by Kathryne Kennedy, historical/fantasy (2008)
LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-505-52750-9
Enchanting The Lady is a most interesting effort, as it presents a well-drawn and strong heroine, a vividly rendered setting, and a strong storyteller voice. There are some problems with the overall plot, but I'll get into them after the synopsis.
This one is set in an alternate version of England in the 1880s, where folks have magic and humans co-exist with shapeshifters. Okay, maybe not all humans have magic - our heroine Felicity Seymour is convinced that she has inherited none of the abilities of her late parents. Because your rank in the aristocracy is determined by how good your magical abilities are (you have to take a test to demonstrate them), poor Felicity is soon stripped of her title and all the properties that come with it. When she was waiting to take the test, she was under the custody of her uncle and family, and now that she is a commoner, she doesn't know what she will do with herself. Still, being courted by the enigmatic but oh-so-hunky Sir Terence Blackwell, who seems to want her despite her lack of title of dowry, must just be what she needs to pick herself up from her unhappy circumstance.
Alas, unknown to her at that point, Terence is planning to merely get close to her to investigate the possibility that she's a villain dabbling in rune magic. Rune magic, you see, is the "evil" kind of magic in this story, one where the dabbler uses one of the thirteen relics left behind by the wizard Merlin to do really bad things, like controlling one's mind and turning that person into a zombie. Terence's brother died due to an unfortunate encounter with rune magic, and now Terence makes it a point to eradicate all rune magic users that he comes across and recover the remaining lost relics of Merlin. He senses rune magic in Felicity, but whether she's a villain or an unwitting victim of someone who is using rune magic on her, Terence intends to find out.
To be honest, I'm quite disappointed that the author at first has Felicity going that she's plain and without magic, but in the end Ms Kennedy has beauty and magic restored to the heroine because everything that is "wrong" with Felicity is due to rune magic gone haywire. This makes all that initial talk about defying society conventions feel hollow - kind of like how a romance hero insists that he has no use for the hypocrite because she has her characters going on and on that what Society think about them is irrelevant only to give this message in the end that the characters need to be exactly like the rest of the upper crust members of Society in order to be happy.
Having said that, Felicity is an excellent example of a genuinely smart heroine who doesn't have to act like a tomboy-gone-wild or a neurotic martyr to qualify for the title. She is no fool - if she can't tell that the hero has some hidden motives in courting her, it's because she has no way of figuring that out. I like how she can stand up to the hero and tell him off when she realizes that she has been wronged. She has self-awareness, she knows that she still has value as a person despite not being pretty and titled (which is why I am doubly disappointed when the author cops out and has Felicity turning out to be hot and worthy of having a title after all), and she can put two and two together.
The setting is also very well drawn. I like how the author manages to include descriptions of this magical version of England without resorting to blatant information dumping - these details are integrated seamlessly as part of the narrative without distracting me from the story. Some authors have problems telling too much instead of showing (or the other way around), but in this book, Ms Kennedy has that balance between showing and telling done just right. The concept of magic being the yardstick when it comes to meritocracy has been done before, but Ms Kennedy manages to make the concept her own in this story.
The hero, on the other hand, is a problematic character. He's an interesting character, conceptually, in that the author may give Terence some familiar mate-mate-mate tendencies, but Terence is as far as you can get from a stereotypical alpha male. He is, in fact, more like a well-rounded man of authority rather than an easily-pigeonholed alpha or beta male stereotype. The problem here is that many of Terence's motivations to keep doubting Felicity's innocence or keeping himself from acknowledging his feelings for her feel more like deliberate contrivances to keep the plot going rather than natural progression of his storyline or character arc. Frankly, if Felicity is the one that knows how putting two and two makes four, Terence on the other hand comes off as quite dense. The villains are very obvious in this story, but he's the one who is the last to catch on.
Early on, his admittedly stereotypical valet/buddy character gives him a very good list of more logical alternative plans of action (this fellow earns my eternal love when he points out that lying to, seducing, and then discarding a potentially innocent woman, even in the name of the greater good, is never a good thing), but Terence charges ahead with his plan nonetheless. I am also not fond of how he often uses sex to distract Felicity when she is trying to talk some sense into him.
Many of Terence's actions and motivations here mark him as a silly boy, which is a pity, really, as there are many other aspects of him that make him a refreshing change from the usual shapeshifter hero. The problem here is that the story relies heavily on Terence being a silly boy to keep the story going for as long as it is. You'd never convince me that he's good enough to be Felicity's equal, much less her husband, although I'm confident that she will eventually keep him in line. Still, while Terence may be a silly boy here, he isn't a deliberate jerk, so he's really not that bad. He's just a disappointing character especially when he's paired with a smart heroine, given how rare such heroines are in the romance genre.
Despite my problems with Terence and how his continuous silliness often doesn't make sense considering the clues he is given in the story, I find Enchanting The Lady a most entertaining and refreshing kind of paranormal historical romance. It is a well written, well paced, and enjoyable read, with the smart heroine being the cherry on top. I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for the next book in this series to see where the author goes from here.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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