at anything, but I think I keep failing her.
Yes, he does, until he gets it together and begins to really believe that Summer can be hurt and that he keeps hurting her and maybe he should start supporting her instead.
Seriously, any writer could learn a lot from Laura Florand about giving a protagonist a difficult, complicated background that echoes forward to produce real human problems and touching vulnerability. Thus we have:
Her isolation itched at him. Mack wanted to reach out and break it, like one of those damn sugar sculptures over on the bridal table, break the translucent pieces of that isolation, say, Hey, did you notice all the world here you’re missing?
In Turning up the Heat:
“You’ve got to admit, it’s a beautiful irony, chérie. I gave myself up for you. You gave yourself up for me. And we’re here scrabbling to find enough of each other we can hold onto.”
In The Chocolate Temptation:
Why was he so bad at this? Surely no other man had to sue a woman just so he could make her put up with him long enough that he had a chance to figure out how to talk to her.
And I haven’t even mentioned some of my favorite Florand titles! Sticking to the Corey family simplified this post, but here I am, and I haven’t had a chance to mention the fairy tales that infuse at least half of Florand’s stories, or describe her beautiful use of metaphor, or discuss the wonderful relationships between her secondary characters that deepen every book, or refer to the lovely hints of magical realism in The Chocolate Kiss, or, or, or…
One of my favorite finds over the past couple of years, Laura Florand is now an auto-buy author for me, even though I’m not a big romance reader in general. I’m definitely right there for whatever she writes next.
Merci, Rachel! I think Laura does a very good job in fleshing out her characters – I like that she shows us the flaws of these characters. That they’re still vulnerable and insecure even if they’ve accomplished so much in their lives.