Charmed Destinies
by Mercedes Lackey, Rachel Lee, and Catherine Asaro; fantasy (2004)
Silhouette, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-21833-8


As an enticement for me to waste money on more trade-sized paperbacks under the new Harlequin Luna line, the anthology Charmed Destinies is embarrassingly bad. I don't feel as if I am reading a fantasy novel for adults: the characters here can be pitifully child-like and the level of sophistication in world-building is best described as "crude" and "elementary". Not that I am expecting some Middle Earth redux in a novella, mind you, but sheesh, with dialects that come and go and other bizarre inconsistencies, there is no sense of actualization of the authors' fantasy worlds.

Mercedes Lackey's Counting Crows is a dud. Lady Gwynhefer (an aside: let's stop with the play on Guinevere or whatever variation of that name, please) is dragged off into marriage with an abusive git and she suffers, of course, because it's for her people and her daddy's sake. Suffer, suffer, suffer, suffer, suffer, she discovers that she's a magical person late in the story, she blows everybody away and gets the boyfriend (who barely figures in the story) in a rather creepy plot twist, the end. I don't know about anybody else, but reading interminably dull pages after pages of the Martyrhood of the Singularly Wonderful and Selfless and Pure Gwynnie the Heifer here as she endures beatings and insults from the Singularly Nasty Creatures in her life even as she in secret tries to save the kiddies and all - bleurgh. A complete waste of time, in my opinion.

Rachel Lee's Drusilla's Dream is set in the present world, but our heroine Drusilla Morgan (artist) and hero Miles Kennedy (author) somehow share the same dream of looking for a powerful key in a fantasy landscape. These two, when they are not dreaming, realize that they are not only living at the same apartment block, they also work the graveyard shift at the same place. I find this story the most romantic in the sense that the author concentrates on both the hero and the heroine as opposed to merely the heroine alone. Unfortunately, the author's fantasy landscape is rather flat and amateurish, with the characters getting out of sticky situations using deus ex machina plot devices. The result is Ms Lee's fantasy world coming off like a grade-school interpretation of Fantasia. I find myself wondering when the Luck Dragon will show. (In a way, it did, but never mind.)

I find the author's closing of her story holds some genuine and bittersweet emotional poignancy though. Since Drusilla and Miles don't come off like abused little Hansel and Gretel trapped in the cookie cottage of the wicked witch, I like this novella the best of all three.

Catherine Asaro's Moonglow is a disappointment because the story feels rushed and the premise isn't developed enough to come off as credible. In this fantasy landscape Ms Asaro has created, the kings of the land always marry the most powerful female mage. Iris Larkspur is a mere mage apprentice with lots of untapped skill. She is not in line to be the new Queen, but when she telepathically communicates with the long-lost thought-dead Prince Jarid of Aronsdale, everything changes. She turns out to be the most powerful mage and ends up marrying Jarid.

Jarid is a tortured character, but Ms Asaro fails to make him interesting. He's flat. Likewise, Iris is flat. Their speech pattern and overearnest try-hard-to-please antics make them come off like waifish children. Also, the world-building inconsistencies are the most obvious in this story, from Iris' on-and-off local accent to the deus-ex-machina explanation as to why Iris can be so powerful yet her potential remained undetected all this while by her teachers. I can't help feeling that if Ms Asaro has shifted the focus of her story from Iris to Jarid, Moonglow will be a much more interesting story.

This anthology is marketed as "romantic fantasy" and there is very little love scenes in the stories. In short, don't expect the stories to conform to the usual paranormal fantasy romance formula. Normally, I would welcome this change, but all three novellas in Charmed Destinies are just not good, I'm afraid. The best novella, Rachel Lee's Drusilla's Dream, is one that is the best merely by comparison to the other two - in a normal context, this novella is pretty forgettable. I hope the authors' full-length offerings for Harlequin Luna will be more palatable than this collection of duds.

Rating: 52


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